What makes a Greek a Greek?
I found the answer Forty years ago, when I left England for a new life in Greece.
Passion made me do it, I had met MGG (my Greek God), yes, England had Greek Gods, and I would have followed him to the ends of the Earth.
So began my initiation into the crazy, yet wonderful ways of the Greeks.
Every nationality seems to be known for their, sometimes, strange characteristics, for example, English people are said to be rather cold, uptight and straight-laced, gradually, I came to realize, to my delight, Greeks are the complete opposite!
Forty, endearingly quirky, idiosyncrasies I have grasped, throughout my forty years in Greece, which make a Greek a Greek!
1. It’s all Greek to me!
Literally, in my first months in Greece, I understood nothing; my question of the day was “What did he say?”
In ancient times, Greeks believed anyone who didn’t speak Greek, was a barbarian, the number one criteria, to be classed as a Greek, was to speak the language!
Within a year, I was speaking fluent Greek; I’m already becoming ‘Greeker’!
2. Punctuality is a dirty word
Time has no meaning, Greeks live for the moment, there’s always tomorrow.
3. Ouzo, don’t go there
Lethal stuff, especially when your first encounter with it was “straight up”, no added water!
4. Men wear skirts
Greek men wear their skirts with great panache, a proud “Evzone”, or “Tsoliada” the Greek Presidential Guard, in his “fustanella” (Pleated white skirt), is a sight for sore eyes.
5. Everything’s better with feta
Feta cheese, served with absolutely everything, for a Greek, a meal is not a meal without feta, and I don’t like it!
6. Greece is not the name of the country
Greeks are adamant about this; the name of their beautiful country is Hellas .
7. Traffic lights, traffic laws and the Highway Code, were made to be broken
The first time driving in Greece, I felt I was taking my life in my hands; I soon became an expert Greek driver!
8. Everyone is someone’s cousin
All Greeks seem to be related to one another!
9. Lemon, olive oil and oregano go with everything
Similar to number five, essential to all Greeks, if you don’t like olive oil, lemon or Oregano, you starve.
10. Every family has a Yiannis
Yiannis is one of the most popular boy’s names in Greece, and as the tradition is to name the first born son after the grandfather, every family has one, I have one of my own, my son Yiannis!
11. Greeks are never wrong
Well, seeing as they are descended from the world’s greatest philosophers, how could they ever be wrong?
12. Greeks dance on tables
When Greeks dance, it’s as if they are on another level, and they are, the ultimate example of “ Dance as if no one is watching”.
They’re up on the table, dancing with all their soul, smashing plates and crying “Opa”.
13. Greeks talk with their hands
Don’t stand too near to a Greek; you are likely to be whacked in the face by their wild hand gesticulations!
14. Greeks force feed their guests
Greeks are such generous people. Don’t bother trying to refuse food from a Greek, just accept everything and then diet for the next two weeks!
15. Greeks keep count of how many times they visit the beach each summer
I still don’t know why they count the number of times they visit the beach, but it becomes quite a competition between them, you will inevitably be asked “Posa bania exeis kanei?” “How many swims have you done?”
I’ve just popped back here to add this, many of you (And thank you so much for reading my blog) are telling me I forgot about the counting of ice creams!
Yes! I had forgotten that, Greeks count how many ice creams they have consumed each summer!
16. Greeks are loud and proud
And so they should be, they have a lot to shout about, Greece is the cradle of civilization, they have been through thick and thin and they survived, and, they gave the world History!
Herodotus, “Father of history” started it all, with his works; The Histories, and don’t forget Homer, the great Greek poet, author of The Iliad and The Odyssey, epic poems, central to all Greek literature!
17. Each and every Greek family owns at least one olive grove
Outside of Athens, it’s rare to see Greek mamas buying olive oil from the supermarket; they have gallons stored away, all from their own olive trees.
18. Greeks do not know the meaning of the word “Queue”
Wherever, whenever, it’s a free for all!
19. Greeks never say “I don’t know”
The Greek ego, I have learnt to my detriment, if they don’t know the answer, they’ll tell you anything, always best to check and double check from some other source!
20. It’s Constantinople, not Istanbul
Don’t call Constantinople Istanbul if you value your life, up until the fall of Constantinople in 1453, it was the capital city of the Byzantine Empire, stolen by the Turks, a thorn in the side of every Greek.
21. Pay cash, I’ll give you discount
You want to buy a fridge, a television, well; it goes for anything really, pay cash, you’ll get a discount, see that plasma TV there, 1000 Euro, give me cash, it’s your for 900I like this!
22. Greeks are consistently one year older
When you ask a Greek how old they are, they will always add a year, you see, if they are forty years old on their birthday, they are now in their forty first year, so, they are forty one, logical!
23. Greeks don’t read tea leaves, they read coffee cups
A variation on a theme, Greeks predict your future from the residual coffee grounds in the cup and on the saucer, not tea leaves.
You drink the little cup of delicious Greek coffee (Don’t ever call it Turkish), the cup is turned upside down on the saucer, left for a few minutes, the residue inspected, and voila, you know who you are going to marry.
24. Greeks spit at you
Don’t worry if a Greek spits at you, three times! They are only protecting you by warding off the evil eye.
25. Greeks are passionate
Oh yes they are, in everything and every way, they love life, whatever they do, they do it
with; “MERAKI“, with all their heart and soul.
