Monday, 25 November 2013

Modern Greek Culture

Modern Greek Culture

After travelling to Greece for three or four years, for six or seven months at a time, my husband and I have found ourselves entering into much more than just a renovation project.

We are experiencing Greek culture in the 20C. Much of what is below will be familiar to you through news reports, but now we were living in Greece and finding out that to live in a country you need to take on board the differences. Even Takis, though revelling in much that was familiar from his past, found many aspects of life in Greece today that he had to adapt to.

Below are just a few of the experiences that we could not help immediately noticing and that we now had to negotiate.


One of the problems of adjusting to a different culture is getting a handle on the manner in which time and space are used in that locale.  Shopping, for instance, was made even more difficult for me because there were so many regular half-day closings, and so many irregular closings. There were many times I walked down to the Agora, to the post office or the fruit shop, only to find the shop I wanted was closed. I wondered how the locals knew when to go out shopping. Slowly, however, I found that closures might be due to it being a saint’s day, or perhaps because of a public strike, or maybe it was just a seasonal adjustment (early closing starting as soon as autumn arrived and the tourists left). Eventually I realized that, while the locals knew about many of these closures ahead of time, they also had the attitude that there was always tomorrow – though of course for us there was not: we had a limit of four months in which to complete this first stage of the repairs.

And yet another shopping problem was that very often I still didn’t know where to go find what I wanted, even if it was something very ordinary like elastic. Once I found the window rods I was seeking at the picture-framers, another time small plants in a souvenir shop and, after searching for several days, I finally found loose tea in the haberdashery. Moreover it was here, in the most obvious place, I found the elastic.

The Greek Personality

Travel books often comment that Greeks can look as if they are arguing when they talking to each other, mainly because they tend to wave their arms about and speak with raised voices. I have noticed this in my marriage as I have learnt that I sometimes need to express myself forcefully too, if I want my husband to see that I mean what I am saying.

It is said that Greeks are excitable, noisy and political and I was aware that when people talk about someone being ‘typically Greek’ they are often referring to this aspect of their nature. And in Athens today, with marches and protests, Greeks often vent, in a noisy political fashion, their displeasure with how their country is being governed.

The Lemians however are slightly less demonstrative, especially in one-on-one communication. Though there are still noisy aspects to life on the island. I've noticed that children in our local primary school are at times learning to shout out their rote learning, and the local youths ride especially noisy motorbikes, while our neighbours feel no compunction at letting others know what they are talking about from their balconies.

Modern Greek

The island of Lemnos was populated by non-Greek speakers until well into the archaic period. And even when they adopted Greek as their language the people on the island spoke with an Ionic dialect that was unlike that of other nearby islands like Lesbos where people had an Aeolic dialect. However today it is very different. Now Greek is spoken with very little difference all over Greece.

However English is making inroads. You will see multiple signs on shop fronts, some written in Greek script, some in Roman script and then the same translated into English. 

Also, as there is not always a direct translation of a sound, many words have two spellings, for instance Lemnos and Limnos. You might even find both spellings for Lemnos used on the same page of a tourist pamphlet!

Local Meal Times

Tourists tend to go to the tavernas to eat at the same time they eat at home, in England or Germany or Australia. They will arrive for lunch at midday and dinner around 7-8 in the evening. However the locals have very different meal times. They eat lunch at about 2 in the afternoon, and dinner usually does not start before 10 in the evening.

Even little children go out to eat with their parents late in the evening. This is probably because everyone has an afternoon siesta, and after work and then late dinner some do not return home until three in the morning. So taverns tend to have several sittings, the first for the tourists and the second for the locals.

Mid-Summer Tourists

The island only has short tourist season, for two months each summer. There are two hotels that fly in English tourists by Thomas Cook Airlines, but these tourists tend to remain in their hotel complexes. Most other tourists are Greeks expats from Australia and America. There are also some that come from Germany or Holland, and recently there have been more Russians.

Plus, each summer many workers arrive in Greece to work in tourist establishments. They mostly come from Eastern Europe.

Every year at this time, traffic peaks at Greece at northern border crossings, as Albanians, Bulgarians, Slav-Macedonians, Serbs, Russians and Czechs flock to the country’s coastal resorts and islands. At the same time, thousands of economic migrants, mostly from Albania, return to their homelands for summer holidays.  Stavros Tzimas in Kathimerini

Some stay as illegal immigrants. Today there are more than I million migrants living in Greece and migrants make up over a 10th of the Greek population.

Neighbourhood Politics

A Turkish coast guard patrol boat approached at a close distance, well within Greek waters, the uninhabited Dodecanese islet of Imia – over whose ownership the two countries came very close to fighting in January 1996. The Turkish vessel stayed in the area for about half an hour, ignoring two Greek coast guard and navy vessels that instructed it to go away.  Kathimerini

This was an event that happened when we first came to Lemnos however we’ve noticed some welcome changes – some possibly the result of the economic pressures that Greece is currently facing.

In the early years of our residence dog-fights between the Turkish and Greek air forces were regularly played out above the house. Even two or three years ago large numbers of soldiers were stationed on the island. We would regularly encounter slow old army trucks on the roads, but now that there are hardly any soldiers to be seen it’s rare to find army trucks holding up the traffic. It’s not hard to reason that this change might be connected to the disastrous Greek economy which has led to a reduction in government spending in most areas.

An Addiction to Sport

For a couple of Australians this was not so hard to get used to, for Australians also tend to talk of sport and the weather in equally obsessive ways.

In Greece it is soccer and basketball that are taken very seriously. Once when we were in Athens we could not get onto the train platform as the police were there in numbers, herding hundreds of soccer fans into two different sections of a train that was about to leave on its way to a football stadium. And recently passions got so hot at basketball games that the fans were banned and games were played without spectators.

Most of soccer fans in Lemnos are followers of the Athenian clubs Olympiakos and Panathinaikos, and now and then the white painted wall opposite our house will be painted with slogans praising one or other club.

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