Coming to Greece means sea, sunshine, delicious food, and, well, Greeks!! The Greek people are a notoriously tricky lot: at once welcoming and insular, they epitomize the word dichotomy. It’s no surprise that many visitors are curious about exactly how to navigate the mentality of the people who gave us drama, and are now perfecting it.
Surviving in Greece can require patience, and a lot of it!! Here are some tips for navigating in a country known for its beauty and its boisterous people.
- Hail a cab! Taxis are notoriously (and often, actually are) terrible — they gouge, the drivers smoke, they don’t turn on the meter. For great taxi service, download the Taxibeat app. https://taxibeat.com/ It’s in English, you can use your credit card for payment, and you get honest, awesome taxi drivers. It’s also a Greek company, so you are supporting the local economy. Note — since Taxibeat uses wifi for location, call the taxi driver if he doesn’t show up; they don’t have your info and can’t call you.
- Order a coffee! There are many different kinds of coffee, which is a post all its own. Try the strong greek coffee, Ellinikos, but don’t drink the grounds at the bottom. Summer means summer drinks — frappe or cappucinno freddo. Trust me, you want to try them all. Yummy!!!
- Take your time!! Prepare yourself for languid Greek service. The upside to the unhurried service is that you will never be chased out of a restaurant or cafe. When you come into a cafe or restaurant, don’t go to the hostess for a table; you just find the one you like and sit. Once seated, you often have to flag a waiter down who will take your order and deliver it, but will not stop to ask how things are, so if you need something, you will have to flag him down again. When you are finished, the dance of asking for the check begins. You will *always* have to ask for your check, even if you’ve been there for hours and they’ve served you after dinner treats (often, watermelon or a small after dinner drink or sweet). No one is in a hurry to eat, or get paid, around here!
- Enjoy a refreshing beverage! Ouzo is actually delicious if you drink it like a Greek. Drink it with ice and some water as a refreshing cold drink on a hot afternoon. It may be expensive, because ouzo is often served with a nice plate of snacks. For an after dinner drink, I like to order a shot of Masticha, a sweet liquer that is also a “digestif”. Sip it slowly and enjoy!! It comes from the Mastic tree on the island of Chios. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mastika Crete has its own aperitif, Raki, which is very powerful, so be careful!
- Respect the outhouse etiquette! Greek plumbing is from the ancient era. Toilet paper is indeed *not* paper to put in the toilet. It goes in the garbage bin next to the toilet. This is gross, but universal, in Greece.
- Yield to traffic! Driving is another topic that requires its own post, so stay tuned. Just beware driving in Athens!! And, pedestrians are at the bottom of the food chain, so be very, very careful crossing streets. Cars will not slow down for you. (As an American driver who is sometimes courteous, I am eyed suspiciously if I wave a pedestrian across the street in front of the car. This is simply not done here.)
- Don’t leave home without your ATM card! In Greece, cash is king!! Many tourist-friendly places take credit cards, but many places are small and family-run and don’t take cash. Monuments and other government institutions don’t take cards. You will need cash, and/or access to cash. Check with your bank, because you very likely have a daily limit on withdrawals, which can make your life tricky if you don’t plan for it. Of course, this tip is pending the fate of the Euro and recent capital controls.
- Look alive! Pickpocketing is a real threat. We (luckily) have not had this issue, but on some Facebook groups, I’ve heard of this happening. Do not leave your bags out of your eyesight, particularly in Athens. Especially on public transportation, keep your wallets close to your body and maybe on an inside wallet. EVERYone in Greece wears fanny packs, so feel free to let you Euro flag fly and rock out a fancy fanny pack!
- Redefine your personal space! Whether you are on the metro in Athens or trying to be “in line” (good luck!) anywhere, Greeks have the sense of personal space of sardines in a can. And, no one thinks twice about pushing or grabbing. Apparently, it’s not considered rude here. Every American I know finds this irritating and sometimes outraging (pushing a kid out of your way to get ahead of them in line at a grocery store!?!? Argh!!), but it is what it is.
- Marble is slippery. And wet marble is even more slippery. Consider yourself warned.
- Relax!!! Greeks are notorious for not making plans until the last minute, so if something in your trip hits a snag (no ferry tickets? no problem!), just relax, enjoy a coffee or an ouzo, and know that it will likely work out ok in the end.
These are but a few tips about navigating with ease. I’m sure others have tips about this beautiful country and its dichotomous (friendly yet infuriatingly rude) people.