« Home | The Men in Blue » | Happy 40th Anniversary Mom & Dad! » | Easter in Keratea » | A Woman's World » | Καλό Πάσχα! » | Finding, Working & Keeping a Job(Part III) » | Finding, Working & Keeping a Job (Part II) » | Finding, Working & Keeping a Job (Part I) » | Friend and Foe » | The Road to Blogging is Paved With Good Intentions... » 

Thursday, May 04, 2006 

What Fodor's Didn't Tell You About Greece

If you want to hail a cab, you must first know where you're going since you have to stand on the side of the road in the direction you intend to go. Cabs don't stop for you on opposite sides of the street.

The gesture that most westerners use for "Stop" (open palm facing outwards) is a supreme insult when used in Greece. It's called the moutza and if you don't want to hear obscenities shouted at you, then you best figure out a better gesture for it.

You don't have to take your shoes off when entering someone's house. I was told off once by someone I visited for doing this. She asked me "You don't think my floors are clean enough for your shoes?" Several times I was told that this isn't Japan and you don't have to leave your shoes at the door.

When you give out your phone number, separate the digits differently from North America. So if your phone number is 555-1234, in Greece, you have to say 55-51-234. I still have to think twice when saying my phone number here and it's been 8 years.

When you go out to eat at a taverna, many dishes are shared by everyone present. Especially salads. It took awhile for me to get accustomed to not being insulted every time I gave my order to the waiter and to have it literally disappear in front of my eyes once everyone at the table took a bite.

To be called 'baby', 'darling', 'sweetie' by both Greek men and women doesn't automatically mean people are condescending towards you. Most of the time it just means that they like you and truly do mean it as a term of endearment.

There is no such thing as a No Questions Asked Refund Policy at stores. There is no such thing as a refund. I don't know anyone who's ever gotten their money back from a faulty product they've bought. The most a store will do is offer an exchange or they will tell you to return the non-functioning item to the distributor which will often takes weeks for them to repair and that's if they don't have to send it out of the country. I devoted a blog to this entire issue a few months ago.

An engagement ring is not a requirement when getting married. You wear wedding ring on your LEFT ring finger when you're engaged and on your RIGHT ring finger when you get married.

Unfortunately the store refunds thing is true, I don't know if it's all stores that do that but it's definitely the majority. I am glad finally someone brought it up as I haven't noticed any such posts in newspapers, tv or other Greek media.

Similarly another thing which I find ridiculous in Greece is the restricted store hours, especially the closure of stores on Sundays. I wouldn't be surprised if Greece is the only Western country that does this and there are very minor complaints from consumers. One day I will start my own blog and put my complaints on there!

As for the rest, I am not sure how you meant your comments but you are exaggerating.

Moutza is when you extend your hand but direct it and move it fast toward the person you want to insult. If you are standing there with an open palm I'm sure taxi drivers will stop, although they may think you are a bit weird for opening your fingers and not keeping them closed.

As for the shoes, I know some Greeks who take them off, some who don't, it's not the norm for people to get insulted if you do that!

Phone numbers in Greece have been 10 digit in some time. The reason for this is that Greeks read them in 2digit numbers usually e.g. thirty- three, fourty-five, ... instead of three-three-four-five, ...

In North America I find their way of reading numbers ridiculous as people would read even a locksmith number such as 53-9999999-2 as 539-999-9992!! They make their life difficult for no reason, sometimes when I'm in the USA I tell them numbers in different digit groupings to confuse and annoy them :)

Sorry the thing about the 10 digits is a separate paragraph, the rest of the paragraph has nothing to do with it :)

seal...I was going to mention the store hours too but I thought I would end up with an expat complaint blog instead of a noticing-the-differences blog. LOL
I'd like to know just where you thought I was exaggerating. The comments people told me about removing my shoes are true. Two readers of my blog are the ones who said those things to me when I removed my shoes in their houses.
As for the moutza...how do you think I tell people to stop? With a weak little hand single directed at their mid-section? No...when I want someone to stop, it has often been mistaken for the moutza. And I think you're misreading my post. I don't do it to hail a cab...I was using my stop gesture just about everywhere else...from keeping the parking thieves away from my space, for people who don't know when to shut up and when I wanted drivers to stop while I cross the road. Although, in my own defence, I never used the accompanying word "na!" when doing it. LOL

I actually admire that shops are not open on Sundays. Probably one of the few things I still like from Greece's working life.
If you think about it, Sunday shopping is not really an outcome of the need for convienience, but yet another commercial decision for shops to make as much money as possible.

