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Apr 7, 2022
9 min read
Greece is much more than its history. It is more than its islands, food, and its geography. It is the people of Greece who make the country what it is. So, if you want to have a true Greek experience on your upcoming trip, there are a few things you have to know before jumping into a conversation with your new, Greek friends…
In this article, we’ll take a look at the customs of the Greek people, and we’ll also teach you a couple of helpful phrases along the way. For other handy tips, check out our definitive guide on Greece Visas. We’ll be looking at some Greek phrases first. But before we get to that, we’ll need to understand how the Greek letters are pronounced…
Before we get into the most useful Greek words when visiting Greece, let's get the basics out of the way so you can pronounce them.
Since Greek is written using the Greek alphabet, as opposed to the Latin alphabet of English and most European languages, many of the words may appear strange.
There are a few basic guidelines to remember in order to pronounce the words in the tables below more clearly.
The Greek alphabet's third letter might be challenging. If you're inclined to pronounce it with a hard "g," you shouldn't. Γ + Κ = G Γ + Γ = G Γ in most other instances is pronounced like the first sound in why!
Here, we have iota, eta, and epsilon, all spoken in a machine as the EE sound.
Unless it's preceded by an I this isn't an EE sound, but let's not get into that. Assume EPSILON is pronounced like the "e" in PET when you see it.
Greek is a challenging language to master, but you'll be communicating like a native speaker in no time with these basic Greek phrases!
It is greatly appreciated when a traveler attempts to learn the local language.
While simple words like "hello" in Greek are simple to learn, the language eventually develops also to include more than just basic Greek phrases as you know more!
Depending on the time of day, Greeks greet one another differently. Tourists can say kalimera (Kah-lee-MARE-ah) in the morning and kalomesimeri (Kah-lo-messy-mary) in the afternoon, however, this is rarely heard in practice, and kalimera can be used at any time of day.
However, kalispera (kah-lee-spare-ah) and kalinikta (kah-lee-neek-tah) both mean "good evening" and "good night," respectively.
"Hello," on the other hand, can be said at any time by saying yai sas, yiassou, gaisou, or yasuo (all pronounced yah-sooo); it can also be used in parting or as a toast, however, yia sas is more courteous and should be used with seniors and almost anyone for extra politeness.
Remember to express please in Greek by saying parakaló (par-ah-kah-LO), which can also mean "huh" or a shorter version of "please repeat that" or "I beg your pardon."
Once you've received something, say efkharistó (eff-car-ee-STOH) to express gratitude—if you're having trouble pronouncing it, just say "If car I stole" without the last "le."
Listen for deksiá (decks-yah) for "right" and aristerá (ar-ee-stare-ah) for "left" while asking for directions.
If you're stating "you're right" as a general affirmation, you'd say entáksi instead (en-tohk-see). You can say "where is—" by stating "Pou ine?" while asking for directions (poo-eeneh).
It's now time to bid farewell! Like adios in Spanish, anto sas (an-tyoh sahs) or just anto can be used interchangeably to express goodbye!
In Greek, "yes" is né, which sounds like "no" or "nah" to English speakers, whereas "no" is ókhi or ochi, which sounds like "okay" to English speakers, albeit it is pronounced more softly in some locations, like oh-shee.
Don't rely on your ability to understand spoken directions. When you ask, get a nice map to use as a visual help, but make sure the informant knows where you want to begin! Most maps in Greece have both Western and Greek letters, so whoever is assisting you should be able to read it easily.
Greek is an inflected language, which means that the meaning of words changes depending on their tone and accent. Therefore, many Greeks will not understand what you mean if you mispronounce something, even if the words appear or sound similar to you. They are not difficult; they do not mentally classify their words the way you do.
How you experience Greece can be influenced greatly depending on the time of year you visit. To find out what time of year best suits your needs, check out our guide on when to travel to Greece. That being said, the people of Greece are famous for their hospitality and laid-back demeanor any time of the year. This relaxed worldview is an important factor to consider when learning about their etiquette and customs.
For example, it is traditional to either allow someone to introduce you or state your name when meeting someone for the first time. During a first meeting, the most acceptable welcome is a firm handshake.
