Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Let Me Tell You About the Greeks

Greeks are the most image conscious people I’ve encountered outside Southern California. Find me a Greek female above the age of ten who doesn’t have her hair highlighted and I’ll give you a hundred drachmas.

Greeks can be a bit aggressive in line; they won’t push you like in India but they’ll walk right past you as if you hadn’t been standing there for 15 minutes.

Greece is one of the most Christian countries in the world; 98% of its population is Greek orthodox.

Chivalry is alive and well in Greece. In restaurants women are served first, unless some mannerless American grabs the plate before his mother or sister can be served.

Greeks eat late (lunch at five, dinner at 11) and then drink later. They don’t drink in the afternoon as much as other Europeans though. It’s rude for a waiter to bring your check before you request it; it’s annoying to sit there for half an hour trying to get the waiter’s attention so you can pay and leave.

I’m confident these observations are in parts inaccurate and in other parts prejudiced, but they’re my impressions of two-plus weeks here. There are a set of things you learn about a place when you visit. You read them in a book or you notice them as you walk the streets. If you stay in a place long, enough you learn that nearly all these observations are either false or mean something different than you thought.

Towards the end of our trip I met Yorgos, a 26 year old Greek. Your country is so Christian, I said, 98% are Greek Orthodox. “No, that’s not true. It’s a trick by the church,” he said. “When you sign up for an ID card they automatically count you as Orthodox. If I showed you my ID card it would say Greek Orthodox but I hate that church. So they get to say 98% but it’s not true.”

And in Yorgos’ small village chivalry seems trumped by its close cousin, chauvinism. In the cafés there women aren’t served first, they aren’t served at all.

He didn’t explain the dyed hair, or the line cutting or the late dinners (though he did decline to eat with us at 9pm), but it was a reminder of how much you can misinterpret or only partially understand when you’re busy becoming an expert and gawking at all the blonde highlights.


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