It’s all Greek to me – things about the Greek culture


2017 Photo by Marjolein van Hout

Culture from elsewhere makes us see differences between what’s normal and strange. Your perspective changes. Take the bits and pieces of that foreign culture that you like better from yours while staying respectful to their and your own culture.

This summer I realized what the true differences between my Dutch culture and the Greek way of living are. I do start to get confused about the what’s normal and what’s strange part of it. It must be because I’m working around other cultures and taking bits from each foreign culture over the years. Latin cultures, Nordic ones, Southern places, colder areas, island vibes. They all mean something to me and provide me with a different mindset. It gives you a choice of lifestyle.

This is what I see in the Greek culture.

1. They’re all cousins.

There are first and second cousins in almost every family, but for the Greeks there are only a lot of cousins. It’s never clear whether a person is truly related or if they simply call their friend cousin. Another thing is having like twenty people being their “best friend”. Then cousins become best friends too and after a while you realize they were actually just neighbors in Baltimore.

2. Istanbul? No, that’s Constantinople!

The big city of Istanbul is located in Turkey and if you’ve paid attention during class you might know that it’s not the capital of Turkey. That’s Ankara. For the Greeks Istanbul has never been a true city, because that city has always been known as Constantinople. Actually, Constantinople has never been part of Turkey. It’s Greece. No, you know what – it’s all Greece. Turkey, Greece, whatever. One big happy family? According to some Greeks I know they are all Greeks and some say they are all Turkish.

greek-flag-karpathos3. Rules are made to be broken.

The Greek law used to state that when you drive a scooter or a motorbike you need to have a helmet. Making it very easy for the Greeks to ‘accidentally’ misinterpret the words to have as in having to have a helmet at home or inside the bike underneath the seat. The law then got changed into that you have to wear a helmet when driving a motorbike, but guess what. People driving a motorbike have a helmet on their arm instead of on their head, because then you’re still ‘wearing’ the helmet. Right?

4. Greeks have family everywhere in the world.

Ever heard of Baltimore? Probably most restaurants there are owned by Greeks. The community of Greeks living outside of Greece is huge. Most Greek abroad, also known as diaspora, live in the United Stated of America. There are also plenty of Greeks living in Australia, Germany, Canada and other places. Out of my personal experience, when a Greek speaks English they usually have this smooth American accent as most of them lived in the USA.


5. Greeks are never wrong!

Having a discussion with a Greek is basically useless. They will find ways to support their argument by throwing some history knowledge at you or sometimes they change the complete topic and try to confuse you. I might know a Greek or two who can say they’re wrong during a discussion, but they’re very, very rare. I mean after all, the Greeks discovered philosophy.

6. Time has no meaning.

‘Let’s meet at 8am for breakfast.’ is a secret code for meeting at nine…ish. There are some situations where Greeks will be on time, but usually they still need to make time for small talk with their cousins who they happen to run into. They still need to fix that Fredo Cappucino from the coffee shop next door. They just got a phone call from a friend. Greeks will be late and it’s actually a relaxed way to handle the day.


7. You never eat alone.

You’re not so hungry but your friends or colleagues are? That means that you’ll be eating anyway. They won’t be eating just them, let alone sitting at their dining table all by themselves.

8. There is always time for a coffee.

See point six!

9. Politics is their favorite topic.

The Greeks always have plenty to talk about, maybe because they have such a rich history or because they are the founders or democracy. More importantly, what ever happened recently in the news abroad or in their home town will be spoken off. Whether it’s Catalonia who wants independence or a local Greek mayor who drinks too much coffee. It will be discussed and the Greeks will give their broad opinion.


10. The amount of times you visit the beach each summer is an important number.

‘I have been only 4 times to the beach all summer!’ is a typical Greek thing to my ears. Most of the local Greeks work their ass of during summer and they get very excited when there is a bit of time during the day to visit the beach. At the end of the summer you’ll hear the local Greeks brag about who has had the least beach time and so worked hardest.

11. Greeks have a healthy diet. Except for the cheese.

Greeks love veggies! it seems the Greek kitchen has plenty of healthy food for those who pick the right items on the menu. Those who love cheese however will have a hard time staying healthy. There are few people who can resist all those great cheese dishes. Let alone all the fried dishes with cheese. I have tried not taking anything fried or with cheese – basically impossible.


2017 Photo by Marjolein van Hout

12. Trouble is solved with humor.

Leaving things unsolved because then they were supposed to happen or it was just supposed to be like that is a common thing. If there is a problem and some one can’t be bothered fixing it they will just laugh about it. ‘I broke my phone! But I needed a new one anyway – ha ha ha!’

13. Re and Malaka are part of every conversation.

Greeks love swearing to their friends and especially calling them Malaka, which means asshole in English. Another thing that I hear a lot is the word Re, which they use in almost any kind of situation like a ‘hey’.

Have you found any other typical Greek things during your time in Greece or while being around Greeks?

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Ever since I left my home country I felt at home at any other place I went to. I enjoy getting to know more cultures by talking to strangers and hearing their philosophy about life. Speaking with gestures when you can not find a shared language, finding places only the locals go to and learn about their customs and values. Hanging out with local people makes me happy. The experience of every new place is a step out of your comfort zone where I like to wander around until it feels like a second home.

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