Sundays are for resting, in my book. We can all live without shopping for one day a week.

I know I will get comments like there is no time for working people to shop any other day, but I doubt this is really true. In any case, wouldn't you rather go for a small trip or a walk in the park or stay home on the couch on a Sunday?

To be called 'baby', 'darling', 'sweetie' by both Greek men and women doesn't automatically mean people are condescending towards you. Most of the time it just means that they like you and truly do mean it as a term of endearment.

I'm still surprised when a bored diner cashier calls me things like 'love','dear' and 'darling'. Since all of them were 55+ year-old ladies several things crossed my mind, such as them being still single and nobody paying attention to them anymore so they make a sweet remark to young male customers to kill some time on their shift. I once snapped to somebody "'Dear'? Since when are we mates?" I'm still regretting it, yet I still don't know why they're making use of such words.

As for the extended store hours, it's the same old story. Neoliberals say it's good because people work on weekdays and stores close early on Saturdays. In Europe, department stores remain open for long hours and smaller stores don't fall out of business.

On the other hand, people of leftist, communist, marxist and other fossil ideological backgrounds want the current establishment to remain as it is.

So, on one hand we have those who will never have to work as salesmen and waiters yet dare to write tons of articles on why store hours shoule be extended, usually with arguments that even a 5-year-old can confute. Their only purpose is to suck the blood of workers for the sake of extra profit. On the other hand, we have those who traditionally protest at every single thing that will lift their lardarses off their couches and put them to work to make this country change to the better.

In any case, all public discourse on this and all other aspects of life is not about finding solutions but defending our ideological background and promoting our agendas. When one enters the process of discourse, one does so in order not to learn something new, but out of ideological interest. We try to convince our listeners of our arguments in order to gain influence on them and twist reality to suit ourselves.

Taking a cab in Greece, with my lady friend , was an earth shattering experience. On three occasions I was caught in the cross fire of vituperative exchanges between the cab driver and my friend, with the tone of their voices rising in crescendo . Reason ? a meagre disaffection as to which route to take in order to avoid traffic congestion.

The fourth time, I was left alone in the taxi after dropping my lady friend at her home, the cab driver ( a woman) is asking me for the route to take to my destination.
A ten minute ride , since dropping my friend, turned into a mega tour, of 45 minutes, of the suburbs of Paleo Faliro, Nea Smyrni Amphitea and Agio dimitrius.
I find it difficult to understand how a license can be obtained if the driver is unfamiliar with the streets in Athens ?

Greeks get insulted because of that gesture? Supreme insult? Is that so? Well, I’ve been there once (Patras and Athens) and I did that to some taxi drivers and they didn’t seem very insulted. Perhaps they were british gentlemen driving taxis for fun, in Greece, I guess. One, tried to get me to a hotel of a friend of him, something like that. No big deal, though.
Greetings from Portugal (by the way, I discovered “port wine” made in Greece in a litle wine shop in Patras. That’s an insult! ;))


kostas...I don't mind so much either that shops are closed on Sundays (even though ours is open) but it is a bit irritating when I want to get something on the way home from work and the stores aren't open until 5 or 5:30pm.

phan...In Canada, I would get really insulted if someone tried to call me darling or sweetie at work because it seems it's only done in a condescending manner...unless I was in Newfoundland. LOL Whole different set of rules there. And here, it seems to be the same thing...older people and people my own age often call me "glykia mou" or "agapoula mou"...I'm used to it now because for the most part, they don't do it out of disrepect.
As for getting people to work on Sunday, I think it's more for convenience than anything because no one buys more just because stores are open on Sunday. It just allows us to postpone shopping till Sunday for people like me who work 6 days a week. Like I told Kostas above, I can't say it's an absolute necessity to have stores open on Sundays too. You work around it.
And as you say in your last paragraph, everyone will always have their own opinions on the matter, with their own points to refute the 'other side' so not much gets resolved in this kind of debate anyway.

klotz...cab stories are a blog unto themselves on here. I've certainly had my fair share of them and it doesn't seem to matter if I'm in New Orleans, Toronto, Glasgow or Athens...I'm always on my guard once I close the cab door...watching the metre, the street signs, and counting the stop lights they never seem to notice. LOL

antonio...It's obvious that you don't fully understand the moutza and how it works. It's not just the palm facing outwards in a calm manner...it's all fingers outstretched and in a manner which looks like you're about to shove something in their face. This also happens to be the way I signal "stop" when I'm irritated or fearful a driver might not see my son while we cross a street. I can't say people always get insulted but I have been the recipient of the moutza several times as a result of my attempt to stop people from yelling or driving over me.

