TO STEAL FROM...
They are Europe's
heaviest smokers (66% of the adult
population smokes), they put on tracksuits just to watch
sport on television, they have a reputation of agreeing
to but ignoring EU regulations. We have already stolen democracy,
the Olympics, and most of our words from them, but we still
think there are a couple of things left that we'd like to
get our hands on...
- Time. In
Greece, GMT stands for Greek Maybe Time. Nothing is too
urgent to require immediate attention. The siesta, which
takes place between about 2pm and 5pm, is built into the
day, and in many villages, the Sunday volta - or promenade
in the French sense of the word - is still the highlight
of the week, when villagers have a walk to pass the time
of day and boys watch girls go by. The common sight of unfinished
houses in Greece, with girders sticking out of the top floor,
is a testament to the Greeks' relationship with the future;
enough of the house is made ready for the family's
present needs; when they need more room, they just
In summer, most cinemas in Greece are outdoors, and have
bars selling whisky, cognac, ouzo and snacks There is also
an intermission halfway through the film so you can replenish
your drinks and decide whether you are enjoying the movie.
And the projectionist won't have to wait until the
intermission for his cigarette - smoking is allowed
throughout the show in Greek cinemas. Unlike other European
countries, Greece does not dub foreign films into Greek
but uses subtitles instead.
Known as Turkish
coffee until 1974, when Turkey invaded Northern Cyprus,
the coffee you get in Greece is not for the faint-hearted.
The young in Greece prefer frappe, instant coffee with milk.
or local cafe is the
local gossip point, where Greek men go to
Until the early '80s, there were always at least two kafenions
in every village, no matter how small it was. Each one was
decorated with different colours, signalling the political
leanings of the kafenion owner. This way you avoided political
quarrels. In larger towns and cities, local coffee bars
still deliver trays of coffee on foot to local businesses.
- Eating habits.
Cross-generational dining, with grandma and small children
of the same table, is always more entertaining even if'
it does take longer. But the Greeks aren't in a hurry where
food is concerned, late night dining means sitting down
to the evening meal no earlier than 9pm. Even on Sunday
nights taverns are packed until late. Eating alone is unheard
of, so the solo diner will find it hard to get served. Meals
in restaurants are paid for in cash, not credit cards or
cheques, and Greeks always have enough money on them to
pay for others.
- Island hopping.
Greece has 227 inhabitable islands divided up into seven
island groups: the lonian Islands, the Dodecanese, Crete,
the Cyclades, the Saronic, the North Eastern Aegean Islands
and the Sporades. An impressively efficient ferry system
operates between the island groups, and Greeks island-hop
for weekends away. In fact, the islands may be the
reason Greeks are so reluctant to holiday abroad, and who
can blame them? August is best avoided by those who hate
at traffic solutions. Instead of an administration-heavy
congestion charge, Athens instituted a system of driving
days a few years ago, whereby motorists can only use their
cars every other day, as dictated by the last digit of their
number plate. This was aimed at combating both congestion
and pollution. Unfortunately, the canny Athenians got round
the restriction by buying a second car (often second-hand
and therefore more likely to pollute) with the opposite
number plate. Nice try though. The Athens metro, another
traffic solution, could be seen as the eighth wonder of
the world, and not only because it's a wonder they
ever finished it at all. Finally opened in January 2000,
the new subway system looks like a museum. Check out the
station under Syntagma Square for the highest concentration
of ancient exhibits.
- The luck
of being born female. Most Greek parents build a house for
each daughter, but not for their sons as they are supposed
to marry a girl who will get a house from her parents. Often
it is also the daughter that inherits her parents' or grandparents'
house when they die. Do expectant Greek parents pray for
- Plate Smashing.
The Greeks love to throw things. They throw carnations to
singers and smash glasses and dishes when beautiful girls
dance the zeibekiko or the hasapiko on the dance floor.
Back in the '30s they used to throw knives - a sign of respect
and manhood -- at dancers' feet. Due to injuries, that tradition
gradually changed to the present-day plate-throwing tradition,
which has stuck. Luckily the Greeks take their recycling
seriously, so it's not a complete waste!
- Wacky beliefs.
Superstitions and strong religious beliefs always make life
more interesting. When Greeks move into a new house, the
local priest comes over to exorcise and bless it. In Greece,
Tuesday the l3th is the unlucky day (not Friday) because
it is the day on which Constantinople fell to the
Incredibly useful street
that's open late and
sell everything from tobacco to cold drinks, maps, newspapers,
key rings, ice creams, worry beads, and hundreds of other
things. It's always worth asking if they have something
as they probably will! There are around 46, 000 of these
kiosks in Greece.
