Stereotypes & Culture. My Big Fat Greek Family

Twenty years ago, in 2002, the Greek-Canadian actress, Nia Vardalos, became famous with her movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding. As both actress and writer, Vardalos won many awards for this romantic comedy, which she based on her own experience of being Greek. Although the movie is full of extravagant Greek stereotypes as an expression of the Greek culture, being in a similar situation myself, I can only say Vardalos was able to capture the actual experience of being with a Greek. Keep reading to find out why!

The movie

My Big Fat Greek Wedding tells the story of (Fo)Toula Portokalos, which translates into the orange light of God. Toula is a thirty-year-old member of a large Greek family living in the U.S. Against her family’s will, she leaves her father’s restaurant and starts college. With her independence comes self-esteem and a new look. Then, she meets Ian, the American man she starts dating. Secretly at first, but as their relationship progresses, the Greek family gets increasingly involved.

This is where the fun part of the movie starts. The differences between the American and Greek families create hilarious scenes. As the Greeks are with too many, too loud, and stuck in their own beliefs and traditions. Real Greeks.

Watch it in Greece

Until I went to Greece to meet my boyfriend’s family, I had never watched My Big Fat Greek Wedding. However, when I was there and expressed my family-based cultural shock to friends and cousins, they all told me the same thing. Watch that movie!

During my third week in Greece, I decided it was time to do so. Surrounded by my boyfriend’s relatives, I watched the movie. And the only thing I could say was: Shit! I live in this movie!

Stereotypical Greeks

The movie is full of well-chosen Greek stereotypes that express the culture. The women are over-emotional, the men overly-stubborn, and the whole family, in general, over-involved. Dinners are with too many. There is always too much food. And the family cheers so many times you are happy when you only get tipsy at the end of a night.

Observing all these stereotypical Greek habits, it is clear that Vardalos is, herself, raised by a Real Greek family. Or at least a family very similar to the Greek ones I know. The funny thing about the movie is that for non-Greeks, it seems just a comedy with exaggerated stereotypes. The Real Greeks, however, know that there is a truth in this exaggeration.

I believe the best thing about the movie is how Vardalos captures what a Greek family feels like for a non-Greek. With just the right amount of exaggeration, she is able to reveal the experience of a cultural shock.

My cultural shock. The more I started getting used to my boyfriend’s family, the less the movie resembled my idea of a Greek family. However, when I met them for the first time, it showed exactly how I felt.

My first week in Greece

During my first week with the Greek family, I encountered almost every aspect of the movie. We had family dinners with over 20 family members who all shared a similar name and called the same woman yiayia, grandmother. The family covered all the stereotypes of the Greek culture. And their volume: Loud and Louder. Just like in the movie.

Food was the most important thing. Everyone wanted me to eat continuously, even when I was not hungry. Not eating was me being shy and could not have had anything to do with the three full plates I already finished. 

The women of the family were the first ones to accept me. Part of this meant me being hugged, kissed, held, and stroked. But on the other hand, being a part of them meant that I was supposed to listen to them complaining. That is what Greek women do when they are together. Complain about everything they are tired of, but continue either way because it makes them happy. 

Then there were the men of the family. They all worked in the family business, but their most important job was to educate me about the history of the Greeks. How happy I should be to be with a Real Greek, a member of the greatest civilization in this world. And they all wanted to know if I was a good girl, the most important question to ask a person.

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Appreciate the differences

My Big Fat Greek Wedding starts as being quite negative about the Greek way of life. Toula is tired of her over-involved and controlling Greek parents. She wants to be less Greek and more normal. She starts with summing up all the stereotypes of the Greek culture. However, as the movie, and her relationship, progresses, she gets more respect for the Greek way. 

A similar change is visible with her parents. First, they are against Toula’s relationship with Ian. He is a xeno, a foreigner, and should not be allowed to date their Greek daughter. But as he is willing to change to fit into their family, they learn to accept him.

For me, this change feels real. At first, I felt overwhelmed every time I was with my boyfriend’s family. But the more I got to know them, the more I understood them and started to see the beauty in their way of life. My initial cultural shock evolved into an appreciation of Greek culture. And today, I even miss the Greeks when I spend too much time in my own country.

Give it time

Being with someone from a different culture can be difficult at first. Maybe you manage to find a life beyond your own culture together. But as soon as family gets involved, cultural differences become painfully clear. Often you will be far away from home, your family, and your daily life when you meet them. Your partner’s family will not put a filter on their culture, and you will be with them 24/7. Of course, this can be extremely confronting.

But don’t let this first encounter scare you. The cultural shock can be hard at first, but it will pass. Remember that your partner was raised in this family but still turned out to be the man or woman you have fallen in love with. It might be that a part of this strange culture is what made you love your partner in the first place. But it takes time to reach this level of understanding.

We’re all just people

In the end, we’re all just people. We might have been raised with different beliefs about family, work, and love. But these ways do not have to be limited to one country or culture. 

As a Dutch, I learned to be private and organized. However, I also have ADHD, which goes completely against those two things. The Greek culture taught me that I do not have to try to fit into my own culture if that is not who I am. I can be myself, and as a person, I do fit in somewhere. 

Every culture might have a shocking stereotype like the Greek culture in the movie. But there is a truth in this stereotype for everyone. Maybe you are not Greek but very stubborn, part of a huge family, eating too much, or cheering too often. There is a part of the Greeks in all of us. And every Greek has a part that can belong in any other culture. We are all just people. Culture is not more than what surrounded us when we grew up. And as adults, we can choose our own culture.

The 12 most common Greek names and their meaning

The traditions regarding the naming of newborns in Greece are still in practice today. Sons get the name of their grandfathers and daughters are named after their grandmothers. As a result, not only cousins share the same name, but many unrelated Greeks do as well. Here is an overview of the twelve most common Greek names, their meaning, and nameday.

Giorgos or Giorgia

Giorgos, or George in English, is the most common Greek name, with 10 percent of Greek men carrying this name. The name is a combination of Gi, the earth, and Ergo, work. Giorgos simply means farmer. The fact that many Georges work behind a desk today, shows the importance of the Greek traditions. Giorgos is celebrated on the 23th of April.

