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Sunday, 11 October 2015

Greece inside out

American Scott Walters started it with his guide to England after his visit to 'mostly small towns', with his generalisations such as 'People don't seem to be afraid of their neighbours or the government(see https://www.facebook.com/iScottFL/posts/10207706696650031). His facebook post practically went viral. Then along came Paul Owen's '(very) rough guide to America from an Englishman in New York': 'It’s best to think of the police as a sort of occupying army and avoid them accordingly – particularly if you are not white' (see http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/oct/08/america-guide-englishman-new-york). More recently, Madhvi Pankhania gave us 'an English view of Australia': 'Australians can be sensitive – convict jokes will go down like a lead (see http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/oct/11/so-long-and-thanks-for-all-the-flat-whites-an-english-view-of-australia).

I'll take a stab at continuing the meme, with my view of Greece, although I won't be writing as a citizen of another nationality. I can no longer genuinely say I'm a New Zelander without feeling like I'm fooling you. I'm describing Greeks as a 'Greek-something' (both an insider and an outsider). I've based my ideas below loosely on the three above quoted posts.
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  1. Greece is a really safe holiday destination. Greek street protests take place in well-defined spaces, and it's very easy to be a bystander watching a protest safely from a short distance.
  2. Greeks are often heard shouting in a group; they are actually having a normal conversation with one another.
  3. Traditional Greek food is really tasty and quite cheap. But it looks rather plain, and not at all refined. That's because Greek tavernas serve the kind of food a mother or grandmother would cook for her family.
  4. If you order some 'toast' in Greece, you'll get a hot ham and cheese sandwich, not dry blackened bread. English toast is generally regarded as something you eat at a hotel breakfast.
  5. Whatever you order in a Greek restaurant, it comes with fried potatoes, including 'toast' (crisps/chips might be served as an alternative to fried potatoes).
  6. Souvlaki (aka yiro, gyro sandwich) is the national takeout meal, eaten at least once a week. Fasolada (bean soup) and fakies (lentil soup) are two other nationally unifying dish - they're each made once or twice a month by all homecooks throughout the year in most parts of Greece.
  7. Greeks eat a lot of junk food but they also eat a lot of home-cooked food; that's why they tend to be chunky/stocky. 
  8. Although organic food is gaining ground in Greece, it's not quite as popular as locally produced fresh seasonal products. To be able to grow your own food is regarded as a source of pride.
  9. Although feta cheese is well known all over the country, all regions produce their own varieties of different kinds of cheese, wine, bread, sausage, cured meats, etc. Places located 50 kilometres away from each other count as 'different' regions - they will each have their own different names for the same product. 
  10. 'Kek' is what the round cake with a hole in it is called (the one Mrs Portokalos calle 'kek' in My Big Fat greek Wedding). All other types of cake are known generically as 'gliko' (sweet). 
  11. The kafeneio is the equivalent of an English pub: it serves both coffee and alcohol, as well as food. Like pubs in small English towns, kafeneia are more like community living rooms. 
  12. The kafeneio is also a political unit. You frequent the kafeneio that expresses your political views. 
  13. Politics is talked about everywhere by everyone. 
  14. The Greek political left is not the same thing as what is regarded globally as the political left. Syriza called itself a centre-left party, when initially it was regarded  as a radical left party by the global press. 
  15. Young Greeks often marry at a municipal office these days. They have a church wedding after the birth of their first child. 
  16. Greeks are on the whole smart casual dressers. 
  17. Greeks are defined by their accents. 
  18. Taxi drivers know all the local gossip, as do hairdressers.
  19. Greeks generally don't drink tea. When they do, they think of it as something used for medicinal purposes only (eg when you feel ill). 
  20. Wherever you are, you can ask for a glass of water and no one will expect you to pay for it. The price of plain bottled water is regulated by the government, and it's very cheap. (In the Athens museum area last summer, a small bottle cost 0.35 eurocents; at most kiosks, this bottle will be sold for no more than 0.50 eurocents.)
  21. The Greek public health system is a shambles, but the doctors are almost universally excellent.
  22. Things don't always happen/start right on the stated time. They may happen/start 5 or 15 or 30 or 45 or 60 or more minutes later.
  23. Greeks are dreadful drivers, but their parking skills is second to none.
  24. Greek roads leave a lot to be desired, but you can actually drive quite safely on them. 
  25. Greek homes are to be envied - most people live in very modern apartments or houses with fitted kitchens, and not the little whitewashed houses often depicted in tourist images of Greece.
  26. Everyone has a washing machine (we don't do laundromats) but driers are rare - that's because there's a lot of sunlight throughout the year in Greece, despite the cold winters.
  27. Contrary to popular belief, it does actually get very cold in Greece in winter.
  28. Apartments for rent usually come unfurnished; Greeks think the idea of sleeping in someone else’s bed is disgusting. 
  29. Contrary to popular belief, the Greek police are very helpful and friendly. This change has come about since the crisis. 
  30. The buses and (sometimes) the trains may not look very flashy, but they do work. The Athens metro is the fastest and cleanest metro I've ever encountered.
  31. It may look all Greek to you initially, but contrary to popular belief, the Greek letters of the alphabet are very easy to learn and there are strict pronunciation rules for letters and combinations of letter (unlike English). 
  32. Everyone seems to have a profession of some sorts. Greeks are often introduced to other people first by their name and then by their profession. Education matters, and this attitude cuts across every social class.
  33. Unlike her European counterparts, the capital city of Greece, Athens, is one of the cheapest cities to live in in Greece. Petrol is cheapest in Athens.
  34. 'Petrelaio' is diesel; unleaded petrol is 'venzini'.
