When you enter Greece by car, cab, or bus, your first impression of the Greeks might be far from friendly. The busy streets of this country get the worst out of every person. The Greeks seem rude and impatient, honk their horns, push other cars off the road, and yell at each other out of their windows. However, this is merely their way to navigate the chaotic traffic. Once these same Greeks get out of their cars, they transform into the most hospitable and welcoming hosts you could ever meet. Greek hospitality is generous and tied to Greek culture for centuries.
Hospitality in Ancient Greece
You might know Zeus, the king of the gods in Greek mythology, for his power and thunder. However, he is also connected with the concept of hospitality (maybe because he was raised by a stranger himself). In Greek mythology, Zeus was known for his role as the protector of guests and the enforcer of hospitality customs. He was believed to wander the earth disguised as a mortal, testing people’s hospitality and rewarding or punishing them accordingly.
In fact, in many Greek myths, it is the violation of guest friendship leading to tragic consequences. For example, in Homer’s epic poem, the Odyssey, the suitors who take advantage of Odysseus’ hospitality are punished by the gods and eventually killed by Odysseus himself.
From mythology to culture
As the chief god, Zeus set an example for mortals in demonstrating proper hospitality and the concept of reciprocity, where both the guest and the host had responsibilities to fulfill. Guests were expected to show respect, gratitude, and humility, while hosts were obligated to provide shelter, food, and protection. By upholding these principles, both guests and hosts contributed to the harmony and balance of ancient Greek society.
In ancient Greece, hospitality was seen as a way to build relationships and create alliances between people and communities. It was a way to demonstrate wealth and generosity and to gain social status and respect. The concept of hospitality was so important that it was even codified into law in some ancient Greek city-states.
Hospitality in Greek culture
Hospitality has been part of the Greek culture ever since. Look at the Greek word for hospitality, filoxenia. This word perfectly describes the attitude of Greeks against strangers. Filo means friend, and Xenoi are strangers, making hospitality the friendship with strangers.
Hospitality in modern Greek culture is characterized by warmth, generosity, and a genuine desire to make guests feel comfortable and valued. Whether in urban centers or rural villages, Greeks often go out of their way to extend their hospitality to visitors.
When invited into a Greek home, guests are treated with great respect and are offered food, drinks, and lively conversation. Greeks enjoy sharing their culinary heritage, serving an abundance of traditional dishes, and taking pleasure in the communal aspect of shared meals.
Greeks are known for their hospitality even outside of the home. It is common for Greeks to engage in conversations with strangers, offering assistance and recommendations, and sharing local insights. They take pride in showcasing cultural heritage, traditions, and the beauty of their country. In restaurants and tavernas, you can expect attentive and friendly service, with staff often going above and beyond to ensure a memorable dining experience.
Traveling alone in Greece, I had countless experiences with Greek hospitality. Actually, it may be this friendliness towards strangers that makes me want to stay in this country. From gas stations to taverns, grocery stores, and even parking lots, everywhere I go, I have friendly interactions with locals. It might be because I am a woman alone, driving a car with strange (yellow) signs, speaking Greek good enough to make the Greeks understand me, but bad enough for them to understand I am definitely not Greek. Nevertheless, Greeks are interested in my story, want to protect me, and make sure I eat enough food on my journey. Just like Zeus would have wanted them to.
The one time I felt ready to leave Greece, it was the people’s hospitality making me stay. I crashed my car on a concrete curb, hidden beneath a sandy hill. The car was stuck in the middle of the road, not moving back or forth. The first reaction of the Greeks wanting to pass was anger. Horns were blowing, people were shouting and complaining, my dog was barking, and I was nearly crying. However, soon after, the Greek men came out, and together we spent an hour getting my car unstuck and back on the road. With success! Afterward, I was welcomed by the locals with coffee and sweets, making me forget I was ready to quit my journey just an hour earlier. They made me feel welcome, protected, and not alone right when I needed it most. That is what Greek hospitality is all about.
Prepare to feel welcome!
When traveling in Greece, you will for sure meet locals who share the Greek mentality of great hospitality. At accommodations, you will receive local products like liquors, wines, or olives. Check-in might take place with a nice cup of one of the delicious Greek coffees. Be prepared for delicious sweets when you ask for the bill at a tavern, and don’t be surprised if the waiter has an opinion about your food choice since he wants you to eat the tastiest dish he can serve. Hosts will want to tell you what to see in the area, which beach to visit, and where to eat. And when you get lost (or your car breaks down), there will be someone to help you get back on the road. The Greeks will make you feel welcome, just because they want you to enjoy their beautiful country!
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