Expat Culture Shock - Greece

By: Bex (Rebecca Hall)

“Ftou ftou ftou”…the old lady in the supermarket had just spat at me three times. OK, not literally, but I’d been helping this little old lady all swaddled up in black to pack up her shopping.

“Efharisto copella” she proclaimed [“Thank you girl”], and then made an obvious spitting noise in my direction followed by a hand flick towards my face. To say I was in shock is an understatement…I’d barely been in the country a month and was attempting to adjust to the idiosyncrasies of Greek culture—I didn’t realise one of them would be being met with a slightly aggressive act after my act of kindness!

“That’s a good thing, don’t worry!” laughed my Greek friend over coffee that evening. “You helped her, she thought you were beautiful for doing this so she gives you a negative symbol to ward off any jealousy that may come to you as a result of your kind nature.” It was the first time I’d heard that being spat was a compliment—first time for everything I guess.

“Hadn’t we better order another coffee?” I enquired. My Greek friend snorted and patted my knee.

“No need. We can sit here for three hours with just one cup if we so require” my friend patted my knee reassuringly. I glanced around: the middle-aged couple in the corner had been there when we came in, over an hour ago, and I’d not seen the waiter approach them once. That was another difference: people spending hours relaxing over coffee with no pressure to buy, buy, buy.

Greece isn’t just full of lovely cultural differences. There are things that I still find difficult to understand or cope with, even after 4 years of living here. I’ll never understand the “no-one tells me what to do” mentality that pervades every aspect of society. Examples of this include not wearing seatbelts in the car or helmets on their heads on motorbikes. Despite the fact that these laws are made to help protect people in the event of an accident, the fact is, it’s a law hence it must be disobeyed. I always wear my seatbelt in taxis and once rode in the back of one where the driver became offended I wore it! I tried to explain it isn’t necessarily his driving I am insulting, but we have no control over other drivers, so I want to be safe! Long silence.

“You have right copella” he proclaimed in his pidgin English. “Apo pou ise?” [“where are you from?] When he found out I was British, he nodded sagely as if everything made sense. Almost an ‘Of course.’

Then there’s the smoking in bars and cafes. I’m not actually sure if people aren’t supposed to smoke in bars or not, but they do. OK, not all places allow it, but the majority do. It’s my one huge bug bearer: no matter how late I come home at night, I have to have a shower and wash my hair to wash the smoke away.

Overall I love this country. Seeing men, old and young, embracing when they meet or leave each other is refreshing…it’s natural. People know how to just ‘be’ in Greece, and this country has helped me to follow that trend. Take the rough with the smooth: soon you’ll be embracing the culture of your country and acting like a native (but I do still wear my seatbelt in cars).

About the author

Expat Blog ListingBex (Rebecca Hall) is a British expat living in Greece. Blog description: An unconventional British gal with a degree in International Relations, the wrong side of 35 who finds herself living in the unconventional country of Greece.
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Contest Comments » There are 5 comments

Carole Heiman wrote 11 years ago:

I love reading your blog - as a fellow expat in Greece you always make me feel ok for all the times in my own life in Greece when I noticed, yet still embraced, our differences!

Christina wrote 11 years ago:

Nice post! I would have been completely mortified and confused after the woman 'spit' haha

Sue Sharpe wrote 11 years ago:

Great post! - I love finding out about other peoples experiences when they move to a new country and Rebecca's are always amusing and informative.

Megan Claire wrote 11 years ago:

Such a great post! I had never stopped to think before that you could still experience culture shock after having lived somewhere for years - really opened my eyes to life as an expat!! Cant wait to read more of your articles!

Artemis wrote 11 years ago:

Hi there! The old lady was warding off the 'evil eye' for you: a big compliment for a stranger, even more so a foreign one! The taxi cab driver did not ask you to 'get out!' Wow! These are both signs that you are a friendly, kind and open person. All excellent qualities for one observing and commenting on a foreign culture. Keep the posts and smiles coming Bex! Thanks, Artemis

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