There are always micro details no one ever remembers to tell you when visiting a new country. For myself, I remember when I was in Rome, I had no idea they charged you some change to use public restrooms; and being that I’m American, us credit card junkies NEVER have cash–much less “change”. I remember having to hold it for HOURS. It makes a perfectly good day rather miserable when you have to pee so bad you threaten murder if your friends even try to make you laugh…
So, my dear ones, I will try to scour my brain to give you every tip I can think of for first timers here in Athens. And in case you started digging for change in your pockets… don’t worry, you can use the restroom anywhere for free. No one really cares.
Tips, tips, tips…
Though you don’t need change to use restrooms here… you do need cash. Everything is paid with cash. If you hand your barista a credit card for your three euro cappuccino, you’ll get looked at like a ridiculous human being.
I take that back, it is possible to pay with card places, but it is usually an inconvenience. Just grab some cash at the ATM before you go out for the day. It’ll make your life and your barista’s life a bit easier.
In this case: Don’t share the love-
So, about those guys in Monastiraki square that chase obvious tourists around to “share some love” with a fist bump. The only thing they want to share is a tacky braided bracelet they will unexpectedly drop into your hand and demand ten euros for. So don’t think the locals that leave these guys hanging are being rude, they just know how not to get swindled out of their money.
Baby, it actually does get cold outside-
If you’re traveling between September and April… don’t imagine that Athens is immune to cold weather. I have spent all my time here during these months and I can assure you, it does get pretty cold! During fall and early spring, though the days are warm, it does get a bit chilly at night; so don’t just pack shorts and crop tops.
Even on warm spring days, we have a joke at my university that one can always tell the difference between a study abroad student and a local student: the study abroad kids are in flip-flops and neon pink Nike shorts while the locals are bundled up in scarfs and sweaters. Even in the hottest spring weather, Greeks would NEVER wear summer attire until well… summer.
In the same way we throw our middle finger in the air to show disapproval… Greeks have the moutza. And it looks very similar to holding our hand out to signal stop, or say thank you from a distance: hand extended and five fingers open. Be careful with this… though it is sometimes clear, due to context, if you’re holding your hand up to say thank you to the papou (grandpa) who stopped his car to let you cross the street… it can be misunderstood to mean FUCK YOU! Don’t tell the poor papou “fuck you”.
Just be safe and wave.
Have some MORE!
If you’re dining at a traditional Greek taverna (or restaurant), you will usually be offered a free dessert at the end of your meal. Don’t refuse it… their disappointed faces will guilt you harder than any cheat on your diet will. Just eat the baklava! If you have an allergy, just tell them you are so full that you would prefer to enjoy it at home later and would like a paketo (to-go box). Then you can just bring that paketo right to me 🙂
Having been a waitress back home for years, I still have a hard time accepting that tipping your server or bartender here is optional. Yes, they do get paid hourly here, but the wages are so bad (more on working conditions here in my Being an Expat: Misconception #2 post) I always try and throw in a few extra euros. Though your average fifteen/twenty percent tipping rule in the states is a bit excessive here… I still will leave a euro or two even though this isn’t necessarily expected (especially from students).
So here are a few things to keep in mind! If you want to know a bit more about lifestyle and culture here, my Lesson in Culture post gives a crash course on what’s taken me a couple years to understand about Greece.