The kafenion, the men's coffeehouse,
is an alto together Greek institution. You used to see them
everywhere, in the main square of every village, in every part
of town and at every major city crossroads. Although they may
have lost some of their importance in modern times, they still
exist in the more rural areas, in small towns and on the islands.
This is where the man meet up to talk about the harvest, complain
about a bad crop, or grumble about the failure of Brussels'
agricultural policy. Family tragedies and personal crises are
discussed alongside politics. Anything and everything can be
a potential topic of conversation. They argue, discuss, shout
and make jokes. Anyone preferring quiet and contemplation can
let his thoughts quiet and contemplation can let his thoughts
wander in rhythm with the komboloi beads running through his
fingers. They sit over a cup of mocha coffee, a glass of water,
or even a glass of wine or ouzo. There is no food available
here, except perhaps for a bowl of peanuts to accompany the
ouzo. Hours can slip by in this way before the men have finally
seen, talked, played and drunk enough. Happy and content, they
leave this exclusively male world in the knowledge that the
kafenion will still be waiting for them in the same place tomorrow.
The kafenion is likely to be fairly sparsely furnished with
simple chairs and tables, yet there is something enduring and
timeless about it which has remained unchanged despite the great
social changes within Greece. The classic kafenion has managed
to maintain its role in Greek life in the face of the dynamic
developments of the modern age. While cafes in the big towns
have moved on to become meeting places for young people of both
sexes, everything here has stayed pleasantly the same. Women
do not feel they are missing out on anything in this male domain
and they uphold it as part of the traditional role allocation.
Tavli is the favorite
game of Greek men in the kafenion. The Greek word tavli is derived
from word tavla, meaning board. The game is played on a board
divided into two sections, each marked out with 12 narrow wedges
or points in other words 24 wedges in all. Each player has 15
counters. Even through the moves are determined by a throw of
the dice, tavli is certainly no game of chance, but a game of
strategy based on a skill, intuition and a good deal of psychology.
Three main versions
are played in Greece.
First Version: Portes (doors) is played
more or less according to the familiar rules of backgammon.
The second version
is called plakoto (from the Greek word plakono, meaning to cover
The third version
is known as fevga (run or quick get away). In all three games,
the idea is to be the first one to get his counters from the
starting position to the winning post.
STRING OF BEADS
or string of beads, a familiar sight in the hands of many Greek
men, originally came from the Orient. Once it arrived in Greece,
it became a form of plaything, always with an uneven number
of beads. The word komboloi incorporates the word kombos, meaning
the "knot". The fascination and magic derived from these "knots"
running through your fingers must come from the thoughts conjured
up from playing with these beads.
The kompoloi is
certainly more than just a mean of passing time. Once is almost
tempted to say that is reflects a way of life. There is the
sound of the beads clocking together, the feel of the smooth
beads between your fingers, the hours that slip away while playing
with the beads, including an almost trance - like state. There
is one important, yet very basic lesson to be learned from playing
with the kompoloi beads and that is that the circular string
of beads symbolizes the belief that everything returns, nothing
really ends: in other words, the belief in infinity.
If there is one
person in Greece who has found his heart's content, it is surely
the man in the peripteron. Whether situated on the loud, hectic
main road or in a sleepy suburb, all is still right with the
world in a peripteron. Periptera are the smallest supermarkets
imaginable. They consist of a hut with a roof, measuring one
square yard inside, providing just enough room for one chair
and stuffed to the ceiling with goods.
There are just
a few crates stacked on the floor waiting to be unpacked. No
town or village would be complete without this institution.
They include candies,
drinks, ice creams, savory snacks, toys for the little ones
and beads for the grown -ups, batteries, cigarettes, newspapers,
tissues...napkins, knives, scissors, toilet articles and somehow,
as if by magic, you always seem to find the very thing you forgot
to buy elsewhere.
TEN TOP GIFTS
TO BUY FROM THE GREEKS
Taking gifts back for loved ones
is an important part of your holiday. This is a suggestion of
gifts you could take back home. these gifts can suit any budget.
urns - ceramic, decorated or plain, replicas of helmets
Pure Olive Oil Soap in decorative
sack wrapping and
Virgin Olive Oil
in traditional bottles.
Komboloi - Greek
worry beads (Can be from amber, silver, gold ...etc), Key
rings of Greek symbols.
by the art and architecture of prehistoric classical Greece,
up to the Byzantine era.
paper clips in bronze with various Greek motifs.
sweets, chocolates, pistachio Nuts from Aegina (the most
well known Pistachio)
style table cloths, cushion covers and rugs.
Sponge from the Aegean Sea.
A CD of traditional
Greek music or a DVD with Greek sites, a Poster or Postcards
of Greece, with stamps.
or T-shirts with Greek Scenes.