Greece is a country with many customs and manners. It can be quite confusing to a visitor of my country. Today I found by coincidence on a forum the below “cultural faux pas” that one can easily prevent in Greece. Read them with an open mind and a humorous spirit, but also realize there is very much truth in them.
Learn from these “Don’t do this is Greece” :-).
- Greeting someone with a hug, but not with two kisses on the cheeks. When we hug, we kiss, otherwise it’s weird. If you don’t want to be kissed, present your hand for a handshake (or initiate any other form of greeting), it’s quite allright.
- When dining with anyone but your closest friends, not offering to to pay the bill and not refusing the other’s offer of paying the bill at least once.
- Being in a hurry to leave after you have asked for the bill at a restaurant. You are basically telling them you are not enjoying yourself (ditto for next item).
- Refusing a treat, as a guest at either a private home or a restaurant. Regarded as mortal sin in Crete. We take hospitality very seriously.
- Going out for coffee and being in a hurry or leaving when you have had your coffee. Going for coffee means going to hang out and people expect you to have your schedule clear, unless you have warned them in advance that you have limited time.
- Not wanting to have a late supper or to stay out late (if you’re not obliged to wake up early in the morning). Life in Greece is at night. Eating out before 9 p.m. is early and up to 12 p.m. is not considered late. Night clubs get busy after 1 a.m.
- Arranging a meeting with friends and expecting everyone to show up on time. I have given up on that a long time ago.
- Being in Thessaloniki, Greece and referring to anything from Athens, Greece in a positive fashion. Huge city rivalry, but totally one-sided: the reverse is quite ok, unless you’re from Thessaloniki, in which case you may be considered a jack-ass, depending on how much you exaggerate.
- Asking for “Turkish coffee”*. We call it “Greek coffee”.
- Referring to Istanbul as “Istanbul”*. We always called it Constantinople. If you get drawn in an argument about this, do not bring up the homonymous song – it is considered lame. A Greek friend of yours may not personally feel the need to correct you, but will feel embarrassed if you do so in presence of others (ditto for the next two items).
- Referring to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia as simply “Macedonia”**. To us, Macedonia with no other qualifiers is the homonymous Greek province. In context of ancient history, it refers to the Macedonian Empire, in which case do not hint that it was anything else but Greek.
- Referring to the provinces of Macedonia and Crete as separate from Greece (and to their inhabitants as something other than Greeks). F.e. saying “I traveled to Greece and Crete”. Use qualifiers: “continental Greece” as opposed to Crete and “southern Greece” as opposed to Macedonia. The reason is that you may appear to not know or recognize that these are integral parts of Greece. It is ok to do so for Cyprus, but etiquette, specially in the presence of Greek-Cypriots, dictates to use “Grecians and Cypriots” instead of “Greeks and Cypriots”, since we consider us both to be Greeks.
- Assuming we are not on par with the standards of a European country, either in terms of hygiene, facilities or culture, without having prior evidence***. E.g. asking if you have to bring your own tp, or if there is any place in Athens you can use wifi, or if it is ok for women to wear jeans in public.
- Wearing socks and sandals. Wearing any kind of sandals away from the beach, if you’re male. They are the mark of the tourist. For women, having bad taste in shoes / wearing fake leather.
- Appearing to be frugal. It is better to appear broke.
- Preferring to cook with anything other than olive oil and not using olive oil at home (unless you’re cooking something oriental and the recipe calls for it). Using olive oil sparingly on a Greek salad. It’s good, it’s cheap, we’re used to it – so use it too.
- Hating the sun. Avoiding the sun is smart and everybody does this in the summer, but if you can bear the sun but simply don’t like it, you’re just not compatible with this country. Also if your Greek friends have to choose between either you or the sun, they will probably choose the sun (ditto for the next item).
- Not wanting to go to the beach because you can’t swim or you’re too self conscious or have better things to do.
- Asking young Greeks why they are still living with their parents. The most probable reason is because they can’t afford not to – not because they have some sort of Oedipus complex.
- Not being ready to go when a traffic light goes green. The other drivers will start honking immediately. Driving too slowly (with most drivers interpreting that as anything below the speed limit).
* Unless you are Turkish, in which case hospitality dictates us to be courteous and to acknowledge that this is how you were brought up and it is just as hard for you to swallow your national pride as it is for us.
** In case a citizen of that country is also present, we expect you to be diplomatic.
*** There are situations where we sadly are not on par with a European country, e.g. environmental protection, or civic responsibility, but this should be judged after witnessing them.
(Credit photo: Constantine Sarilekis)