Yiannis or Yianna

Yiannis means gracious, or more specifically, God is gracious. His English counterpart is John and derives from Saint John. In the north-west of the Greek mainland, there is a city devoted to this saint, Ioannina, or Yannena. Saint John is celebrated in Greece on the 7th of January.

Dimitris or Dimitra

Dimitris means born from mother earth and refers to the goddess Demeter, the ancient Greek goddess of the harvest. She was the protector of trees, plants, and grains. During Roman times, she evolved into Saint Dimitria, the saint of agriculture. Today the name Dimitris still means devoted to Demeter. October 26th is the day she is celebrated.

Nikolas or Nikoletta

The name Nikolas has something to do with a popular modern brand we all know, Nike. Both the name and the brand derive from the Greek word Niki, which means victory. The ending of the name, Laos mean people, so conqueror of people. Nikolas is associated with the Greek god Nike, as well as Saint Nikolas. The latter was the protector of schoolchildren and travelers. Saint Nikolas is still celebrated today. As Santa Claus in the U.S, or Sinterklaas in the Netherlands, he brings presents to children from all over the world.

In Greece, however, Saint Nikolas is not the present-giving Saint all children love. He is honored on the 6th of December, but only the Greek Nikolasses and Nikoletta’s get presents during this day.

Konstantinos or Konstantina

The name Konstantinos derives from the Latin word Constantia, which means constant, stabile or loyal. The English version is Constantine, Kostas or Gus. The name originates from Constantine the Great. He was a Roman Emperor of Greek descendent in the 4th century, who founded Constantinople.

Konstantinos is honored on the 21st May together with Saint Eleni, the mother of the Great Constantine. The name is one of the most popular names in Greece. Many other emperors, kings, and modern politicians have carried this name.

Vassilis or Vissiliki

Vassilis in Greek means king. The name comes from Agios Vasileios. This Saint lived in the 4th century AD and is known for his generosity to the poor. He is the Greek Santa Claus. For the Orthodox Greeks, Saint Nicolas is not the Saint who brings presents during Christmas. Instead, on New Years’ day, Saint Vassilis brings gifts to the Greek children.

Vassilis also has a New Years’ cake and tradition named after him, the Vassilopita. Every year, the Greeks bake this simple cake that has a coin hidden inside. According to tradition, the pie is cut into equal pieces, one for each member of the family. The pieces are then handed out from oldest to youngest. Whoever gets the hidden coin, will have good luck, health, and happiness for the year to come.

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Christos or Christina

Christos and Christina derive from Jesus Christ. However, in ancient Greek, Christos meant useful. The meaning later changed to righteous, virtuous and the anointed. Like Jesus Christ himself, Christos and Christina are celebrated on Christmas. Their English counterparts are Christine, Christopher, or Chris.

Maria

While the previous male names have a female counterpart, the most common Greek female names do not translate into male. Maria is the first, deriving from the Virgin Mary. Since the Orthodox church is very important in Greece, almost 10 percent of Greek women are called Maria. Her names-day is on the 15th of August, a day of celebration for the whole country. Funny is that Mary’s birthday, on the 8th of September, is also celebrated in the country, but does not count as the name day of the Greek Maria’s.

Eleni

The name Eleni means light, or sun ray. Her name derives from the famous Helen of Troy. Helen was known as the most beautiful woman in ancient Greece. This daughter of Zeus, caused the Troyan war when she left her husband to move to Troy, for love. The war, as well as Helen, have been the subject of many tv-shows and movies. Her names-day is on the 21st of May.

Katerina

Katerina derives from the Greek word Katharós, which means clean, clear or pure. Although this word can be used for both female (h thallasa einai kathari, the sea is clear) and male (o skilos einai katharos, the dog is clean) objects, the name only occurs in as female. The English counterpart is Catherine or even Katie. All Greek Katerina’s are celebrated on the 25th of November.

Sophia

Sophia in Greek means wisdom, and derives from Saint Sophia. She appears in the Bible as the female personification of wisdom. Sophia is not only a popular name in Greece. She is in the top-five of female names in the U.S. as well. However, she is celebrated only Greece on the 17th of September.

Angeliki

Angeliki comes from the Greek word Angelos. In ancient Greek, this meant messenger, but in modern Greek it translates into angle-like. Angeliki’s name is celebrated in Greece on November 8th. According to the Greek Orthodox church, this is when the assembly of the Archangels occurred. Her English counterparts are Angela, Angelina, or even Kelly.

Does your name mean something in your language? Or curious about the meaning of other Greek names? Leave a comment below! 

Why you should not rely on paying with your credit card in Greece

Paying by card is not as common in Greece as in other countries. Although quite a few places do allow card payment, some may not. Cash is the norm for many smaller Greek shops, restaurants, and hotels. When traveling in Greece, you should never solely trust your card. Always carry real money with you instead.

Going around Athens or Thessaloniki, a card will be accepted almost everywhere. However, as soon as you leave the big cities, there is a big possibility you will feel broke when not carrying cash. Smaller shops, taverns, hotels, beach bars, and even gas stations only allow cash payment in Greece.

Why the Greeks prefer cash

You might believe these areas of Greece are behind on modernization. But this is not the case. Every shop or tavern, every business that requires payment, has a terminal that allows you to pay by card. They are obliged to have one. The technology is there. The problem is the Greeks who refuse to use it.

Let’s say you go to a traditional tavern to eat souvlaki. The waiter here can serve you this for 5 euros. The owner makes a profit on this price, and you feel you’re not overpaying him. Great! But only if you pay in cash.

If these 5 euros are paid by card, you have to pay an additional 9% on tax. The tavern has to spend this 9% extra on its suppliers. And the employees have to pay at least 9% of their income. In the end, the price of the souvlaki will go up to 6 or 7 euros. So why pay extra and make things much more complicated?

Maybe you say, what is one euro extra? But this one euro for you makes, a big difference to the waiter that serves you souvlaki. He might not make more than 500 euro’s a month, and for him, taxes do count! If you pay your 5 euros in cash, this money goes into the tax-free profit of the tavern. With enough of these black souvlakia, the tavern owner can pay your waiter his salary in cash, and because this man does not have to pay taxes over his income, he can make it till the end of the month. Paying with card might have given him a slightly higher legal salary. However, over this salary has to spend such a big amount on taxes that he will not survive.

