Culture Shock in Greece

It may be a European country with familiar facilities and social structures, but that doesn’t mean that expats won’t experience at least some degree of culture shock in Greece. 

It is a country of rich traditions and ancient history, as well as sea and sunshine. In response to their environment and history, Greek people have developed traditions which they will expect expats to respect and, at least, know a bit about. The Greek character, if there is such a thing, has been shaped by a fascinating blend of the ancient and the modern, and the country’s long history as a crossroads between East and West. 

People in Greece

Greeks are known for their warmth, generosity and hospitability. This is true, although expats should be prepared to make the first move in social situations. Expats should also expect a fair amount of hugs, kisses on the cheek and nudges on the arm during conversations. 

Expats should also expect to be asked about their lives and their opinions of the country. In these instances, expats should remember the ancient word philotimia (still in use), which literally means “love of honour” and speaks to how seriously Greeks take saving face. Greeks often moan about the state of their country but it is not advisable for expats to do the same. In line with this, expats should remember to be cautious when disagreeing with their Greek friends and colleagues and should be careful not to embarrass them. 

Language in Greece

Greek is considered by many to be a tricky language to learn. There are differences between spoken and written Greek, as well as between regional idioms. Greek also employs inflexions, where the meanings of words change depending on how they are said. As a result, expats in the first stages of learning Greek can expect some confused exchanges.

Generally, locals are accepting of foreigners who don’t speak Greek. Many Greeks speak English and realise the increasing global relevance of English. At the same time, Greeks are extremely proud of their language, and rightly so: it is one of the oldest in the world and has made significant contributions to the English language. Expats intent on staying would do well to learn the language - not only does it create more possibilities for employment, but it is also the best way to integrate into Greek society. 

Time in Greece

It is often said that Greek people would rather relax than rush through their daily routines. Time in Greece seems to move more slowly (although foreigners are expected to be timeous). The average Greek employee works more hours in a year and gets less vacation time than the average Brit or German, but these facts are not a true reflection of Greek life which allows people to enjoy life’s simple pleasures. 

Food in Greece

The average Greek family spends over a third of their budget on food and beverages. Locals spend hours at coffee shops when they can (coffee, aside from ouzo (a local spirit), is the national beverage), but this is often less about the coffee and more about spending time with friends or family. 

The same holds true of the Greek tavernas at which locals frequently dine. It is considered extremely rude to leave immediately after a meal and even leaving after an hour is often looked down upon. Taverna owners are also known to sometimes give drinks on the house, which also shouldn’t be declined. Socialising, eating and drinking are one in the same experience. Eating in the Greek way is a relaxed activity where food is shared and tips are often included in the price. It should also be noted that being a waiter in Greece is a traditional profession and rudeness won't be well received. 

Even in the toughest times, Greek people are fantastic hosts who provide their guests with everything they can. Expats who enjoy this privilege should always bring a gift for the host/hostess such as wine or flowers. They should also be prepared to eat whatever is in front of them – it is considered rude and ignorant to turn down food for being too “exotic”. Additionally, alcohol of some kind usually attends these gatherings; however, Greeks also value balance which, in this case, means a semblance of sobriety. 

Cultural dos and don'ts in Greece

  • Don't talk about politics, especially in the early stages of a relationship

  • Don't mention Cyprus and Turkey, even if relations have improved, they’re touchy subjects

  • Don't categorise Greece as part of Eastern Europe

  • Don't say anything negative about Greek food, coffee or anything else

  • Don't make the “okay” sign with an index finger and thumb, Greeks use it as a rude gesture

  • Don't raise an open palm at or above face level, it’s an insult in Greece

  • Do drink moderately, enjoy the food, the sunshine and the lifestyle

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