Greece is a very welcoming country. The people of Greece take pride in their country, their heritage and their hospitality. Greek people are very friendly and engaging, especially with new friends. Greeks are typically curious and genuinely want to know about you. They are generous and kind.
While it seems like these friendly people would overlook any faux pas, you want to appear respectful and courteous. You would never do anything outright to offend your hospitable new friends and want to avoid the occasion of inadvertently insulting them. Here we’ve put together a list of etiquette do’s and don'ts when visiting Greece.
How to Dress
With all of the beautiful crystal blue water beckoning at all times of the day you would think the Greeks live in their bathing suits. Not so! Bathing suits are for the beach only. Never leave the beach without covering up. Also, it is considered quite rude to go barefoot on the beach. And while there are some nude beaches in Greece they are few and far between.
When going out Greeks like to dress up in nice clothes.
In churches and monasteries there is a fairly strict dress code. No shorts and women are expected to cover their arms. While it is traditional for women to wear a skirt or dress when visiting a church, trousers are acceptable. It is not required that you cover your head when visiting a church or monastery.
Greetings and Communication Style
It can’t be overstated; The Greek people are a warm, welcoming and friendly lot. Always offer a greeting when you encounter another such as in a store, being seated in a cafe or when you are browsing the local markets. Be sure to use good manners and say “please”, “thank you”, “excuse me” and so on. You could even learn these phrases in Greek.
When you are introduced to someone, shake hands and maintain eye contact. If this person is a friend or relative a hug is acceptable. Women who know one another socially often kiss on the cheeks, in the European style.
Greeks are very emotive speakers. Don’t be surprised at the volume with which they talk to one another. It’s considered a conversation.
Certain gestures that are acceptable in the US are considered rude or obscene in Greece.
- Never gesture to anyone with your palm facing them. Even when you are signaling the number five. Always keep your palm turned toward you.
- Making a fist with your thumb between your index and middle fingers is considered obscene.
- Thumbs up signals approval but thumbs down is a rude gesture.
- A single nod of the head downward is the expression for yes and a single nod of the head backward means no.
- Never display the “OK” sign as it is considered vulgar, which isn’t ok.
Dining in Greece
Greece is a spectacular destination for those who enjoy ancient history, gorgeous coastal vistas and sunshine and friendly people. But, let’s face it, one of the most enjoyable aspects of a trip to Greece is the food! And most of the people of Greece would agree!
Before you munch down on your moussaka there are a few rules of etiquette you need to know. If someone extends a dinner invitation it is highly inappropriate to decline. Dinner at Greek homes is typically served between 8-9 pm. But that’s just a formality. The traditional Greek home has food of some kind always ready to enjoy.
Restaurants take a very loose approach to dinner and many of them are open past midnight to accommodate peckish patrons.
Whether in a restaurant or the home of a new friend there are certain rules of etiquette to follow:
- Don’t take a seat until you are told where to sit.
- Don’t touch your plate until the host begins eating.
- No elbows on the table and no hands below the table.
- When you are finished lay your fork and knife across the plate. Place your napkin on the table.
- Sharing of food is commonplace in Greece so offer your dining partner a taste of your meal.
- The host offers the first toast and the guest of honor reciprocates.
- Greeks enjoy an alcoholic beverage, usually wine, with dinner. Drink at the same pace as your fellow diners. It’s perfectly acceptable to enjoy your beverage of choice but never over serve yourself. Drunkenness is frowned upon.
In a restaurant the tip (15%) is typically included in the bill. Double check, however, and if you wish to leave more, place it on the table.
This and That
Greece has a large population of smokers. Smoking is entirely acceptable although legally you are not supposed to smoke in bars, cafes and restaurants the rule isn’t enforced and although there are areas in restaurants set aside for smoking it’s not observed.
There is no legal drinking age in Greece and the minimum age to purchase alcohol is 17. However, it’s rarely enforced.
If you are offered something you need to accept. Especially food. To decline food when it is offered is seen as a sign you don’t trust the person or their cooking.
In Greece being “on time” can mean up to 45 minutes after the agreed upon time. This is acceptable and almost always accompanied by a heartfelt apology.
When you are invited to someone’s home you should bring a small token as a gift.
Greece is very welcoming and accommodating to visitors and it’s wise to observe these etiquette rules as a show of respect and a way of saying “Efharisto”, or “Thank You”.