Tax evasion is a cultural norm

The reason the Greeks prefer cash payment is tax evasion, a cultural norm in Greece. You get things cheaper, the company gains more profit, and its employees have more money to spend. They will again buy at a lower price without paying tax, creating a new circle of profit. Everybody is happy, except for the government.

While Greece is amongst the countries with the highest tax rates, tax income is below average. Over the past years, the government tries hard to make its citizens pay taxes. It is for example no longer possible to live cheaply in an unfinished house. Business owners need to have a payment terminal. And people need to show that they spend at least 30% of their income on non-tax-free buying.

I guess the result is the broken terminal for tourists. Partly businesses are paying taxes, and people are spending money on taxes. However, when the books look legit and non-tax-evasive, the machine breaks. Profit increases, and undeclared employees get paid. And these are the people for whom you should not be paying with a card in Greece.

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Life in Greece got too expensive

During the crisis, people had to pay almost the same amount on taxes as did before. However, incomes have significantly decreased. The minimum wage was reduced, from roughly 900 euros in 2011 to only 680 in 2012. Still having to pay the same amount of money on taxes, the Greeks with a low income could not survive. As a result, their employees started to pay them in cash. This way, businesses were more likely to not go bankrupt during the difficult years, they could save money on salaries. However, almost 30% of the people working undeclared in Greece, asked themselves for their employees to allow it, just to be able to survive. Unfortunately, till today the lowest incomes in Greece can not afford life and for many, avoiding taxes is the only way to make it till the end of each month.

A vicious circle

I don’t say that what is happening in Greece concerning tax evasion and undeclared incomes below the minimum wage is good. The best would be if everyone could pay taxes and have enough money to rent a house and buy clothes and food. Unfortunately, this is today still not the case. Greece is in debt, asks for too much money from its citizens, and as a result, they will find ways to avoid paying. But if the government doesn’t lower the tax rates, the Greeks will keep finding ways to make black money. On the other hand, if the citizens don’t start paying the government, the tax rates will not drop.

Who will give in first? Greeks are stubborn, so finding a way may take a while. Slowly they will, and one day you will be able to use your card for paying anywhere in Greece. But until that day comes, make sure to carry cash.

2022 Update

This year, more shops and taverns in Greece allow you to pay by card. Especially on the more touristic islands, cards are accepted payment for almost anything. However, still there are occasions when you do need cash. Smaller family taverns, small apartment rentals, or even kiosks still try to avoid the tax-system. Although cash is not as needed as it used to be, still always carry some with you!

Frequently asked questions:

What is the currency in Greece?

Greece is part of the European Union and since 2001, this is when Greece adopted the euro.

Is paying by card accepted in Greece?

Not all around Greece. In Athens and Thessaloniki, a card will be accepted almost everywhere. However, as soon as you leave the big cities, card payments get might not be accepted. Always carry some cash with you, and before you order at a tavern, it might be smart to check if you can pay by card.

Where can I find ATMs in Greece?

In bigger cities in Greece, ATMs can be found in almost every shopping street or public square. In smaller villages or islands, the main square is where you can usually find an ATM.

How much does it cost to live in Greece?

How much money do you need to live in Greece? To be able to pay rent, go to a tavern once in a while, and live comfortably in Greece, you will need around 1.000 euros per person per month. In the bigger cities, however, prices are much higher. So here count on at least 2.000 euros a month.

If you have any other questions regarding payment in Greece, please leave a comment below, we're always happy to help!

Why do many Greek men have a beard?

While strolling around a Greek town or village, you might be surprised by an abundance of facial hair. And abroad, you are often able to recognize the Greeks by their beards as well. Although Greek men have a variety of facial hair, from mustaches to stubbles to full-grown beards, not often do you see a Greek cleanly shaved. Did you ever wonder why most Greek men have a beard?

It is genetics

Charles Darwin hypothesized that the process of sexual selection may have led to beards. Modern biologists agree that a beard shows sexual maturity and dominance for both animals and humans.

But according to this theory, it does not make sense that just us, Greek men, showed off our manliness by hair. And this is also a misconception. 

It is not true that one ethnic group is more “hairy” than another. All humans have more or less the same amount of hair follicles. But the size, length, and pigmentation differ. This creates the illusion that some people are hairier than others.

Throughout history, our genes adjusted and mutated due to the environment. As a consequence of gene mixing and climate effects, Greek men tend to have darker, thicker hair, which can be noticed as a richer beard. Especially compared to the much lighter northern European ones.

However, darker hairs are not an excuse for growing your beard. Of course, shaving machines and razors are available in Greece, but we tend not to use them as often. So, what are the reasons that Greek men let their beards grow?

Health benefits

Even though many people may associate a beard with poor hygiene, this is not true. A well-maintained beard can have several health benefits, including:

  • A beard protects the skin from UV rays. 
    This is especially important in a sunny county like Greece. After all, who needs sunscreen for the face?!
  • A bear keeps you warm. 
    Greece may be famous for the sun, but the majority of the county has cold winters. With temperatures below 5 degrees Celsius, a thick beard can act as nature’s scarf.
  • A beard protects you from allergies. 
    Greece’s landscape is full of flowers, plants, and trees. During springtime, many pollens fly around, and a beard forms an extra protective layer against them. No more sneezing for us!
  • A beard improves your psychology. 
    Numerous men feel more attractive when maintaining a beard. Furthermore, scientists have found that men with full beards are perceived as better at raising and protecting their children. 

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The history of the Greek beard

For the ancient Greeks, beards were a sign of wisdom, manhood, and the pivotal moment from childhood into adulthood. Bearded men were highly appreciated in ancient Greek society. Socrates, Homer, Plato, and Pericles all had a beard, and even Greek gods were portrayed with a beard. In Homer’s Iliad, Achilles’ mother, Thetis, asks Zeus to swear by his beard, which makes his promise sacred and inviolable. The beard was an obsession in ancient Greek times.

