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My notes on Greece 101

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Hi all!

I’m still gathering all my info before I can get started with a ‘real’ trip report but I thought I would post a few of our ‘notes’ or random, 100% biased, non-scientifically significant, observations on Greece and Greeks made over our 3 week vacation.


The Greeks

DH and I agree that of all the places we have traveled, the Greeks are the nicest, serviceable, and most eager to please people. This applies to the ones in the hospitality business as well as those that are not. Everyone we met was incredibly polite and willing to help clueless tourists have the best possible vacation ever. Everyone was genuinely interested on where we came from, if it was our first time in Greece, if we were having a good time, etc.


Coffee

The one time they might look at you in utter dismay (and slight aggravation) is when you don’t know which kind of coffee it is that you want.
Coffee drinking is the national passtime. There are hundreds of types of coffee served so you must know what you want beforehand. An order for ‘hot’ coffee has to be followed through with a secondary classification Greek, Filtered, Pressed or Nes. If everything fails- you can ask for an ‘Americano’ but this open for interpretation. Orders for cappuccino were universally understood and delivered with high quality and consistent results. They don’t even frown at you if you order it in the afternoon (not that we did).

Cold coffees or ‘Freddo’ are an entire other universe of ordering possibility. We are not that crazy about them and the temps were on the cooler side most of the time so we did not get a full education on the subject. ‘Nes Freddo’ seemed to be the most popular sort among young and old basking in the sunny outside tables while animatedly talking to each other (yes, actually conversing, not staring into the cell phone screen) at a 100000 words per minute with a hand-rolled cigarette hanging from the corner of their mouth.

Bottom line was that we did not have a single bad coffee, even when it came not quite in the form we had in mind.


Smoking

The one thing is…Greeks smoke. Young and old, male and female. Everywhere. All the time. Including restaurants. Sometimes even between courses. Even cigars and pipes are accepted in outdoors in bars, restaurants and cafés. This is slightly made worse by the fact that all other tourists that have been forced to give up smoking in public in their own countries indulge without reservations.

We did not mind the much in the beginning but we both got head colds during the trip, so it became tiring. By the end of the trip it had turned definitely into a nuisance.


Worry Beads

Yes, men actually use them! I don’t know why but I thought this was not done anymore. We saw most men over 50 swinging and clicking away their beads…OR doing the exact same spinning movement with their car keys, lol. Lots of middle aged men as well.


Dining

Disclaimer: We did not go to any Michelin-star-contender restaurant. All observations were made at very casual places. Most were frequented by tourist AND Greek families.

I think that there are a lot of subtle yet highly important differences in serving behavior that make up for a lot of misunderstandings, particularly with American customers.

- There are places (Olympia and Delphi come to mind) where it is just unavoidable eating in the tourist strip. We found the even there the food was ‘good’. Not inspired or memorable but still a few notches above edible. We asked for recommendations in hotels and were told point blank that there were no places they could strongly recommend in town but they were pointed out a few ‘acceptable’ ones.

- The one notable exception to this ‘good’ rule was French Fries (which are served with almost everything grilled. The Greeks are master grillers, superb roasters and inspired bakers, but frying…. Nope. If the potatoes are roasted, they will most likely be good, if in a lemon sauce they might even be awesome. But –IMHO- the fries were not worth the calories anywhere. (If you want awesome fried stuff, go to Spain.)

- Your wine will not be poured for you in any of the restaurants. It just will not. It is just not done. It is not a lack in service. Tourists seemed to be aggravated by it and misunderstood it as ‘bad service’. Get over it and pour it yourself.

- The concept of different courses for a meal is not firmly ingrained into the Greek psyche, your salad and entrée might arrive at the same time or just minutes apart. If you want to have them in sequence you do need to specify this.

- Your half eaten plate will not be removed from the table until you ask for the bill or directly request that it is taken. The assumption here is that you will spend at least another hour in the restaurant after you are ‘officially’ done eating, you might find space in your tummy and eat two more bites out of that moussaka or dip your bread into the salad dressing. Again, if it bothers you, speak up and ask for the plates to be removed.

- Yes, you do need to ask for the bill. Greeks (and any other civilized culture, IMHO) understand that presenting you with an unrequested bill is equivalent to asking you to leave. They will not bring it until you ask for it. Don’t just sit the seethe because it is not brought. Ask for it. A simple gesture across the room will suffice on most occasions.

- That bill will include a ‘service’ or ‘bread’ charge of an euro or two. This is done in many countries and it is not intended to nickel-and-dime you, it is just a fact of life. We were never charged more than an euro per person.

- Tipping is not required or expected as in the US. Rounding up a few euros to the next bill should be sufficient for average service. Even a tip for ‘outstanding’ service should be around 10%.

- Most restaurants (particularly outside Athens) will bring you with the bill a complementary after dinner drink of Raki or Metaxa (partake with care!) and either a small portion of dessert or some fruit for dessert. This is basic and does not warrant a five star review on TA by itself. You are not obliged to eat or drink any if you don’t want it.


To be continued….

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