Greece: 10 Things You Want to Ask but Don't Want to Sound Like a Tourist

Bizarre, weird and often beyond any reason, some Greek traditions and practices make you die to ask the question. Here are a few of our favourites, to satisfy your curiosity and make you feel like a local. 

1. What are those miniature churches next to the roads?

Throughout Greece, quite often, miniature churches appear next to traffic lights, streets, roads and highways. These little churches represent memorials for people killed in a car or motorbike accident, at the same spot where the accident took place; they are built and maintained by the family of the deceased. If you dare to look inside, you will often see a photo and a candle, to name the least. 

2. How do I drink Greek coffee and what is this mud in my cup?

Do not - I repeat, do not- drink the grounds left in that cup after the liquid is gone. It is bitter, muddy, disgusting and nobody expects you to drink it. However, you can use these grounds for fortune telling! That involves flipping the cup on the plate, wait and hand it to an experienced 'coffee-reader'. Good luck with that! In other trivia, like Turkish coffee and unlike other coffee types, Greek coffee is boiled rather than brewed. Having said that, it is not supposed to be stirred after it is served; therefore, sugar is added during boiling, not afterwards. Bear in mind that it is an art to get the thickest possible layer of foam...

3. What is the law for zebra crossings?

Greeks interpret even basic traffic regulations differently than the rest of the world. Having said that, if you expect a vehicle to stop while you cross or wait to cross a zebra crossing, you are terribly wrong and -most importantly- your life may be in danger. The safest way to cross the street, literally, is to wait until no car is in sight. Equally confusing is the interpretation of other traffic regulations, such as a yellow traffic light (which directs to speeding rather than slowing down), overtaking a car (which can be from both the left and the right), speed limits in pedestrian areas and one-way streets (which -let's face it- are often great short cuts). So, to come back to zebra crossings, they're more of a fashionable print to decorate the not-so-well-maintained Greek roads, rather than to help pedestrians. So, careful. 

4. If smoking is prohibited, why does everybody smoke inside bars and restaurants?

In case you wonder, yes, Greece HAS a smoking ban. Why people smoke inside bars, restaurants, offices and public buildings? Simply because they want to; and -let's face it- there are no legal repercussions. Greece is probably the only country on earth that smoking is prohibited and the law -again- is interpreted differently than the rest of the world, while everyone, from smokers to restaurant owners, has their own excuse. In fact, the only thing that changed with the smoking ban in Greece was that the ashtrays disappeared from bars and restaurants, simply to hide the fact that guests smoke! Likely, it is often frowned upon and you may get (or give) a polite notice.

5. What will happen if I flush paper in the toilet? 

Visitors often cannot believe that they are not allowed to throw papers in the toilet; let alone that they have to use the little bins next to the toilet, often overflown with disgusting papers. So, the question arrises: what will happen if I do? My answer is, 'you don't want to know'. The Greek toilet system is old, almost ancient. Therefore, it simply cannot handle it and will eventually 'reciprocate' in the most disgusting way. I realise visitors often do not care about repercussions - after all, chances are that they will not be there when the 'sh*t hits the fan'. But, my friends, timing is of essence; you never know...!

6. Why did someone else join my taxi ride?

Unless you get a Taxibeat, Uber or other taxi booking service in that matter, do not be surprised if your driver decides to pick up more passengers on the way in case their route fits with yours. The chances are high to share a trip, but if you think that you will also share the fare, you are terribly wrong. In any case, you should know it is illegal, but at the same time it is market practice to get more people on board, therefore do not be alarmed. Having said that, bear in mind that night hour fares apply; that means they are doubled from 00:01 am to 6am.

7. Is an open palm gestured friendly or insulting?

Unless this gesture is followed by a friendly reaction, chances are you just got a 'moutza'. The 'anatomy' of a 'moutza' is this: open palm, fingers well apart, faced at the 'receiver' with a bit of force and most likely followed by a nasty Greek word or a simple 'NA', aka 'here you are'. There you have it.  

8. Is it a good thing when someone spits himself or me?

Unlike a 'moutza', spitting is usually a good thing, aiming to keep the 'evil eye' away. So, when someone makes the sound of spitting to himself, to a young child or to you, that means you probably look too good and with a bit of spitting the evil forces will stay away from you. There are other 'techniques' to keep the evil away, such as knocking wood and little charms (usually depicting an eye, in white and blue).

9. How do I eat dried bread?

The Greek gastronomy offers a variety of delicacies, one of which being the dried bread, aka 'paximadi' or 'dakos'. Greeks, especially in Crete, have mastered the art of dried bread-making, so we encourage you to try at least once, pared with feta cheese, tomatoes and olives. However, dried bread can be particularly hard for your teeth, therefore make sure to run the 'paximadi' under running tap water for one second and toss repeatedly afterwards to get rid of all the excess fluids. Enjoy!

10. What is the deal with namedays?

It is no coincidence that I have chosen number ten on this particular date, as today is my nameday. The name-day tradition stems from the Christian calendar of saints and today it is more of a custom rather than linked necessarily to fanatic religion. It is as simple as that: people named after a saint are celebrated on the saint's feast day (so, I am Katia and I am celebrated on St Catherine's day on the 25th of November, as my name stems from Katerina). Namedays are as important as birthdays in Greece and are equally -if not more- celebrated; after all, chances are more people know when your nameday falls rather than your birthday. So feel free to do all the gift, party, cake ceremonials. Happy nameday to me! 

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