The Greek beard through history

During the era of Alexander the Great, the high status linked to a beard, was diminished. The great general was a big fan of the clean-shaven look. But he also believed that a beard could be used by opponents to grab on to during combat. He ordered all soldiers to fight without facial hair. 

However, the identification of the beard as a symbol of age and wisdom arose among intellectuals. The philosophers of this time usually refused to shave. And later on, the beard came back to Greece. The Romans distinguished themselves from the Greeks by being shaved.

In the Byzantine era, the beard was emphasized as a sign of masculinity. At this time, an important role in court governance was played by eunuchs. These men did not produce testosterone and could not grow beards. Therefore, the presence of a beard proved that the man in question was anatomically complete. For this reason, to this day, the masculine is called “βαρβάτος”, barbatus, bearded.

During the Late Middle Ages, a shaved look was again the norm in Western Europe. This trend was linked to the imposition of celibacy on the part of priests. A trimmed face contributed to declaring the sacrifice of their male reproductive power. Again the presence or absence of a beard separated the Greek from the Latin.

Tradition and religion

From the beginning of history, humans used clothes, accessories, and even their bodies to indicate their social and economic status. From ancient Egypt until today, a beard can have many meanings. The length, the style, or even the absence of it. The meaning and status of the beard changed multiple times throughout history and will continue to change.

In Christianity, art depicts Jesus and many biblical characters such as Moses and Abraham with a beard. Most Orthodox Saints are portrayed with beards as well, thus for the clergymen, facial hair was an “inviolable law”.

Tradition is an important factor as well. The majority of the Greek heroes do not wear a cape, but they have beards. And who were the everyday heroes in Greece? The sailors, the captain, and the fishermen. They all maintain a beard.

Also, during mourning, we tend to grow our beards long. It is an Orthodox tradition, not to shave for at least forty days after a loved one passes away. However, during the 20th century, beards were not appreciated by the average domesticated Greek. They were a sign of dirty and rebellious youth, only to be worn by the hippies and the communist. 

The Greek beard today

Nowadays, the younger Greek men do maintain a beard for various reasons. As I mentioned earlier, we believe that we look more masculine and wise, which results in more confidence. 

But I consider convenience the most important reason! It is easier for most of us to grow our beard and trim it once per week or month than to develop a daily routine. We prefer to use those 10 minutes a day, to drink our coffee, talk with a loved one, or even take a nice afternoon nap.

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Greek time

Whoever believes that time in Greece is EET, Eastern European Time, is wrong. Although the Greek clock may tick according to EET, real Greek time is a totally different concept. The Greeks only use EET (clock) time for the airport, … Continue reading Greek time

Greek time

Whoever believes that time in Greece is EET, Eastern European Time, is wrong. Although the Greek clock may tick according to EET, real Greek time is a totally different concept. The Greeks only use EET (clock) time for the airport, public transportation, and tourists. And although even these are often late in Greece, I strongly advise you to watch your clock. For everything else in Greece, however, no clock is needed to be on time.

Greek time zone

The time zone in Greece is EET, or UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) +2. From the last weekend of March, till the last weekend in October, Greece uses daylight saving time, meaning UTC +3. To make the Greek time zone a bit more understandable, here is an overview of Greek time compared to the time at other places around the world:

LONDON2 hours before Greece
NEW YORK7 hours before Greece
LOS ANGELES10 hours before Greece
SIDNEY8 hours after Greece
Curious about your city? Check here and find out where I wrote this post

Greek meeting time

Last weekend I was going to a Greek birthday party. Before I went, I knew the party was going to happen somewhere that weekend, but nothing more precise. Around noon I finally got the invite, the party was going to start in one hour. Reaching the venue at 2 pm, there was nothing like a party yet. My friends were still at home, sipping their coffees and getting dressed. In the end, this party started at 3 pm, 2 hours late.

This is how Greek time works, especially when meeting friends. There will consistently be a delay from at least 30 minutes, up to a couple of hours. Greek time might seem quite rude to you, like the Greeks don’t care about keeping other people waiting. In Greece, however, this is the opposite of rudeness. Greek time is about freedom and not demanding things from other people.

Time is just an indication

The birthday party this weekend, for instance, did not start late because my friends ignored time altogether and did not care for their guests. Their daughter, who was turning one that day, had fallen asleep just before the party started. Knowing that the little girl would cry the whole afternoon when waking her up to attend on time, they decided to do what was best for the girl. My friends let her sleep and started when she woke up and had the energy to enjoy her first party.

For the Greeks without children, greek time works similarly. Imagine you tell your friend to meet in an hour. You’re getting ready to go out but your mother calls you, what would you do? Real Greeks would never rush to hang up on their mom, nor anyone else, to be on time to meet you. Instead, they will be late but enjoy the phone call, expecting you to do the same. Greek hours are more of an indication than the actual 60 minutes that pass on the clock.

When in Greece, forget about the actual time! Don’t rush somewhere when time is ticking, and don’t wait for something to happen. Take it easy, siga siga, do something you like even when you think you’re supposed to wait. If this means that you will be late, so be it. At least you had fun and didn’t waste your own time. That’s Greek time, the journey is more important than the number on the clock.

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The Greek afternoon

There is one more thing about Greek time that is very confusing for foreigners, the afternoon. The definition of the afternoon is the time between noon and 6 pm. After 6 in the afternoon, the evening comes, followed by the night. At least, this is what I learned about the stages of the day, and the English dictionary agrees with me.

When I started dating my Greek boyfriend, he would often tell me to meet in the afternoon. Since I did not know much about Greek culture, yet, I was often waiting for him from 3 or 4 pm. He, however, would usually show up around 8 or 9. Leaving me thinking that I had found the most Greek-timed Greek.

Turned out, that in Greek time, my boyfriend wasn’t actually late. His afternoons have 3 or 4 hours more than mine! Greek time skips the evening and goes straight to night after a very long afternoon. Greeks will never say to each other that they will meet in the evening, there is none.

From Eva Lauder on Twitter

Where are all the Greek women?

Traveling through Greece, you might have noticed all the old men, endlessly sipping coffee in front of a traditional kafeneío. These men seem to be a static part of the decor of every Greek village, but where are the women?

