Classic Cyprus Culture Shock by a British Expat

By: Mimi Finerty

Culture shock is an inevitable part of expat life. If you are brought up in one specific culture and decide to embark on an expat adventure, transplanting yourself to another geographic location, there is no doubt in my mind that you will experience a sort of WTF culture shock moment, at some point along the way.

But since you embarked on an expat adventure in the first place, I am pretty certain you were actively looking for those WTF culture shock moments and will handle them pretty well. After 2 and half years of living in Cyprus, nothing shocks me anymore, but the culture is still a challenge.

Luckily for you, I have experienced it all and can guide you through some common culture shock scenarios, as a British expat living in Cyprus.

British manners have no place in Cyprus.

As a newbie in this country and technically a guest living in the boyfriends Grandma’s house, I felt the need to use the manners my mother had taught me to show my appreciation.

Well that kind of backfired. Saying thank you and please are not such a necessary part of vocabulary as they are in England. To this day, the boyfriends family get annoyed when I say please and thank you.

And the boyfriend explained it like this; saying thank you for dinner is not necessary because they don’t see it as doing anything particularly extraordinary. Cooking dinner must be done and doesn’t warrant a thank you. They almost see it as their duty to do such things.

I still can’t get my head around this and it’s not just thank you. You can forget about using most of you manners here, including please, holding the door open for someone, waiting for everyone to sit at the table before eating and so on and so on.

Rules are made to be ignored and broken.

In Cyprus there are rules and laws like there are in any other country. But here, they are somewhat flexible shall we say. Just because there is a rule doesn’t mean anyone is going to stick to it, whether it’s legislation or not. This is the hardest thing for me to understand; in England, you have a rule, everyone follows the rule and that’s how life goes on.

In Cyprus, you have a rule, everyone makes up there own variation of the rule, doesn’t understand why you cant follow there version when it’s clearly the better one and in the end, no one follows any rules.

Confusing I know. You will get the hang of it though.

Eating with your hands is acceptable.

As a child, my mother taught me how to use a knife and fork and from the day I mastered it, eating with our hands was a big no no. So when I saw Granny sitting at the end of the dinner table eating the remnants of pork chop off the bone, with her hands, I was a little shocked.

But I soon began to work out that your hands are just an extension of your knife and fork and no one will frown upon you using them. This one I have just about mastered at home. But do not be surprised to see people sitting in restaurants picking at food with their fingers. Well if you cant beat them join.

Eating with your hands – do you think I took it too far?
Eating with your hands – do you think I took it too far?

Family is key

In England, family time is somewhat obscured by everyday life. Obviously depending on the sort of relationship you have with your family, you can see each other regularly or rarely. This also has to do with distance and relocation of families, which mean a simple visit to granny can be a week long adventure to the other end of the country.

The nice thing about Cyprus is the sense of the family unit is still very much present. Granny regularly receives visitors, usually on a Sunday and the whole family will be together at regular intervals throughout the year. Aunts and Uncles are close by and can be visited often and cousins have a stronger bond than I have ever experienced.

And I put this down to two things. One the island is small enough that even if you move to a different city, the furthest away from your family you will be is a 2 hour drive. Secondly, there is a strong sense of family cohesion; you stick together, you communicate and you are there in a crisis.

This is probably the nicest cultural difference of them all. I was accepted into a family of 20+ people, all of which will be ready to assist with anything I need at the drop of a text message.

The party doesn’t start until at least 1am

In England we are known for our drinking culture and rowdy behaviour at 7pm. In Cyprus binge drinking is not really a thing and most bars and clubs do not come alive until at least 1am.

In the hot summer months especially, it’s general practice to have an afternoon/evening nap, wake at about 10pm, get ready and go out.

A concept which I still cant get my head around. In England, by 10pm the party is well underway and most people need to go home with a kebab in hand.

Driving; everyone is king of the road

I am not a driver. I have never driven and I don’t know how to. Something which itself is a bit weird for most Cypriots. But living in London my whole life with ready access to a pretty darn good transport system, the need was never there. If I did drive, I think I would have stopped after living here a few months.

A few things to note about the culture of driving in Cyprus. Speed limits are less of a limit more of a recommendation and will be broken regularly. Parking outside the store and on the pavement no less is ok. Driving on the pavement is acceptable, even if a pedestrian is using said pavement. Indicators are an optional extra in Cypriot cars and often go unused. Expect the unexpected; just because its green for you, by no means is it safe. I regularly witness near crashes because someone goes through a red light and another person is too impatient to wait for the green and goes early.

Seatbelts are an accessory which are not required and children are free to roam around the car at leisure (whilst its moving). Oh and one way streets are two way streets if required!

Coffee is a mans best friend

As a British girl, tea is a big part of my daily diet. PG Tips to be precise. In Cyprus however, coffee rules. So much so, that coffee shops are open until 1am and can be found on every street corner.
And the traditional men’s only coffee shops still continue to this day. Take note, these are no place for a British tea drinker.

About the author

Expat Blog ListingMimi Finerty is a British expat living in United Arab Emirates. Blog description: The life and loves of an expat now living in Dubai, have relocated from Cyprus. From food to fashion, photography, design, art, culture, lifestyle and the weather.
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Contest Comments » There are 3 comments

Fashionista wrote 10 years ago:

Your statement about seat belts in Cyprus is spot on. It made me nervous for those children turned around and staring into the car behind them.

Crystal Goes To Europe wrote 10 years ago:

This was a really interesting entry! I've got absolutely no knowledge of the culture in Cyprus, so I learned a lot. Many of the points (driving, family, etc.) make me think of French culture, too. And I'm a huge coffee fan, so I think I'd enjoy Cyprus! Thanks for showing us a glimpse of your expat world :)

M wrote 9 years ago:

I'm an American married to an Indian and all of these apply to Indian culture too :)

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