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