The grandmothers

Let’s start with old times, the generation of our grandmothers. When they were young, it was taboo even to talk about a woman going out for coffee with her friends. The Greek women from this time were supposed to stay in, take care of the family, the house, and of course the cooking.

The Greeks used to have a saying, “η καλή νοικοκυρά είναιδούλα και κυρά”. Which can be translated into something like, a good housewife is a slave and a hostess. A wife was the possession of the man she was married to, only existing to support him and their family. She was allowed to go out for groceries, pick up the children, or go to dinner together with her husband. But not alone, not to meet her friends.

The reason behind this was not the masculine will to control women. It was their insecurity and sensitivity more than their authority. The Greek men were extremely jealous and afraid that other men might look at their wives.

My Greek grandmother had a husband like this, and she was the perfect housewife. One day she went shopping and found the most beautiful color of lipstick, which she bought to surprise her husband. However, when he came home from coffee that afternoon, they got into a fight. How could she wear that beautiful lipstick! All the men would look at her!

The mothers

Luckily, things changed during the generation of our parents. Women became more independent and no longer listened to the fears of their husbands. They started going out with friends and some of them got a money-earning job. However, this did not change much to the decor of the Greek village.

Although the Greek women started going out more, they would not endlessly sip coffee at a kafeneío every afternoon. Instead, they meet on town squares, at home, or simply go shopping. And even if a Greek woman goes for coffee with a friend, she will not do this at the same time as her husband. While the men go to work in the morning and sip their coffees in the afternoon, the women have a coffee when the men are at work and start their laundry and cooking when the afternoon begins.

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We

Understanding what happened in our generation will explain why the villages are still full of men, and how this will change in the coming generations. After our mothers slowly started entering business life, today it is the most normal thing for a Greek woman to work as much as her husband. However, this does not place these women in the Greek kafeneíos, instead, they are now spending their days at the office. Probably you have noticed that most men, that are part of the village scenery, are older. All the young people, both male, and female are either working hard in the big cities or have left the country. There are no young women that can afford to sit in between the old men to show us, tourists, that the country is, in fact, full of emancipated women.

With the women of today’s generation working, it are often their parents who take care of the children, since daycare is not really a thing (yet) in Greece. And although taking care of kids becomes more and more a shared job between the grandparents, they stick to some of their traditions. Grandfathers still go for a coffee for a couple of afternoons a week, while the grandmothers take the mornings or evenings for themselves.

The future

I believe that in a couple of decades, the Greek towns and villages will look completely different. Maybe the Greeks that are currently away from Greece will come back to the country, and the kafeneíos will be full of families and playing children. But the other option is that the traditional Greek coffee places will slowly disappear, together with the generations that created them. It would be a shame because even though the many men make you wonder about the position of women in the Greek culture, they also show what life can be when you take it slow. I sincerely hope that kafeneíos will keep existing, not for the men, but as a place to escape the fast pace of the world we live in today.

Greek toilets. What to prepare for

Whoever believes that going to Greek toilets is like visiting a restroom in other European countries, is wrong. The experience of emptying your bladder in Greece is unique and unlike doing the same thing in the rest of Europe or even the US. Prepare yourself for your next holiday and keep reading.

Don’t flush your toilet paper

All over Greece, you can find signs, saying that you are not supposed to throw any toilet paper in the water closet and flush.

Did you ever wonder why?

The reason you can not flush your toilet paper in Greece is simple. The Greek draining system is not designed for it. The waste pipes are simply not wide enough. With only 5 centimeters (a little less than 2 inches), it is less than half of the pipes in other countries. Flushing toilet paper in Greece can easily cause constipation in the sewer system from which a whole town will suffer. So don’t do it!

It is normal for the Greeks

As an architect, however, I could not agree with the Greeks understanding this reason and not doing anything about it. Why don’t you use the paper that disappears when it is in contact with water? For what reason don’t you start building houses that do have a wide enough pipe to flush paper? Why doesn’t the government do something about it?

Turns out, that the Greeks don’t share this problem with me. They are so used to not flushing their toilet paper that it is just the most normal thing for them to do. So whenever my Greek family is visiting the Netherlands, I am cleaning their dirty paper.

Tips for when you’re uncomfortable

It might feel weird that someone else will literally have to clean your shit in Greece. Especially when the cleaning person is your new mother-in-law! I wasn’t able to go number two for a while when I stayed in Greece the first time. It just seemed too weird and confronting for me. However, my boyfriend gave me three tips.

  • The Greeks don’t know any better
    It is normal for mothers, maids and basically everyone else that toilet paper ends up in a bin that needs to be emptied on a daily basis. For them, it is not strange or dirty. It is just the way it is.
  • No one actually touches your dirty paper
    All the Greek toilet bins, close at the top and have a plastic bag inside them. When they are emptied, no one actually has to touch the paper. They just get the plastic bag, lift it out of the bin and close it.
  • Just wrap it in unused paper
    As a girl I learned that when I get rid of a used tampon, I wrap it in toilet paper before I put it in a bin. With toilet paper in Greece, you have to do the same thing. Don’t use it and throw it immediately, wrap it in clean paper instead. This way, the bin will seem just filled with paper waste. Less confronting for you, and the people who clean it.

Bring your own toilet paper

Although the Greeks accept collecting their dirty paper in a bin, they also understand that they are the only ones. They know that the many tourists that visit Greece each year, will either refuse or forget that they are not supposed to flush their paper.

As a result, even the most luxurious hotels will provide you with the shittiest quality of toilet paper. So when you accidentally flush it, not much harm is done. Understandable from them, imagine a stay in Santorini with sewer liquids and smells everywhere. However, it is not very pleasant when you stay in Greece. My tip: take your own well-layered toilet paper with you, and don’t flush it.

The doors don’t lock

In many taverns, bars, shops, and other semi-public places, something strange is happening in Greece. The toilet door can not be locked. The first time I encountered one of these toilets I had the luck to be with some Greek friends who could explain to me how to encounter these types of toilets.

Apparently, it is very normal in Greece that toilet doors only close but can not be secured to assure your privacy. The main thing to remember here is to open the toilet door fully when you’re done. This way, everyone can see upon entering which toilet is occupied and which is free. Reducing the chance of someone entering during your private moment.

