19 things never to say to a Greek

To end the year on a light-hearted note, here is a list of  things never to say to a Greek.

1. How are you?

Sounds safe, no? But, a Greek, particularly if he is a she, will invite you home, tell you, in every last gory detail, plus the life story of their doctor, his love life, his children’s career prospects, and then she will show you the affected part.


 2. Which way is the Ocean?

No, no, this is a truly awful one. Greeks don’t have an ocean, they have the Mediterranean Sea which is divided into other seas – the Ionian, Aegean and Cretan..Oceans are big, cold things with tides that go in and out,  huge waves with dangerous wildlife  and lethal undertows. Greek Seas are calm, blue, warm and friendly and stay put. Greeks swim in them, sail on them, water ski and lie on pool floats on them,  and canoodle by them.


3. Why are you so angry with me?

The Greek is not angry with you, he probably loves you, especially if you have children and revere your mother, he just  has a loud voice, gets excited easily and shouts a lot to show he cares.


4. I really love that picture/scarf/hat/brooch/ring

If you say this, a Greek  will probably want to give it to you as a gift, so unless you really, really want it, don’t say anything.


5. What do you think of the European Union/the Greek government/Banks

See number 3.


6. Basketball is for tall guys, surely you Greeks aren’t any good at this?

Greece were runners-up in the 2006 FIBA World Championships, after beating the USA 101–95 in the tournament’s semi-final,  and see No.3 again if you have forgotten it.


7. Why can’t you serve your food piping-hot and your water ice-cold?

Greek food is considered one of the healthiest in the world, as it is mainly vegetables swimming in oil, and any fool knows that flavours cooked up this way  really only develop once the food has cooled down a bit. OK, sadly, Greeks have applied this to pasta dishes as well.. As for the water,  as anyone’s mother and grandmother should have told them, ice-water gives you a sore throat and makes you lose your voice. As does air-conditioning. And wearing cotton before the 1st of May.


8. Can you order me a taxi for tomorrow?

Slow down, what’s the rush? You must be American.. here in Greece, you can only order taxis  when you need them – for visitors who for some inexplicable reason want to  forward-plan their lives by more than 1 day, you need a private car hire or driver.


9. What are the parking rules in Athens?

Ha ha, that’s a good one!! But  why on earth are you driving in Athens anyway, are you mad?


10. When will the airline and ferry schedules be published for 2017?

Hmmm… that’s a hard one, but did we mention that the Greeks invented medicine and  philosophy?


11. Which island should I visit?

No need to ask this, the answer is clearly the island where the person you are talking to comes from, whether it is Santorini, Crete or a  tiny, barren rock with  50 goats and one village in the middle of nowhere. Actually, if you go to the barren rock in the middle of nowhere and look up your interlocutor’s relatives, including the goat-herd, you will probably have the best time ever as you will be treated like royalty and see the real Greece.


 12. Do the women do all the work while the men sit around in the cafés drinking coffee and ouzo, discussing politics and smoking?

No, of course not, what an idea –  it just looks like it..


13. You must look me up when you come to my country.

Unless you mean it, don’t say it, as the Greek, who will have welcomed you to his country/island/village/tiny, barren rock, will not understand that you don’t share the same sense of the sacredness of hospitality and hosting guests, will certainly look you up, might even come especially to see you, and will be most hurt if you are Not At Home for the duration of his stay.


14. So, you guys never really recovered from being conquered by the Romans..

A low blow, as in many ways this is true, but Greeks will tell you that  their genius lives on in inferior cultures like the Anglo-saxon,  in words, in concepts like politics, architecture, loop quantum theory, drama, science, architecture, to mention just a few, and  then they will finish with the usual conversation-stopper: “While your ancestors were painting their faces blue and living in caves, we were building the Acropolis.”


15. Speaking of which, what on earth happened to the Acropolis, it looks like a ruin, no roof, no walls,  and how come the Acropolis Museum, which is fabulous and a thing of joy, only has copies of the Elgin marbles and not the real things?

