This may be new for anyone who doesn’t know anyone from Greece or has never been to Greece in their lifetime, but Greeks are indeed a proud nation. The strong legacy of Ancient Greece lies at the core of the nationwide pride and the plethora of monuments and landmarks still visible today are only a few reminders of the country’s glorious past.
Greeks are big on traditions, and are a very friendly and hospitable people. They’re excellent and generous hosts and their hospitality can many times be embarrassing to non-Greeks. Hugging and kissing in public is very common. Greeks usually greet each other (men and women alike) by embracing and kissing each other on both cheeks. Overall Greeks are very demonstrative and affectionate. When someone is invited to a dinner out they’re not expected to pay. The person who extends the invitation usually pays for all people invited. Greeks love when foreigners take interest to speak Greek (even a few words). Try speaking a few Greek words or join in Greek dances and your Greek hosts will love you!
Greeks are very verbose and intense in their conversations. They hold many lengthy, argumentative and intense discussions amongst themselves. Non-Greeks will find that they’re rambling on forever and arguing about everything just for the shake of arguing. However, this is not quite the case. Greeks respect logic (they’ve invented it!) and are skilled at pleasing other nationalities. They can display great understanding and charm, often appearing extremely flexible and accommodating. They all believe in their own powers of oratory and use a mix of rational arguments and emotive content to get their message through. During casual discussions (even in business meetings) expect Greeks to ask personal questions, such as “are you married?”, “do you have kids?” etc. They’re not being rude, they just want to get to know you personally.
Hospitality in Greece stretches back thousands of years to ancient Greek times. Xenia / Philoxenia (loosely meaning ‘guest-friendship’) is the ancient Greek concept of hospitality, the generosity, and courtesy shown to those who are far from home and need a place to rest. For modern Greeks, it is much deeper than that. It is an unspoken cultural law that shows generosity and courtesy to strangers. Greeks are enormously generous when inviting others, or being invited themselves, no matter where they live.
There is much more to philoxenia than than mere “hospitality.” Over the millennia the Greek generosity of spirit has become a cultural norm that is deeply embedded in every person in the nation. For Greeks, it is about sharing their lives with others .
Family is a core value of Greek society. It is not surprising to see a whole family living in an apartment building, with the patriarch living on the first floor, and children on subsequent floors. Even in big cities, there are hardly any retirement homes, and grandparents often live with or near their children. While this closeness can sometimes lead to funny situations as depicted in movies like My Big Fat Greek Wedding, it is certainly engrained in Greeks. Of course, in recent years, this trend has somewhat changed, but you can be sure that even if families are scatted across the country, they get together as much as they can.
Elderly people have a lot of authority in Greece and are usually given a lot of respect from younger people, even to this day. Kids usually care for their elderly parents and take them at their houses when they’re older and on their own, and rarely ever put them in elderly homes. Men, especially, consider it a personal honour and responsibility to care for their family.
TRADITIONS AND CUSTOMS
Greeks are particularly proud of their culture; they speak of their country with intense passion, expressing the feeling that Greek culture is a definition of their national and ethnic belonging. Wonderful regional traditions, religion, music, language, food and wine, are the major composites of the culture in mainland Greece and of the Greek islands creating an incomparable cultural base for everyone wishing to visit and understand contemporary Greece.
Religion plays an important role in the understanding of daily culture. 98% of the Greeks are Christian Orthodox. The rest of the population are Muslims, Roman Catholics, and Jewish. Greece and Russia are the only countries to have such a big proportion of Orthodox Christians. The Orthodox Church forms the third largest branch of Christianity, after the Roman Catholic and the Protestant.
Name days and Saints’ days
The ‘name day’ tradition is strongly respected and celebrated every year all over Greece. Most people in Greece are named after a Greek Orthodox saint and name days are associated with these saints days’ celebrations. Custom is to for friends and family to call and congratulate someone on their name day. The person celebrating their name day often treats their guests to either an open house or takes them out for a drink and meze at a taverna.