However, when someone does accidentally open an occupied door, the Greeks say “Ólous“. Ólous means everyone, but in this case something more like someone else. Remember this word on the Greek toilets to save yourself, as well as the Greeks, from an embarrassing situation.

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The squat toilets

Imagine you’re having dinner at a restaurant in a building that used to be an old train station. After about a liter of beer, you have to visit the powder room. The Greeks around you tell you to follow the train tracks for a couple of meters and you will find it on your left. Easy right?

I was in this situation during my first week in Greece. I followed the tracks, in the dark, surrounded by the sound of hungry stray dogs. After walking for five minutes there was a little building on my left so I entered. What I found was a hole in the ground and a green garden hose connected to a sink. Strange. I walked back, thinking I had missed the real toilet completely.

Later I heard that the place I had found was a real Greek toilet. Public toilets in Greece can be no more than a hole in the ground, a pit toilet. And the garden hose was just there to replace the bidet. According to the Greeks, this is actually the cleanest way to pee in public. Even though the toilets are not cleaned often, look terrible and feel like they came straight from the middle ages, you don’t need to touch anything. Making you immune to all the bacteria that live in there.

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The many abandoned and unfinished buildings in Greece

During your stay in Greece, you might be surprised by the many empty or half-finished buildings you come across. You find them in cities, towns, villages, and even remote areas. They are everywhere, and as an architect, I wanted to understand the reason behind them. After talking with many Greek citizens and homeowners I created a list of the most common reasons for abandoned and unfinished buildings in Greece.

Economic crisis

Let’s start with the simplest reason for the amount of abandoned and unfinished structures throughout Greece. The economic crisis in 2008. The downfall in economics hit Greece hard after the start of an economic burst just 8 years before. People had loans to either build their house or own one when all of a sudden they could not afford their mortgage anymore.

These people lost their houses or had to leave their ongoing construction projects and since the crisis hit the whole country, the government could not sell the empty houses to anyone else, leaving many abandoned and unfinished buildings in Greece.

Building is a life-long project

Ownership of property is very important in Greek culture. It is the symbol of wealth for a family. But where people from other countries precisely plan and budget their future house before taking on the construction of it, the Greeks have a slightly different approach.

Greeks will start building their house, even if they know they do not have enough funds to complete it. They are super optimistic, or naive maybe, hoping that money will show up at one point. But it can take up to a whole generation before even completing the first floor.

They basically start building as soon as they have their land. And stop when money is finished. There can be 10 years between building the walls and putting in the windows. And of course, the economic crisis only made this worse. Siga, Siga.

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Claiming the land as yours

In Greece, ownership of land is something not well registered. In fact, only since 2019, you are obliged to register your property or plot with the National Cadastre of Greece and even today this system is not fully functioning. Records about ownership get lost, and therefore you basically have to physically claim your land as yours.

When a Greek finds a plot, perfect for his or her future house. Buying it and then leaving it empty for years could result in losing the land as well as the money it cost to buy. To avoid this, the Greeks build frames for future houses. This structure can be owned while you barely have to pay taxes.

Building rules change continuously

Another benefit of putting up the structure of the house before actually building it is the fact that you’ll later be able to build the size of house you wanted in the first place.

Building regulations change quickly in Greece, as a counter-act on basically everything described before. When you buy land in Greece today, wanting to build a mansion in thirty years, there is a chance you might not be able to build more than a shed. However, if the structure already exists and has the size of a mansion, your volume is safe. No matter what rules will come in the future, they will not be able to decrease the size of your property.

But the structure is not only put up to avoid rules that will come in the future. The Greeks even try to avoid the rules that are existing today. Only in Greece, it is possible to buy land on which you can not build a house, and legally build a house afterward.

What happens, in this case, is that the structure of the house is built. Then, the Greeks go to the municipality, saying that since they already built this structure, it should be legal to build a house. Often, the municipality decides to make it legal to build and hands out a building permit. But when they don’t, you have an extra abandoned unfinished structure. And of course, the Greeks blame the government for this.

Read more about illegal buildings in Greece here, where a political engineer advertises to make money by legalizing illegal buildings or building parts. According to him, ” all the buildings that were built in the previous years – and I mean all!!- have some type of arbitrary building.”

Family inheritance

The final reason for the number of abandoned buildings in Greece is heritage. As I said before, homeownership is important in Greek culture. And because of this, a house is not really a tradable thing for the Greeks. It is a family legacy.

This made sense until the second world war, when most of the Greeks lived in the villages, in their family legacies. But things started changing after the 50’s. When the economy started growing, the Greeks started moving toward the cities, driven by work and money. The generation after moved even further away, this generation spread out over Europe and the US in search of a better life. However, they still own their family houses in the villages.

The Greeks today don’t use the family house anymore, but still recognize the value this house has to the family. They don’t want to sell, they want to own. And to make things more complicated, many of the houses are not owned by one person but instead by the whole family.

Selling the family house means agreeing with the whole Greek family. And trust me, there will always be someone who will not agree. Even if the whole family knows they will not live in the house, they will not find an agreement on selling it. Maybe they will use it to celebrate Easter together once a year, just to have a reason to keep it.

Myths, culture, and future

Tax evasion

There are many stories about the Greeks not finishing their houses to avoid taxes. However, nowadays this is more than a myth than it is reality. Years ago, there was a rule in Greece that when you would not finish your house, you would pay fewer taxes. And as a result, many Greeks just left a little part of their house unfinished, to avoid a higher (or normal) tax rate. However, this rule does not exist anymore and has not for a long time. The only way to avoid a higher tax is for buildings that are unfinished, uninhabited, never been inhabited, and are not connected to electricity.

Perception & culture

As a Dutch architect who knows Greece, I believe it is not just the structures that are actually unfinished that I perceive as such. Yes, there are quite a few abandoned and unfinished buildings in Greece, but I think that cultural differences play a big part here as well. It happened often to me that I thought a building was either abandoned or unfinished while it turned out to be a family home.

Greece doesn’t know a municipal beauty committee, nor do the Greeks actually follow the rules of building. Making the cities look a bit like a mess. Besides, the Greeks are very practical. They want to be able to easily add an extension or extra floor to their house, or they leave the ground floor completely open so they can park cars between the concrete columns. They care about function more than about design and this might cause some confusion.

