Pay Up and Smile

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I'll admit
it, I have a little unease dealing with government and their minions.
It's not so much who they are, after all, it would be wrong for
me to make those types of assumptions, but rather the power they
hold over me.

Two years ago
I opened a small (very small) boutique selling mostly olive oil
and olives from Greece that I import myself. It's still touch and
go, but my ship is still afloat. My investment was financed by a
personal line of credit backed up with my home. No government grants
or subsidies, thank you. Don't want the "help" (Faustian
bargain) and despite my university business degree can't figure
out the dizzying paperwork. I work seven days a week and truly enjoy
every minute. About a month ago, a customer suggested I should try
to sell my oils at a very popular open-air farmers' market she organizes
every Saturday during the summer. I thought it would be a great
idea, not to mention being a little flattered. So every Saturday
morning, my daughter and I pack up and drive an hour north while
my wife runs the mother ship. It's a lot of fun, I love the atmosphere
and there are some great locally produced goodies on sale. Of course,
olive oil isn't a Canadian product, but I'm there under the "family
product clause."

Everything
was going great, until last Saturday, when an ominous thunderstorm
cut the day short. Ominous because soon after the first booms of
thunder and sheets of rain, came The Inspector. With nary a hello,
she asked for my permit. "What permit?" I replied a little
befuddled and sensing that I was headed for some choppy waters.
I sell olive oil from a container that I bottle in front of the
customer, therefore I fall into the category of food handling and
thus require a permit. There's a permit for everything, isn't there?
"But, I've been doing this for two years and have been inspected
already. Never was I asked for a permit," I protested meekly.
"Sorry, the Law requires you have this permit," came the
reply. "Here is the application. There's a $260 fee. May I
have your information?"

Gulp.

The following
Monday morning the news got better. The telephone rang with headache
inducing information. Since I operate in two locations, even if
the open-air market is temporary and incidental to my main business,
I would need two permits, one for my boutique and one for the market,
no exceptions. "To avoid two permits, what you can do is to
fill the bottles at the boutique. Have a nice day!" Yeah, thanks
for the heads-up, but I'm trying to avoid even one permit.

On Tuesday,
I called the government department to see if some sanity would prevail,
unfortunately that was too much to ask. About the only good thing
I can say was that the agent on the phone was quite courteous and
seemed sympathetic to my plight. (I may have an unease with government
staff, but I try not to be biased.) She even helped me fill out
the application, as I do not have a bureaucratic mind-set and filling
out these mind-benders is torture to me. (It takes me a week to
get over tax season.) Then I came across the cherry on top: there
is a $100 first-time charge. So $260 magically becomes $360. Do
these dweebs get together around a big round table drinking watery
coffee thinking up inanities like "first time charges?"

Now, let's
understand one thing, this permit is just that, official permission
to handle food for resale. First of all, I never touch the oil,
or the olives, for that matter. Every other product that I sell
is sealed. Secondly, hygiene is not the question, because this is
theft for a permit. I don't have a problem with a health inspection,
but paying for the right to sell something seems to be just plain
wrong.

As I hung up,
another inspector walked in. Leviathan sure works fast when it wants
your money. Indeed, she was there to verify what kind of food handling
I do and that yes, I am required to have this permit for my boutique.
Again, this inspector was courteous and sympathetic (See? No bias.)
I told her that in my two years in this business this is the first
time I had been asked for such a permit even having been inspected
many times already. She dropped a delicious little nugget. "Yeah,
you need one, but with a small business like yours and since the
only food handling you do is pouring olive oil or spooning out olives,
there really is no need to trouble you with that. Some people are
a little more letter of the law, though." Hmm… Of course, since
she was sent for this reason, she cannot "overlook" this
lapse in compliance.

The next morning,
The Inspector called me. I told her that all the required paperwork
was prepared and already mailed including the exorbitant $360 payment
and thanks again. "You don't have to be impolite." She
scolded me with an imperious tone. OK, this is where I reached the
frayed ends of my rope; I have to pay a not insignificant amount
(that is somewhat discretionary) and have to smile about it? "Thank
you ma'am, may I have another?" Give some people a badge and
they love to lord it over you. Who did I think I was? Such impudence!
The conversation didn't get much better and ended with a terse "everything
is in order (according to Leviathan) and unless there's anything
else, I think we're done as I am quite busy." Oh, I also thanked
her for her dedication to food safety.

This is where
I'm a bit of a blockhead. I should have just smiled and let it go
at that, but like I said at the beginning, I have a bit of an uneasiness
dealing with government employees, especially those that can make
your life difficult. Nevertheless, I wanted to let her understand
that some of us lowly merchants who work long hours with no sick
days or paid holidays or government connected unions aren't complete
deferential saps.

The Inspector
will follow up at next week's market to make sure I comply.

Gulp.

July
20, 2006

Themistocles
Evangelakos [send him mail]
is a small business owner from Montreal, Canada.

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