Seawitch: I didn't say the comments people told you were not true, I am just saying that you are exaggerating that these belong in a "tourist guide" since they are very rare occurences and you give no indication that they are more typical of Greece than Canada or any other country. This is for the shoes and the phone numbers by the way. As for the moutza, what antonio says is true, the random cab driver passing has no reason to think that from far away a random person is doing that gesture!

Kostas, if the stores were open on Sunday you could still rest as your book says! Some of us would rather do shopping on Sunday, after all I know many people who consider shopping fun! As for taking advantage of their employees this is potentially true but not necessarily, as the employee and employers could make arrangements convenient for both. I believe that if there is a chance of taking advantage of employees the lawmakers should find ways to get around that, not ban opening on Sunday altogether!

For that matter I think the following will be good additions to Fodor's tourist guide:

Greeks must have the #1 cafe density in the world and spend the most amount of total time in cafes.

Young Greeks work probably the least of all young people. They spend much of their time in cafes, buying clothes, cars, car parts, etc.

Parking laws are not very effective, parking garages are very few resulting in overcrowding streets with cars.

Finally, for me probably the #1 most annoying thing in Greece, the excessive smoking in public places, and no word from the government to even dare to consider to ban it.

This is not to prove or say anything related to the argument (?) going on above, but I may be the only person in all of Greece to have gotten a refund (well, an exchange anyway)!!! The frame of my brand new pair of 450 euro glasses snapped, all on its own, a month or two after I got them! Everyone told me there was no way the store would do anything, and that they'd claim I must have done something to damage them, but when I brought them back not only did the manager tell me not to worry that they thought I was lying; that they could tell the fault was with the frames, she also apologised profusely for the fact that it would take a few days before she could locate identical frames! The secret? They were bought in Kolonaki! Good service is worth the extra cost.
Also: I have never been called "Honey" "sweetheart" etc. more than when I was on holiday in Disney World, Florida. Best of all was when the waitress at a fancy restaurant approached our table (which included a very proper elderly British couple) and asked "So, y'all stuffed?" The Brits reading this will understand how shocked they were, and why!
Lastly, to sealr, as a lowly employee in CANADA I was FORCED to work EVERY SUNDAY OF MY LIFE for 3 years straight, in addition to putting up with a myriad of other technically "illegal" things that you just don't complain about when working a shitty job if you don't want to get fired. Employee rights only seem to apply to people with "important" jobs. So if the CANDAIAN GOVERNMENT can't even make laws to protect employees, do you honestly think the Greek government will? The same government that offeres only 2 months maternity leave to women, almost no recourse for mistreated treated employees, and in fact doesn't even pay many of its own on time???
Incidentally, I believe in Halifax the stores are also closed on Sundays. Like you say, Seawitch, a whole different set of rules in effect there. Although, when all is said and done, all places in the world have customs that seem strange at first to outsiders.
That said, I'll never ever get used to the phone number split either!!!

Your argument is totally flawed. First I am not saying everything is perfect in Canada or in other countries that happen to not prevent stores from opening Sundays. In addition, if the Canadian government can't enforce their laws that is absolutely no argument that the Greek government will. Finally, nobody forced you to work Sundays, you could have quit your job.

What I am trying to say is if your problem is that employers take advantage of employees in times when the economy is bad, you can do several things instead of shutting down all stores Sundays, which as a sidenote hurts the economy even more.

After all, why Sunday and not also Saturday? Or why not allow stores to close on Monday but open Sunday, which would by the way have also solved the problem you had in Canada.

It wasn't an argument sealr. Just a story to illustrate why, for many people who work in shops, being forced to open on Sundays would not be a good thing. In a perfect world what you said would be perfectly right, and I wish it were. In fact, as someone who now works 9 to 5 - or later, I'd really appreciate having shops open on Sundays cause that's usually when I have time to shop. But what stops me from wishing this upon store employees is the memory of my own personal experience. I was just trying to say that if stores were open here on Sundays the Greek gov. would certainly not do anything to protect or help workers (given that they don't do anything to help or protect them from more serious things), and a lot of people would end up getting screwed and having to work even more ridiculous hours than they do now. Because they, like me, know that sometimes you can't just quit your job for a silly reason like having to work Sundays, cause you have bills to pay and food to buy, and anyway, all lousy jobs are the same so there's no guarantee you'd find a better one. And, especially in Greece, jobs are in short supply.
As for why Sunday not Saturday, that would be because the shops here are closed on Sundays for religious, not economic reasons. But after living here a while you get used to it - meaning at 3:55 on Saturdays you suddenly jump up and go "Oh no! Got to run to the store to get something to eat on Sunday!"
Also interesting is that I believe that the law forbidding shops to be open in the afternoons several days a week was revoked at the beginning of last year (or at least they were seriously talking about it), but I don't see any shops rushing to stay open. So it would seem most people here are pretty used to and satisfied with the way things are run.