Future

Walking through a Greek city today, you can see that the Greeks started doing something about the many abandoned buildings. Renovation starts to become popular, especially in the big cities, so hopefully soon the number of abandoned and unfinished buildings in Greece will become something from the past.

Read more about buildings in Greece

Read more about Greek culture

typical greek house with pastel colors and sleeping cat in front slow down siga siga

Siga, Siga

During your stay in Greece, while sipping coffee in front of the sea, you will hear the phrase, “siga siga” all around you. But what does it mean? Is it an exotic island like Bora Bora, or the scientific name … Continue reading Siga, Siga

white-and-black-round-top-analog-pedestal-clock-low-angle-view

Greek time

Whoever believes that time in Greece is EET, Eastern European Time, is wrong. Although the Greek clock may tick according to EET, real Greek time is a totally different concept. The Greeks only use EET (clock) time for the airport, … Continue reading Greek time

Siga, Siga

During your stay in Greece, while sipping coffee in front of the sea, you will hear the phrase, “siga siga” all around you. But what does it mean? Is it an exotic island like Bora Bora, or the scientific name of an animal like Vulpes Vulpes? Why would all the Greeks keep talking about this mysterious place or animal? How can something be so important that all Greeks need to remind each other about it all the time?

Meaning of Siga Siga

One thing is sure. “Σιγά-σιγά” is very important to the Greeks. However, it is not an animal, nor an exotic island. Siga siga is not an actual physical thing, it is a way of life. It is one of the simplest but most identifying phrases the Greeks use.

If you search on Wiktionary you will find the following three explanations of siga-siga. Gradually, carefully, and very slowly. But I will add one more. Relaxingly! Because, although siga means slowly, siga-siga does not simply mean doing things twice as slow. It is a mindset rather than a speed limit.

Example no.1: Relax

Imagine you are in line to buy a ticket for a concert of your favorite band. It is crowded and people start getting impatient. They start pushing and trying to skip the line. At that point, you hear someone shouting ” Σιγά-σιγά ρε παιδιά. Φτάνουν για όλους”. Relax children! There is enough for everyone.

Example no.2: Careful

For our next example, imagine you are on an expedition. Indiana Jones-style, in the wild, with your best friend. In front of you, is a flimsy wooden suspension bridge. After a quick discussion, you decide that you will be the one going over the bridge first. Your friend will say to you “Σιγά-σιγά φίλε μου. Η γέφυρα δεν είναι σταθερή”. Careful my friend. The bridge is not stable.

Example no.3: Slow down

Or you are sitting in an amazing ταβέρνα, a tavern, next to a beach with golden sand and clear blue water. But you are hungry and eating way too fast. Your partner will say “Σιγά-σιγά παιδάκι μου, δεν θα σου κλέψουν το φαγητό”. Slow down my boy, no one will steal your food.

Example no.4: Gradually

Lastly, you are thinking about the next big business idea and you are getting anxious about what comes next in life. Your friend says “Σιγά-σιγά και όλα θα γίνουν”. Gradually everything will be done.

Live as relaxed as possible

So, what we found out until now is that σιγά-σιγά is a versatile phrase that can be used in almost every situation, explaining a physical or a mental state. You can use it while eating, drinking, traveling, swimming, thinking, or just existing. And this last bit is what makes this phrase unique. Σιγά-σιγά is a way of life.

Life nowadays moves quickly, there is no time to think, and stress is everywhere. Have you ever heard about the Blue Zones? There are 5 areas around the world with the highest percentage of octogenarians in the world. What they all have in common is a stressless life. Not an easy life, just stressless. One of those 5 magical areas is the island of Ikaria in Greece. Life there is slow, someone could say life is passing “σιγά-σιγά”. And this is what most Greeks are trying to find in their hectic lives.

Striving for a more relaxed life is not a new thing and is even documented in our culture through poems and songs. One of Greece’s most influential poets Constanine P. Cavafys wrote the famous poem Ithaka. In it, he says “Αλλά μη βιάζεις το ταξείδι διόλου” meaning “But do not hurry the journey at all”. With it this poem he tries to remind us about the importance of the journey of life and changing our mindset.

Being reminded that you need to relax and slow down can do wonders. No human is a machine, our bodies and minds need the time to recover, think and process the millions of stimuli we live amongst.

Try to slow down because on this trip you will learn and enjoy everything that the world has to offer.

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Remember to say σιγά-σιγά

So next time you are in Greece remember to say σιγά-σιγά when you are:

  • Traveling: enjoy the magnificent view and the sun charging your inner battery.
  • Eating a meal: food in Greece is not only about combating our hunger. Talk with your friends and family or make new friends from the table next to you.
  • Drinking coffee: relax and enjoy every sip of your tasteful coffee or drink. No one is coming to get you.
  • Waiting: is your friend a bit late or are you stuck in a queue. Just look around and σιγά-σιγά everything will be solved.
  • Sleeping: yes I know it sounds stupid. But trust me, a lot of us are stressed even during our sleep.

Is σιγά-σιγά a lifestyle that you support? And what are your biggest hurdles toward having a relaxed lifestyle? Please leave us a comment! We are extremely interested to learn what people think since we can all learn from each other

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Greek taverns

In most countries, you go out for dinner at a restaurant, or an estiatorio in Greek. However, many Greeks don’t go to an estiotorio when eating out. Instead, the Greeks eat at taverns. But what are these? What is a tavern? Translating the Greek … Continue reading Greek taverns

Traveling with the Greeks means chaos

This story is for all the non-Greeks that are about to meet their Greek in-laws. As well as the Greeks that have a non-Greek family member. But also for everyone else. Because traveling with the Greek family through the eyes of an outsider makes a funny story.

The first time I went to Greece to meet my Greek family, my parents-in-law proposed to go on a family vacation. Nice right? Yes. But where my history of family trips consisted of just four people on a relaxing vacation. The Greeks count slightly more people as a part of their close family. At least 12 people is the rule for my Greek family. Be prepared for absolute chaos when traveling with the Greeks.

