Just because you say you’re Greek or grew up Greek style does not mean you know how to act like a Greek when you’re in Athens. After 30 years of living in the States, well, you get unused to the Greek mores and means. There’s a deep-seated American root that makes coming back to the homeland a little bit hard to get used to. In other words, you will have your fair share of culture shock to contend with once in the Old Country. Brace yourself, here is a guide for dealing with the Greeky Greek way of doing things. In other words, an etiquette guide for your own Greek culture.
In the US, if you write an email and you don’t get a response in one or two days three the most. You can assume the receiver either did not get it or is not interested in responding. If you send a follow up email with no response, you can assume the receiver is rude and obnoxious. In Greece most people are more used to interacting face to face so writing an email and waiting for a response can take till kingdom come. Even with a face to face meeting waiting for a response is twice as long as in the States. So don’t take the lack of email response as a sign of obnoxiousness. It is, but at least be informed.
If you have something that needs to be done, you will have to go through at least three people to get a quote and to finish. For example, I wanted to build a corner desk space in the apartment. I saw a commercial car parked near my street. It looked like a boutique style professional carpenter’s Rolls Royce with a shiny purple logo all done right. I took down the number and called. He came the same night. I spent quite a long time explaining the way I wanted the desk, sending him pictures via email and scrolling through hundreds of Pinterest boards. The kind of woods I use, he explained, are expensive. That’s ok, I responded, you can give me a quote. I emailed the next morning. I waited three days five days a week for a response. I sent another email. He never responded. Apparently he decided I would not afford the price for the desk so he decided for me.
A few months later an aunt who was doing major construction on her house referred me to her carpenter. He was building her kitchen. Apparently, someone who comes to you as a referral takes more precedence than someone off the street. So I came to meet Mr Vladimir with higher expectations. He took my name and number in his black bound book. He said he would call to see the space and take measurements. I never heard from him again. A month passed. As I was walking my daughter from school, my shoe snagged on an glossy flyer; it was a rainy day. There were hundreds of glossy flyers advertising the services of a carpentry workshop, “We build cabinets. Shelves. Closets. No job too small.” What the heck. I called them. They said they would send one of their men over the next morning. The same way he came to your house he came to mine.
When my boiler needed changing, I took advantage of my plumber’s kindness to ask that his friend and colleague, a carpenter, to accompany him the next day and take a look.
He, unlike the others, did come. He took measurements on his yellow carpenter’s measure and scribbled numbers in his white pad. He said he would come back the next day. I am still waiting for him.
I’m seeing a pattern here. Where’s Kirio Pavlo? I asked the plumber. He got sick with the flu, he answered. He’s not coming. Only last week by some random chance because I had to have my washing machine serviced the repairman who was quite the salesman pitched his company’s services and put me in charge with his carpenter that I am finally getting my desk. Maybe tomorrow Mr Seraphim will come.
Even with the crisis, people are hard pressed to not want to work. I put out a classified for an illustrator to help me with a children’s book. The two places I reached out to, a major college, never responded. I knew the secretary of the school of fine arts so it was through her that I got three reponses to a want ad. The one illustrator, quite enthusiastic for the project, sent me a few samples and then dropped off the face of the Acropolis. It’s been a month since I heard from him.
Moral of the story don’t assume that jobs will get done, emails answered, or toilets fixed in the same expected time as you would in the US.
Does it appear to me that there is more rampant sexism in Greece than the States? Or is it because I am overly sensitive to it. A young freshman in composition made a comment about his all female classmates.”They like the article because they are girls.” When pressed about his thinking, he could not really respond. “Do you understand that your comment could be construed as sexist?” I pointed out. He shrugged his shoulders.
Greece tends to keep more traditional gender roles, even when more women than ever are working outside the home. I can’t find exact studies to measure it, but my feminist spider sense is tingling tingling smoking. Even with notable examples of women in powerful positions, in industry, in government, there is a pervasive lid of male entitlement that does not exist to that degree in the US, especially the East coast.
Displays of Anger and Rudeness
Because Greek character tends to be proud, it is easy to tick people off.
I can’t figure out whether Greeks are civil and extremely polite or downright rude and obnoxious. It’s a schizophrenic state of things. You will have people in the most quotidian interactions genuinely smile, get to know you on a human level, say excuse me to pass, and other times jump ahead of you on the checkout line without apology or butt in front of you as you hold the freezer door open looking for Philadelphia-brand cream cheese. There is no filter when a Greek woman gets angry. They will pile it on spewing lava and talking 250 miles an hour. I cannot even get a word in. I have heard a young man curse the bejesus and the entire holy lineage out of the unlucky older man who squirmed past him to make his stop on the Metro.
You have to be careful not to offend because Greeks are sensitive when it comes to honor or their perceived sense of wounded respect. The problem is they are easily offended, very easily offended. If you tell them to change their seat at the dinner table, they take it as a sign of your disrespect. You can make a general observation about relationships or politics during a dinner party conversation and the next morning get a phone call about how you insulted their brother. “I know you were referring to my brother,” the offended party will say, “you have no right to embarrass me or my family in front of a group of strangers. This shows lack of breeding and politeness. ” And they will force you to apologize even if you have done nothing to offend them. But don’t worry, even if you do apologize, they will blacklist you to all and any of their social affairs.
Aggressiveness is Effective
The last point of etiquette we will discuss for this installment is aggressiveness. Greeks in general respond more to classic displays of aggressive behavior rather than assertive. Another Dutch expat told me his story as an illustration.
I had to get my laptop fixed. So I brought to the guy.
Good morning. Can you fix it I ask.
The guy just looks at me.
What is wrong with it.
I don’t know I says. That’s why I brought to you.
The salesman looks at the laptop and says, come next week.
Whatchu mean, the Dutchman asks, come in a week to find out what is wrong with it or to pick up fixed?
Realizing that this approach wasn’t working, my Dutch friend decides to use the asshole routine. With an attitude, he snatches the laptop away and says, “I don’t have time for this. I will find another service shop.” At that point that attendant wakes up, Gee here’s a customer, no problem, I’ll look into it. I can give you a quote later today.
Another time I was sitting with an elderly couple in a tavern waiting to be served. It was taking forever maybe 45 minutes had passed. We were hungry. At that point the annoying elderly man accompanying us easily and graciously slipped into his obnoxious self and started yelling loudly at the waitresses overwhelmed and overworked by fulfilling orders. He got up from his seat at the table and in typically theatrical style started a loud complaint to the universe about the lack of service, how it was a torture to have other people at the same table eating while your stomach was rumbling. He made such a scene that fueled by the affirmative responses of the neighboring tables he storms into the kitchen to talk to th
e cook. Lo and behold, five minutes later, the cook himself comes bearing plates with roasted rooster, Lemon baked lamb along his arms to serve our table. Apparently, if you act like a son of a bitch you will get served. In general, that’s how it works in Greece.
That’s it for this installment of etiquette for non-native Greeks.