Friends and people who have known each other for a long time can also embrace and kiss both cheeks. In contrast, male friends shake each other's hands while tapping each other on the shoulder.
Greeks, in general, often intrude on your personal space or ask inquiries that might be too personal in other cultures. However, such actions are not as disrespectful as they appear to be. On the contrary, they are just informal ways of approaching individuals and forming new relationships. The majority of Greeks enjoy making jokes and inquiring about tourists' nations and experiences in Greece.
If a Greek person invites you to their home, keep in mind that punctuality is not particularly important for the Greeks. Most Greeks tend to be late for appointments where in fact, they rarely give you a specific time frame and instead advise you to "arrive around 12."
An invitation to coffee requires completely casual clothes. On the other hand, if you've been invited to a big dinner, you should dress nicely but not formally. Bringing pastries from the local bakery or a bottle of wine as a gift is a great idea. It will be appreciated if you thank the host for the invitation and admire their home when you arrive.
Table manners are casual during a meal. Because mealtimes are social occasions for the Greeks, expect discussions around the dinner table. They considered it disrespectful to refuse food. If you must refuse for some reason, attempt to explain yourself so that the host understands.
Asking for another serving will delight the hosts, as it is considered a compliment to their cooking skills. However, portions are usually big, and there are often several side dishes on the table at any one time.
Guests are considered a part of the family as far as mealtime is concerned, which means that they can and should eat or at least try whatever is on the table. Offering to help with setting the table or cleaning the dishes will be appreciated, but your help will most likely not be accepted, so do not insist too much.
Christmas (or Xristougenna in Greece), is one of the most joyous days in the Greek Orthodox Church. Christmas in Greece traditionally lasts 12 days, from December 25 to January 6, when the Feast of the Holy Theophany is celebrated (Epiphany). To learn more about Christmas in Greece, especially the traditional dishes that are served during this time of year, check out our guide on the best Greek food and cuisine.
Many customs are related to the Christmas holidays, some of which are very new and "imported" from other countries (like eating turkey on Christmas day and decorating the Christmas tree).
Greeks used to decorate little Christmas boats in honor of St. Nicholas, and to this day people prefer to decorate boats, instead of trees, and thus maintaining an age-old Christmas tradition.
The custom of singing Christmas songs (or kalanda) has been preserved even now. Children sing carols in groups from house to house on Christmas and New Year's Eve, accompanied by the sounds of the musical instrument "triangle," but also guitars, accordions, lyres, and harmonicas. Children used to be given pastries, but nowadays, they are more likely to be given money.
Easter is a holiday that can be moved around. It is celebrated on the first Sunday after the full moon of the spring equinox. During the Holy Week, the week prior to Easter, many customs and traditions are followed throughout Greece. On Holy Thursday, the preparations for the Resurrection feast begin.
Housewives prepare special cakes called tsoureki, biscuits, and red-colored eggs on that day. The use of an egg represents rebirth, while the red color represents Christ's blood. In the past, People used to cast out evil spirits by placing the first red egg on the icon stand of the house.
Easter Celebrations In The Orthodox Tradition
The celebration of Orthodox Easter (Pascha), the most important event on the Greek calendar and one of the richest in folklore, is unique throughout Greece. Easter customs become a herald of the spirit's and nature's rebirth from Crete to Macedonia, while Easter celebrations are a vibrant component of folk culture, rich in significance and symbolism.
Easter is the holiest of Greek holidays, but it is also the most joyous, a celebration of spring and rebirth in both the literal and figurative senses. Food is at the center of all celebrations as Greeks travel to the countryside to celebrate Easter.
Traveling to Greece during Greek Orthodox Easter allows guests to enjoy the Greek countryside's ambiance while also immersing themselves in a joyous and traditional atmosphere.
Corfu during Easter is excellent, as the town holds the country's most magnificent and melodic celebrations, complete with the city's philharmonic orchestras in full swing. One of Holy Saturday morning highlights is the dropping of ceramic pots called "botides" full of water from the windows onto the cobblestone streets.
It is on Chios where residents of the town of Vrontados reenact the tradition of "the rocket battle." Vrontados bursts into a blaze of fireworks after the Resurrection, lighting up the midnight sky.