26. Family is what it’s all about
Nothing is more important to Greeks than their family, they may fight and quarrel, they may not speak to each other for days or weeks, but, family is everything, the be all and end all.
27. Greeks eat together
Meal times are happy events; it’s not only about great Greek cuisine it’s about being together, catching up on news and gossip.
Most of Greece comes to a standstill at lunch time, around two o clock, shops and offices close, school is over, everyone heads home for lunch, always homemade!
Normal life resumes at five!
28. Greeks never eat dinner before 10 pm
After the large quantities of food consumed at lunch time, often not over before three in the afternoon, is it any wonder they eat a late dinner?
29. Greeks clap when the pilot lands the plane
They did this on my first plane trip to Greece, forty years ago, and they did on my last, they are just so relived to be back on “terra firma”, they are also applauding the pilot.
30. Souvlaki is the Greek equivalent of English fish and chips
In England, on every street corner, is a fish and chip shop, in Greece, it’s a slouvlaki shop.
31. Greeks are hospitable, friendly and welcoming
Greeks will invite you into their homes, feed and water you, and would give you the shirt of their back if you need it.
An example, once, when visiting Crete, in the middle of nowhere a shepherd flagged us down to ask the time, and proceeded to invite us to his house for lunch, and to meet his family.
To understand the kind, generous and hounourable Greeks better, please read; PHILOTIMO.
It says all there is to say about Greeks.
32. Greeks love children
Not only their own, in Greece children are not meant to be seen and not heard, they are meant to have fun, who cares if they break Auntie’s antique vase? It was an accident.
Who cares if they smash that bottle of expensive wine? Never mind, never mind, “ Den peirazei”, the phrase on every Greeks lips when children are around.
33. Greeks eat well
Not for the Greeks fast food and junk, they know the benefits of a healthy diet, full of fresh fruit and vegetables, fish straight from the sea and meat in moderation.
After all, The Mediterranean Diet originated in Greece.
34. Always time for coffee
No matter how busy they are, Greeks will stop for coffee, not for them coffee in a cardboard cup, on the run, coffee means a time for friends, coffee is to be savoured and enjoyed.
On unexpectedly meeting a friend in the street, their first words will be “How are, let’s go for coffee” accompanied by much hugging and kissing.
This explains observation number two, “Punctuality is a dirty word”!
35. Greeks approach difficulties with a sense of humour
Greeks get on with it, they’ve been through worse, is what they are likely to tell you in times of trouble, today’s austerity measures may mean cutting back on food, “Never mind”, they will say, “I needed to lose a few kilos”.
Inside they are terrified, unsure of the future, to the world; they put on a brave face.
36. Greeks have relatives all over the World
Owing to the depression of the 50’s and 60s, after WII and The Greek Civil War, many Greeks left Greece to find a better life, in the factories of Germany, on the streets of America, in the snows of Canada and in sunny Australia.
And so, everyone now has an aunt in Stuttgart, an uncle in Chicago, a cousin in Toronto, or a nephew in Melbourne.
37. Greeks are political animals
As well as being party animals, Greeks, (who, at the drop of hat bring out the ouzo and crank up the bouzouki, we’ve all heard the phrase “Party like a Greek”), are also political animals, in fact, the ancient Greeks were the fathers of democracy.
Visit a Kafeneon, the old-fashioned, traditional Greek coffee shop, usually men only, at any time of day or night, and you’re sure to witness an ongoing political debate, sometimes rather heated.
Greeks devour newspapers, never miss the news on TV, they know what’s what.
From Greek grannies in remote mountain villages, to smart business men in Athens, they know who the current minister of education is, who the treasurer is, who’s minister of culture, and, no doubt, what the Prime minister had for lunch!
38. Greeks leave everything until the last minute
Trying to get something done in Greece can send you crazy, Greeks seem to operate in chaos, start a job from back to front, down tools and head for the kafeneon, and at your every protest, the answer is “Avrio, Avrio”, tomorrow, tomorrow, yes, major catastrophes occur, all taken in good humour, but, more times than not, “Everything is alright on the night”
39. Greeks will prevail
Greece has had its trials and tribulations.
From 1453 with the fall of Constantinople until the revolution in 1821 Greece was under Turkish rule, after which, they fought a few Balkan Wars, endured the First World War, were occupied by the Germans in World War Two and experienced civil war immediately after.
The Greeks pulled through, and again, now, in this terrible economic crisis, the Greeks will survive, they always do!
40. Greeks can make you Greeker!
Their “Greekness” just rubs off on you, and before you know it, you are “Greeker than the Greeks”!
What have I learnt from my forty years living among these wonderful people called Greeks?
I have learned they are proud, patriotic, passionate people; they are kind, generous and hospitable.
Yes, sometimes, I can’t understand their mentality; Greek bureaucracy is a law unto itself, and their death wish disregard for safety makes me cringe.
Yes some days I want to be as far away from Greece as possible, yes, there are Greeks I don’t like, but, mostly, I love them.
I have turned into a big Greek mama, with my own big fat Greek family, and, apart from my very own Greek God, I now have my personal Greek God junior, my son Yiannis, and my Greek Goddess, my daughter Nais.
“Na zisete”, I wish long life for you all, and “Sas agapo poli”!
I love you all very much.
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