Yesterday at 16:49 I got an e-mail message in my inbox from Vodafone, the chosen carrier for the iPhone in Greece. This was “an advanced warning” announcing that the next day, August 22nd, they would officially start selling the iPhone 3G all over Greece. Advanced indeed. To be sure that I wouldn’t be making the trip to the city center for nothing, I called them at their principal location in Iraklio, asking for confirmation that they had indeed iPhones in stock and to inquire about the tariff plans and price for the device. That was around 19:00 (shops stay open until 21:00 on Thursdays).
A friendly lady confirmed that they had indeed “a number of iPhones” in stock, but she didn’t know about prices. That would be made public on the day of the launch, the next day. Huh? I checked Vodafone’s website regularly from then on, hoping to find more specifics about the program. The last time I checked was at 01:05 in the morning, and nothing had changed yet.
This morning I took the bus to the center of Iraklio and found myself before a closed Vodafone shop at 08:40. Opening would be at 09:00. Nobody in sight. No queues stretching for miles, or meters, or even centimeters. I was all alone. I took a couple of pictures of the desolate shop and went looking for a frappé. When I came back 5 minutes later a young man was waiting before the shop. We started talking and it turned out that he too had come early to be sure to get his hands on an iPhone 3G. That made two of us. We had some kind of a queue at least.
When the door of the shop opened, Yannis, the young man, insisted that I would enter first so that I would be “the receiver of the first iPhone officially sold in Iraklio”. Courteous and charming. Expecting to be in and out in half an hour since there were no other customers, I was introduced once more to the Greek Way of Doing Things. The lady I spoke to the previous evening was the one trained by Vodafone to handle all the iPhone purchases. She set out to extoll the virtues of the iPhone with an enthousiasm that I had to unfortunately interrupt after a while because I wanted to know the price of the program and the phone and get home as soon as possible. She understood.
After firing up her networked terminal and wading through a gazillion of screens, filling in a few forms with information that Vodafone has had on file about me for years, we established that I would subscribe to the cheapest program, called “iPhone 100 Lite”. It offers 100 minutes of talk time, 150 outgoing SMS messages and 250MB of data transfer per month for the cost of 35€ per month (you don’t pay for incoming SMS messages in Europe). No unlimited data programs for Greece. If one subscribed before the end of the year Vodafone would throw in an extra 250MB per month for the next 12 months. The price for the iPhone 3G 16GB itself would be 459€. But since Yvonne and I had had a shared account with Vodafone for years, we had built up some credit which would be applied to the normal purchase price, bringing it down to 357€. Not a bad deal.
“Okay, wrap it up, I’ll take it”, I went. Ah, not that fast young grasshopper! Now all that information that was so meticulously and aggravatingly slowly entered into their system would have to be re-entered into the the financial transaction part of the “Information System”. Really? What for? It was all in there already! Ah, it might have looked that way, but the logistic part of the system was not linked to the financial part of the system, did I understand that? Duh!? Okay, let’s do it then! Well, that turned out to be a bit of a problem because “Athens had not entered the financial codes for the iPhone yet into the system“. Of course not! In the mean time the clock showed 09:45. If I could wait an hour or two, she was sure that everything would be ready for me to come and take possession of my iPhone. She would call me immediately on my cell phone as soon as the system was ready. I suggested she take my money, give me the phone already and do the administrative work at her own discretion at a later moment when the system “would be ready”. Uhuh! no can do, sir, I’m sorry. With no options left — and after she assured me that she would not fail to call me immediately — I decided to take a walk, sit somewhere under a tree and enjoy another frappé while waiting.
When two hours later I still hadn’t heard from her I decided to go back to the shop. It was packed full! After I elbowed my way to the terminal where she was all in sweat entering more data that must have been entered at least a dozen times for each customer, she guiltily looked up and said that “the system was ready now”. Yeah, but I was not longer the first in Iraklio to take possession of the iPhone, about a dozen of iPhone boxes were stacked next to her terminal with the accompanying documents in triple, signed and countersigned, that needed to be entered once more in the financial system. Remorseful that she had not completely lived up to the promises that she had made, she delegated me to a colleague to finish the financial part.
At another terminal her colleague went through the whole procedure again to enter, check and double check my information, printed out the forms in triple and then sent me to yet another counter where they would take my money. I had noticed that the price for the iPhone had come down to 297€ this time. When I pointed this out she assured me that she had entered all the information correctly and that the price was right. Oh well, if she said so…
At the last station of the cross, when it was my turn — it was now close to 13:00 — yet another lady started filling out yet another screen on her terminal. Then she stopped. “This price is not correct” she said, giving me an accusatory look. “That’s what I said to your colleague, but she claims the price is correct” was my reply. She picked up the phone, started a conversation, most of which I didn’t understand, for 5 minutes with the other end, most probably someone in Athens, and finally settled for 317€. My fear that the whole form-filling procedure would have to be repeated turned out unjustified. “I will now cut you an invoice which has a different price than this form; you have to keep them together.” she said in a stern voice. “Cutting an invoice” is an expression which is literally translated from Greek, and I got used to it by now.
Fifteen minutes later I was out on the street, hurrying to catch the bus home. When I have had the time to fiddle with it for a while, I’ll report on my findings in a subsequent post, but it’ll have to wait until after we get back from our regular weekend excursion to the south coast.