I agree but this is a bad situation. They are screwing people like you and me so that store employees have less of a chance of being screwed. I don't think officially the reason for not opening on Sunday is religious, but if it is it is totally ridiculous and medieval to have such reasons, as I believe the majority of young generation of Greeks are little or no religious (if they claim they are just ask them basic questions about their religion and see) plus the percentage of non-orthodox population is growing.

Now you said it more correctly, the government can protect the store employees, but it doesn't!

As for the stores opening later now, I think eventually more and more stores will in order to stay competitive.

One thing I never understood, those small store owners they showed on tv that claimed they are the only store employees and they would be destroyed by later opening hours, when do they do their own shopping?

Great Stuff. I think you need to write Fodor's and tell them to make their next book with an addendum.

According to Searl, Greek youth must be one of the most opulent, affluent and prosperous of any youth in any country in the West.
To work less, to spend their time in cafes, buying clothes, buying cars and car parts are symptoms and traits of very expensive tastes and habits. These hobbies are expensive commodities and one requires fast and lose wallets to accomodate it.
The majority of Greek youth are unemployed or underemployed. How else does one expect them to loiter their idleness except in cafes, discos and other spiritless activities fit for the leisured.

Thankfully we haven't needed a refund before, although our DVD rental place doesn't charge us for DVDs if we tell them they were unwatchable because apparently most people rent DVDs to use as chew toys for their pets or children.

I had a hard time adjusting to the store hours but it is mostly from a convenience standpoint. It is annoying that my husband can't just stop at a pharmacy or whatever on the way home from work (well, at least he can stop at the supermarket). Still, I like the idea of businesses that don't feel they need to be open all the time, and not being open on Sunday gives us an excuse to have one day where we don't do errands.

I always forget about Moutza when I give the obligatory "hand wave" if someone lets me cut in front of them in traffic or whatever. My husband tells me though he doesn't think they would mistake it for the obscene gesture.

Fodor's might also want to mention that it is perfectly acceptable to talk on your cell phone when out with other people, Greeks apparently don't find this practice rude. The other day we were at a restaurant and I had to laugh at this cuddliest of couples when the boyfriend ended up talking on the cellphone for about 20 minutes. The girlfriend didn't seem that thrilled, either.

I actually prefer not to have shoes in my house. Well, in one part of the apartment it is fine, in our normal living area I prefer for street shoes not to come in. I'm weird that way, and I'm not Greek, so I don't count.

Britain has some laws about keeping stores open on Sundays, though I think stores are allowed to open for part of the day; they have to close at 5, I think, is the rule.
If employers kept stores open longer, perhaps they could hire more workers....I mean, if jobs are in short supply....
I agree, it's nice that stores don't feel the need to be open all the time. On the other hand, as someone who grew up in Manhattan, which "never sleeps", it can be really annoying. Especially when you forgot to buy groceries. Also, I shop at masoutis more than at the local places, just because I often have more time to shop at 3pm, and that's an unfortunate thing.

Sealr said: sometimes when I'm in the USA I tell them numbers in different digit groupings to confuse and annoy them :)

Sealr, when you do that, they probably just think you are not too bright, and are too polite to say anything to you.

Wooooooofffffff.... funny how much discussion follows a post about our observations about the country we are living in! People have to lighten up and learn to laugh at ourselves a bit more!

Blogs are so great for getting an insider's view of a country, thanks for yours! It made me think, but definitely didn't dissuade me from planning a Greek holiday this summer. Well done!

Vassos: Greek youth is definitely unemployed/undeemployed. However in no other country I have seen youth pursuing the hobbies I described nearly as much as Greek youth? I guess you are from Greece so you know... Maybe it's the fact that Greek parents tend to help out their kids more, plus they tend to stay in their parents house more often having more money to spend on things other than rent.

Stefan: Do you mean that they are too close-minded that they have it deep in their mind that phone numbers have to be grouped in a certain way and anyone who groups them otherwise is not bright?

Post a Comment