See number 3. Again. Come on, focus. And don’t call them the Elgin Marbles,  that will lead to more shouting, Greeks call them the Parthenon Marbles, and are not at all happy at having lost their marbles.


16. You guys aren’t really descended from the ancient Greeks are you?

Seriously?? Who else is, if not the people still  living there, still speaking Greek, using the alphabet, whose family names, for generations have been Socrates, Athena,  Eurydice and Aristotle, who still argue about politics and philosophy  instead of going drinking, and  whose ability to wring every last bit of drama, tragic or comic,  out of any given situation is unequalled by any other race known to man –  Any other contenders?


  1. Are those pictures photo-shopped?

No, Greece is just that beautiful.


 18. Can I have a Turkish Coffee please?

Good idea, a tiny, sweet cupful of heaven, but in Greece, you have to call it Greek coffee. If you can’t remember that, stick to Coca Cola.


 19. Can you teach me something easy to say in Greek?

If you have not paid attention to numbers  14, 15, 16, or 18, a Greek who is still smarting from your cultural insensitivity, might try to teach you ‘λοπαδο­τεμαχο­σελαχο­γαλεο­κρανιο­λειψανο­δριμ­υπο­τριμματο­σιλφιο­καραβο­μελιτο­κατακεχυ­μενο­κιχλ­επι­κοσσυφο­φαττο­περιστερ­αλεκτρυον­οπτο­κεφαλλιο­κιγκλο­πελειο­λαγῳο­σιραιο­βαφη­τραγανο­πτερύγων’ which is an Ancient Greek  festival dish invented by Aristophanes,  consisting of a combination of fish, poultry and other meat. In English letters it is much easier: Lopathotemachoselachogaleokranioleipsanodrimipotrimmatosiliphiokaravomelitokatakechimenokichlepikossiphoph-ttoperisteralektruonoptokefalliokiglopeleiolagoosiraiovafitraganopterugon.

If he does, you can use a very short Greek word which is easy to remember; “Ciao!” and slink off. Greeks can’t say “ch” unless they come from Cyprus, Crete or Naxos, so to sound more Greek, pronounce it “Tsao”.


On which valedictory note, Evi, Ileana, Dimitri, Ana,  and Debbie  wish you all the best;  health, peace and happiness  for  2017, and Tsao to 2016.


  1. This is lovely – and completely accurate. I am an English woman who married a Greek and lived in Athens for a decade and I can verify everything here is quite true. It gives me a warm glow to realise that nothing has changed! Greece , and nearly all Greeks, are, of course wonderful, as are all their idiosyncrasies.

    Denise · February 26, 2019 · 6:18 pm · Reply

    • Denise, I am glad you enjoyed the article!

      ileanavonhirsch · February 26, 2019 · 6:22 pm ·

  2. Yes, this is accurate! I once told my papou I liked his watch and found it on my wrist!

    Ελενη · April 1, 2020 · 3:29 am · Reply

  3. We live in Cyprus some of the year over 20 years marooned in England over Coronavirus I miss it terribly

    Paul alexander lucas · May 7, 2020 · 5:30 pm · Reply

  4. An old Greek lady spat on my hand once? Not on the palm just the no the back of my hand as I was sitting unawares reading a book at the table – my elbow on the table and leaning my head on my hand.

    Dori · February 14, 2021 · 12:05 pm · Reply

    • Hopefully pre-covid days! Not sure that that is a Greek tradition, but mask-wearing has its advantages! 😂

      ileanavonhirsch · February 14, 2021 · 12:13 pm ·

  5. Being a Greek, I can verify any of the above!
    Good job! I am still laughing!!

    Kelly · April 25, 2021 · 8:53 am · Reply

    • Glad to hear it!

      ileanavonhirsch · April 26, 2021 · 11:02 am ·

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