A Lesson in Culture

Siga, Siga:
This is one of the first phrases I learned in Greece; it means “slowly, slowly” and it applies to everything. People know how to take and enjoy their time. Whether it’s going to an appointment (being late is a very regular thing here), enjoying dinner, sleeping in, catching up with friends, EVERYTHING is taken siga, siga.
It’s nice actually, maybe not when you use their public services and wait for the bus to come half an hour late, which happens to me quite often. But it’s taught me a lot about soaking in every second and enjoying life. That’s what I found the most unique in Greece; they know better than most how to ENJOY life.
Coffee is its own lifestyle here. And no, not like in the States, where you race through the drive-through for your second caramel macchiato on your lunch break. In Athens, you LIVE at the coffee shop. It is very common to sit with friends, nursing a single freddo cappuccino and rolling cigarettes for 4 hours. And no, 4 hours is not an exaggeration.


Take it from me… coming from an American background where people down shots like it’s always five minutes before the last call, here in Greece that will not be looked on too well. Remember siga, siga? It applies to drinking as well. Not that people frown on one who’s had one too many… but you will rarely see a group of Greeks walking out from dinner obliterated by wine at 9 p.m. They take their time even getting drunk. But the main difference is to enjoy yourself… not get shit faced.
Don’t try this in Greece…

no one is really arguing 24/7
                                                                                                      Everyone is loud. They discuss loud, greet each other loud, laugh loud, debate and argue even louder. But don’t think something is wrong or that they are ALWAYS fighting… debating and yelling is a pastime here. They’re rarely truly mad enough not to laugh or hug and kiss each other the next second.

Trust me I date one, and I still find it bizarre that after the most giant argument EVER (in my eyes) he can turn around, laugh, give me the biggest kiss and everything is fine. I don’t think it will ever cease to blow my mind. But it’s very normal.

Speaking of pastimes, striking is something that happens QUITE often here. Mainly with the metros. I would say in my experience… maybe once or twice a month. Fortunately, they do warn you a few days ahead.
When you greet people, stick to this rule of thumb… to kiss both cheeks, start on your right and finish on your left. At least I got confused. And had to clarify this with Alex when I had a few close calls nearly kissing his mom right on the mouth.
Speaking Greek:
For those shy about speaking new languages… don’t be here! You will be the star of the show! People LOVE when they see someone truly making an effort to learn their language. They understand it’s incredibly difficult to learn, (it’s ranked I believe one of the top three hardest languages just below Chinese and Arabic) and they’re impressed with the smallest knowledge of vocabulary.
Just a few words: Everyone, everywhere, all the time. Even underneath the “no smoking” signs. My grandma would love it here.
Talking to strangers:
I know those from up north won’t have an issue with this. But those of us from the south are friends with the mail lady and the grocery store clerk. We talk to everyone shuga. And though culturally people are very warm in general, (and are usually open towards tourists) it is a bit strange if you smile or start chatting with random strangers, even in the awkward situation where you catch them staring at you, (which is also a very culturally normal thing here; so don’t be alarmed). In other words, what Americans take as common friendliness, in many other places, can be taken the wrong way.


The issue with “thank you”:

This one is a bit hard to grasp… but I will try my best. In the Greek language, you have formal and informal ways of speaking. Formal language is used to respect the difference in status between you, and for example, your boss. Informal language is used to show that you both are on the same level, like your friends for example.

Saying “thank you” in Greek for things like having your friend hand a pencil to you… is somewhat of a formal response. And with your friends, addressing them in any kind of formal manner is literally putting distance between the two of you. I remember the annoyed responses I would get when I thanked Alex for washing the dishes or my friend for letting me borrow her phone… and I would NEVER get it!

So in saying thank you for simple things they would obviously do for you anyways, I was unconsciously telling them we weren’t equal. So unless a favor is super out of the ordinary, you wouldn’t usually say thank you to your Greek buddies, (as awkward as that still feels for me). Because they’re your friends, of course, they would do these things for you anyway.


Making friends:

I know how incredibly lonely it can be moving to an entirely new world and having to rebuild your circle of friends. But if it feels like it’s taking forever here… take heart. It’s not you. Honestly, it takes time for people here to open up to you. But I’ve found this to be better than the shallow “let’s grab coffee” after one’s first meeting, because once they know you, calling someone a friend here is not taken lightly. They will TRULY be a friend. But you know… siga, siga. 😉

1 thought on “A Lesson in Culture”

  1. We all sure have much to learn from the Greeks! (A thousand upon thousand years old truth!) ….about savoring our time, our lives and those we love and those who’s company we enjoy… how tragic that most of us rush through on fast forward….or experience mainly a daily list of “to-dos” which, at the end of the day- amount to as valuable as squat! They are necessary, to a degree- but leave no memory…no lasting value. So thankyou to the Greeks, once again, they are “ahead of their time”! 😉


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