  35. It may seem like Greeks drink a lot of soft drinks, but they do actually prefer their own regional brands. Greek soft drinks have an awesome taste.
  36. Macedonia will always be Greek to the Greeks, even if it's also Macedonian. It's still Greek to them.
  37. Contrary to popular belief, the Greek woman rules the roost. She just lets the man think he wears the trousers.
  38. In general terms, German habits are regarded as a source of derision (in tourist areas, Germans stand out by wearing white socks and sandals); Israelis are regarded as strange people (in tourist areas, Israeli cruise ships are guarded by the local police because they are 'afraid of attacks': attacks from what? See No. 1); Americans and the British are seen seen mainly as idiots, even though Greeks are infatuated by London and the English accent. 
  39. Turkey is regarded as a nice place to go on a short holiday, but only the coastal Mediterranean parts; the Turks are our friends, but Turkey is still the enemy. 
  40. Cypriots are not Greeks - Cypriots will also remind you of this. Some Cypriots speak Greek, which is where the confusion lies - Cyprus is another country, not a Greek island. 
  41. Greeks still throw used toilet paper in a bin and they never flush it in the toilet. Toilets really do block if used TP is flushed down the loo. (On a positive note, Greek beaches rarely get flooded with sewage - now you know why.)
  42. Greeks are not at all as homophobic as they are often depicted in the foreign press. But Greek gay men do not fit the global paradigm of homosexuality. 
  43. Greeks call black-skinned people 'mavri' (mavri = black), not because they are racist, but because they are describing black people's skin colour and they regard them as an ethnic group (however wrong that may be). Greeks aren't as racist as the global press makes them out to be - they are more likely to be intra-racist, ie they may have something negative to say about another Greek person from a different region than their own - it's got to do with feeling superior. 
  44. Graffiti is so ingrained in Greek culture that it is taken for granted. No one ever really talks about it. Except for foreigners. 
  45. Ditto the above for stray cats and dogs. 
  46. Greeks love a good joke. But they don't like/get English humour. They prefer American comedy.
  47. Many motorcycle drivers are seen riding without a helmet. It may not always kill them, but it's generally young males that get killed when they fall off a motorcycle (and in 99% of cases, they weren't wearing a helmet). 
  48. The word 'malaka' may be a term of endearment among in-groups. But if you don't belong to the in-group, it's best not to use it. You'll be asked 'who are you calling a malaka?' instead of getting a friendly welcome.
  49. Queuing is now becoming more orderly in Greece than it used to be. The global media likes to show long queues of Greek people waiting for their turn (especially during the pre- and post-referendum period with the closed banks). But queues are rare outside Athens. 
  50. You don't have to tip. Really. But a tip is always appreciated and you will be thanked profusely for it.
  51. Bargaining is regarded as part of Greek culture, but what most people don't realise is that it's usually the customer who demands to bargain. Greek prices are always pretty much fixed.
  52. If you do want to bargain, you probably won't get a receipt for the product/service you were buying. (Serves you right.)
  53. There seem to be a lot of newspapers for the country's size. Most people buy a Sunday paper mainly for the offers included in it (eg supermarket/petrol vouchers, etc). Internet news sources now abound.
  54. On television news and other shows, one person is rarely talking at one time. Although this seems confusing to most people, it doesn't seem to impede Greeks' understanding of the discussion.
  55. Some olive trees in Greece are older than America.  
  56. Almost everyone in Greece has been through a private language institute where they learnt English. 
  57. Almost everyone in Greece speaks a reasonable level of English. Even the elderly seem to be able to understand what a foreigner is asking them and they are able to point them in the right direction.
  58. Cold coffees in Greece are awesome. My favorite is freddo cappuccino, and it has the same awesome taste wherever I've had it. (Most people like to drink 'frappe' - ice-cold 'beaten' Nescafe.)
  59. Drinking beer on the road from a bottle is regarded as very bad taste. Drinking beer without food is OK as long as you are sitting down and you are at a cafe/bar kind of place. Since beer is always served cold, drinking beer is not really seen as the coolest thing to do in the winter, unless you find yourself in a heated space.
  60. The Acropolis is the most awesome rock in the universe. It's taken by the Greeks for granted only by those for whom it is part of the daily commute scenery (ie Athenians). 
  61. The universal greeting is "yiasou" (or 'yia'. The universal farewell is also "Yiasou" (or 'yia'). 
  62. Greek tomatoes really do taste different from tomatoes from other countries. 
  63. It's generally believed that Greeks are racist against the Roma. It works both ways: the Roma tend to keep themselves apart from the mainstream community. 
  64. Olive oil in Greece is known as 'oil', because that's what most if not all people use on a daily basis in their cooking. We differentiate among seed oils, naming them according to their origin. But olive oil is just oil.
  65. Greeks love their cars. They long for the days to return when they will be able to afford the car they gave up in the crisis due to the high taxes. Cars are regarded as a work of art which is why they don't have bumper stickers because Greeks don't want to dirty them). 
  66. Greeks like having euros. They remember the drachma with nostalgia, but they know it looks like Monopoly money compared to what they've got now. 
  67. Greeks hate winter because it costs them money to keep warm, and because they are outside people, and winter keeps them inside. 
  68. World War 2 is remembered by Greeks in a similar way as the Holocaust is remembered by Jews.
  69. Greeks love to smoke and the smoking ban is broken many times. But they do smoke more cheaply nowadays: they usually roll their own and they also do e-cigs. Nota bene: if you go to a bar/cafe.taverna and expect other patrons not to smoke, you are the crazy person, not the smokers. I know this rule well: that's why I rarely go to these places. I hate cigarette smoke. 
  70. Greece is changing. Every Greek knows this, and regrets it in some ways, but also understands that this has to happen. 
 Thanks to Chris Murphy and Frances McKenzie for their input.

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