Step 1: Packing

The mess that is traveling with the Greeks starts even before you leave. While the Greeks prefer to pack light, they want to bring a lot of stuff. They take the smallest suitcase they have but since not everything fits, they bring around 30 plastic bags to carry all the other things. One bag for each pair of shoes they take, one bag for the briki they need to make coffee, one bag for the towels, one bag for the shampoo bottles, one bag for the fruits, and one bag for the coffee cups… Many, many bags.

As a result, packing the car before leaving takes ages. One by one the bags go in the car only to discover that they won’t fit. The bags are taken out again and put in differently. Over and over, until every free square centimeter of the car is filled with at least one plastic bag. Funny as well is that the Greeks always take their smallest car on a trip, due to parking reasons. If they would either take the big car or the big suitcase, things would be so much easier.

Step 2: Driving

Then, everyone jumps in his or her car and they start driving because they are late now. But they don’t rush for long. Since the Greeks don’t plan ahead and discuss their route, they stop at every crossing. The men get out of their car and start an endless argument about the pros and cons of each possible route, even if they are in their own city. They will never just agree with each other because a Greek that is not stubborn is not Greek.

When the route is set after multiple discussions, they all start driving at their own pace. When one will drive 150 km/h on the highway, the other will enjoy the scenery around going with just 90. As a result, everyone is basically driving alone. The fact that they could have saved at least half an hour by just getting on the highway by themselves does not even occur to them.

And to make things worse, discussion on the highway does not stop. You might be far apart from the rest of the family, but taking your own route to get to your destination is still not allowed. Be prepared for a phone to ring, at least once every 15 minutes. What basically happens is that the car in front decides what to do and wants to update the others on the route he takes. When he calls your car about this, an argument starts and a new plan is created. But then, they have the call the other car(s) to inform them about the plan. But of course, they won’t agree, creating a continuous loop of discussion. Maybe stopping at every crossing wasn’t so bad?

Step 3: Never use the navigation

You might wonder why the Greeks don’t just use their navigation to prevent endless discussion. Well, they will not, and even when they do, they will not listen to it. Who knows the Greek land better than the Greeks themselves? Google certainly doesn’t. Greeks are stubborn and proud, they will never admit when they are wrong, nor that they don’t know something. They literally prefer making a two hours detour over using their navigation.

The complete chaos and endless discussions while traveling with the Greeks, will not stop when you reach your holiday destination. It will continue throughout the whole trip. Every beach, mountain, landmark or restaurant you will visit, will create countless arguments that will at least double your travel time.

Step 4: Don’t rest

During my first holiday with the Greek family, I got very excited seeing the hotel we stayed in after 6 hours of the Greek chaos. Peace I thought, finally. But no, not with a Greek family. Whenever the Greeks go to “rest” at their hotel, they will basically not stop interacting with each other. They call you about how your room is, knock on your door to bring a cup of coffee, or just continue the conversation over the balcony. Maybe you get five minutes without the family, but never more.

Besides, there is no time for rest in a hotel! Resting is what you do at home, a holiday is there to get you tired. The Greeks don’t often take holidays, so when they do, they want to get the most out of them. They might do everything slowly and they’re far from efficient but they make up for it by leaving out the time to settle in and relax. They just keep moving.

Step 5: Do everything together

So after no more than 15 minutes in the hotel, it is time to continue traveling with the Greeks, a.k.a the journey of chaos. It is absolutely forbidden to split up the family so everyone can do what he or she likes. Instead, the discussion starts about what to do next and since they will again not agree, you’ll end up just having to do everything quickly.

Imagine you all want to spend an afternoon at the beach, easy right? Nope. Everyone in the family will know the most beautiful beach to visit in the area, and of course, they all believe this beach is a different one. Instead of listening to one person or opening up to a new experience, they will be stubborn. As a result, you will not spend your afternoon relaxing on one beach. No. You will rush around from beach to beach, barely having enough time to swim or order a cocktail. And since they will still lose their way all the time, you end up spending most of your time in a car.

Step 6: Eat everything

Tired of the early morning, long drive, and rush to visit all the beaches, it is now time for dinner. Again, you will have dinner with everyone meaning again there will be a discussion about where to go. But once this is settled and you sit down on an uncomfortable tavern chair, how many more cultural differences can you be confronted with?

Turns out there are many. Firstly, you will never see a menu at a tavern. Instead, Father will give you three choices, beer, wine, or ouzo. While Mother will order a long list of dishes she expects the tavern to have. You will not be in charge of what you eat and you will not have a plate for yourself. Instead you will probably end up tasting a little bit of all the dishes this restaurant prepares. Delicious!

But when the food comes on the table, you have to be quick. The Greeks might be extremely slow when it comes to drinking coffee, they are the complete opposite when it is time for dinner. They eat fast and way too much and they expect you to do the same. Don’t be shy or polite and wait for the rest of the family to serve themselves first. The food will be completely finished before you can even take one bite.

On the other hand, a good Greek family will keep putting food on your plate whenever it is empty. Even when you say you are full and even when you say you don’t like the food that it on the table. No matter how much you eat, it will never be enough for the Greeks when they see an empty plate.

Step 7: Shout & Cheers

During this feast, food is not the only cause of chaos. Everyone at the table will basically have a conversation with everyone else, at the same time. There will not be one topic to talk about. Each person on the table will have his or her own subject that he or she wants to share with everyone while at the same time responding to the things everyone else is saying. It is quite impressive how many different conversation a Greek can follow at the same time. But since they are far apart from each other what they do is closer to shouting than talking.

Everything is already loud but then they will also shout Yia mas! about every 10 minutes. Yia mas comes from stin ygia mas, to our healt. It is the Greek way to say cheerse. But when the Greeks get excited, they will cheer all the time and everyone has to join and drink when it happens. The chaos is complete.

Step 8: Enjoy

Although I might sound sceptical about a holiday, traveling with the Greeks, I absolutely love them. Travelling with the Greek is tiring, full of cultural differences, without privacy, and far from efficient, but so exciting at the same time. Anything can happen, there is always someone to talk to and they have so much fun. Traveling with the Greeks is the ultimate experience of Greek culture. Let go of expectations and plans and just enjoy every moment!