Saints days are celebrated in chapels and churches as well. That is why so many panigiria [festivals] are organized in the country, which is actually religious celebrations of saints, followed by food and drinks, traditional music and dancing until the next morning.
These “panigiria” are a strong element of the Greek culture and take place all year round, especially in summer.
When in Greece, make like the Greeks and have a long, lazy, lingering and chat-filled kafedaki.
In the cafes of Athens and the central squares of towns and villages throughout the islands and countryside, sitting for a coffee and a long round of people-watching and gossip is a pastime not to be missed. Order a Greek coffee, either sketo (plain), metrio (with some sugar) or glyko (super-sweet), and watch the world go by.
In the village squares, you will see the traditional type of cafeteria in Greece, the kafenion. Mostly older men go there to drink their traditional Greek coffee, chat and play cards
One of the great treats of time in Greece is dropping whatever timescale you brought with you and merging with the one here. Simply sit quay-side or street-side, sip a coffee by day or a cocktail or glass of local wine by night, and watch the world go by. Better yet, bring friends.
Drinking, eating, dancing
Greeks love to dance, drink and eat so it’s not uncommon to see people busting into a dance during family or religious celebrations, or even during a regular family outing at a taverna. The Greek penchant for partying dates back to Dionysus and is evident in the vibrant nightlife of most Greek cities and towns. It’s not uncommon in large cities like Athens to see people going out for dinner as late as midnight on a regular weeknight. Most restaurants are open until very late at night, and most Greek bars are open and server liquor until early in the morning. Greeks sure know how to party!
Apokries, the Greek carnival
Greece’s carnival season, known as “Apokries” or “Apokria” is a period which traditionally begins ten weeks before Greek Orthodox Easter and culminates on the weekend before Κathari Deftera (Ash Monday) the first day of Lent.
Apokries are celebrated all over Greece with masquerades and parties. The Greek name Apokries means abstention from meat (apo-kreas). This is because the period of Easter Lent begins as soon as the “Apokries” are over. In carnival, people wear costumes and masks which offer anonymity and freedom of expression.
Christmas in Greece is certainly worth experiencing, but if you have the choice, come here for Easter. Greek Orthodox Easter
It’s hard to imagine how rich and alive the Greek Orthodox Easter week is until you experience it. Villages, towns and cities come to life in one long crescendo leading up to Easter Sunday, from moody candlelight processions to brilliant fireworks, lamb roasts and dancing in the streets.
Many cultural events take place in Greece all year round and are very popular with the locals. Particularly famous is the Athens Epidaurus Greek Festival, with events in the Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus, the Herodeion Theatre in Athens and other venues. Such festivals with music concerts, theatre performances, lectures, and custom revivals take place in all Greek islands and towns, usually in summer, presenting the local culture and occasionally hosting international participation.
Another tradition Greeks are supposedly famous for is the smashing of plates, although this is extremely rare today. The origins of this tradition are obscure but it’s mostly associated with the expression of joy and happiness, or to show appreciation for the music played at a party, wedding, baptism or other festivities. The tradition of breaking plates in live music clubs (bouzoukia) was banned in 1969 and was replaced by throwing flowers at the feet of the singer, or at each other. You may still see some plate smashing in private celebrations.
Socialising is more than a pastime in Greece – it’s a way of life. Cafes overflow with youngsters gossiping or older locals in heated debate. Restaurants are filled with long tables for big gatherings and friends amble arm in arm down the street. Squares are the focal point, where life unfolds collectively. Immerse yourself, whether it’s a coffee, a shot of ouzo, a chorus on the bouzouki or a local celebration. Greeks are passionate and live life to the fullest, even at the most difficult times. The result is a country seemingly riddled with challenges, yet full of people loving life.
Greeks know how to live well – come and give it a try for yourself. Get started by downloading our comprehensive apps.