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Six Things You Shouldn’t Say to a Greek

Groups of greeks enjoying Mykonos, Greece.
Group of tourists enjoying the sunset on Mykonos, Greece. Credit: Greek Reporter

When visiting Greece it may be difficult for you to understand some of the cultural norms to follow during your stay in this beautiful country. To help you avoid embarrassing conversations and awkward situations, here’s a list of things to avoid saying to a Greek. You’re welcome!

Things you shouldn’t say in Greece

1. “Can I have some Turkish coffee?”

No, you may not. Truly, you never want to ask this question – not in a Greek’s home or in a cafeteria. Two reasons: first of all, it is Greek coffee and you will be told entire back story — so be sure to get comfy! Secondly, you’re in Greece — so again, it’s Greek coffee!

2. “Which way is the ocean?”

Greece is not located in the ocean! We have the Mediterranean Sea and it is divided into the other seas – the Ionian, Aegean and Cretan. If you have ever been to an island in the ocean you know there are huge waves. In Greece we are very proud of our beautiful, relatively calm blue seas, which are perfect for swimming, sailing and water sports.

3. “Where is the Pantheon”?

Wrong country. You mean the Parthenon. For Greeks, history and historical ruins are an interwoven part of culture and society. So before you come to Greece looking for the Pantheon — an Ancient Roman building located in Rome — please do a Google search!

4. “Can you teach me something to say in Greek?”

This is a bad question to ask, as many Greeks get a kick out of telling foreigners to try out the almost impossible to say, tongue-twisting word describing an ancient Greek festival dish invented by Aristophanes. Go on, try it and see how you do! It’s “Lopathotemachoselachogaleokranioleipsanodrimipotrimmatosiliphiokaravomelitokatakechimenokichlepikossiphophttoperisteralektruonoptokefalliokiglopeleiolagoosiraiovafitraganopterugon.”

5. “Here’s my address, look me up if you come to my country.”

Don’t say this unless you actually mean it! If you give your address to a Greek it is pretty much a given that if they are ever visiting your country, they will look you up. Greeks are known for their hospitality and after having welcomed you into their country, or island, or village, they will assume that you wish to do the same.

6. “Istanbul.”

Greeks still call this city Konstantinopoli. Nothing bad is going to happen to you if you call it Istanbul, but it’s a really sensitive subject for many Greeks for several reasons.

In fact, if you buy a plane ticket from Greece to go to Istanbul, you will find that it says Konstantinopoli in Greek.

Even the on the news, reporters refer to Istanbul as Konstantinopoli. Here’s why: The city is not only steeped in Greek history, it is also because of its deep religious ties. Konstantinopoli means “City of Constantine,” and was named after the Byzantine emperor who established the city as the capital of the Christian Byzantine Empire.

The Ottomans took over the city in 1453 and its name was officially changed to Istanbul in the beginning of the last century. Actually even this name means “to the city” — meaning Constantinople — but that’s a story for another day.

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