Greek culture is a potpourri of diverse influences of the East and West. No different is this laidback European paradise from the proverbial Rome: when in Rome, do as the Romans do. Here are some nuggets of Greek culture for you to do as the Greeks do!
Punctuality? Not a big deal.
The twist is this: being half an hour late is actually quintessential Greek punctuality. While you, as a foreigner, should still strive to be on time, expect your Greek counterparts to be at least half an hour late, albeit with a heartfelt apology.
For social events, thirty minutes late is the minimum; show up on time and you shouldn’t be surprised to be the first one there. That may bear testament to the belief of Greeks’ laid-back, relaxed attitude toward life – when you ask to grab a coffee (to go), they’ll likely think you’re up for a long coffee date at the cafe for a hearty chat.
Greeks say ‘Kalomina’
Kalomina or literally ‘good month’ is an unusual blessing specific to the Greeks as the first day of the month is important to Greek culture. Throughout this day, ‘kalomina’s are cheerfully exchanged between locals, wishing one another well for the month ahead. It brings joy and begins the month with hope. With the affectionate nature of the Greeks even with strangers, expect the traditional cheek-to-cheek kiss as part of the well-meaning greeting as well!
Orthodox Easter in place of Christmas
Easter, for the Greeks, is the most important religious celebration brimming with age-old traditions, family time and intriguing traditional dishes. Easter’s Holy Week, or Megali Evdomada, features week-long festivities for the whole nation which shuts down for the occasion.
While the rest of the world searches for brilliantly-coloured eggs hidden in gardens, the Greeks crack red eggs at the traditional Tsougrisma game where players compete in trying to crack the other’s egg first. The winner is said to have good luck for the rest of the year!
The red dye represents the blood of Christ while the eggshell symbolises the Tomb of Christ. This act is symbolic of Christ’s resurrection. Holy Saturday is the day for the Resurrection service, the main event of the celebration, where everyone’s white candle is slowly lit by the priest’s Holy Light, bells ring and the congregation roars a ‘Christos Anesti’ (Christ has risen) with gusto.
The Greek Name Day tradition
As the ‘prevailing religion of Greece’, Orthodox Christianity retains a great influence on Greek culture. In accordance to the Christian church, specific days are set aside for a saint’s ‘feast day’, thus passing into wider usage in the form of Name Days (for all those with the same first name).
In Greece, these are widely celebrated and are traditionally more important than birthdays. Name days warrant an ‘open house’ serving traditional ‘kerasma’ (food, sweets and liquor offered by the host) where loved ones visit with a gift and well wishes. The most common blessing on this day is ‘Chronia Polla’ or ‘Many Years’ which denotes good health and longevity.
Spitting to bring good fortune
If you’re spat on by a Greek, don’t be quick to get upset – chances are the spitter has the best intentions! Greeks believe spitting wards off evil. In fact, they don’t actually spit. Rather, they either dry spit or simply say ‘ftou, ftou, ftou’ exactly three times.
On special occasions like weddings, it’s customary for Greeks to spit on the happy couple as a well-meaning gesture to protect them from evil spirits. Spitting on a baby or when complimenting a child is also common to prevent the evil eye – one of the most rampant superstitions in Greece.