Greece is a beautiful European country with a rich history that has enticed and drawn visitors from around the world to its shores for years. With exquisite architecture, including centuries-old ruins, wonderful beaches, museums, food, and culture, it’s no wonder it’s a dream vacation for any traveler. Before you live that dream, however, here are a few rules, no-nos and cultural etiquette things to know before going to Greece.
1. Don’t Wear Those Killer Heels Here
You might look hot in those six-inch stilettos, but don’t wear them when touring around the ancient historical sites of Greece. The government has actually banned this, as the spiky heels could cause damage to the ancient areas. The Director of Greek Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities explained, “Female visitors must wear shoes that do not wound the monuments. These monuments have a skin that suffers and people must realize that.”
2. What About Cut-offs?
Leave your ripped jeans and faded Metallica t-shirts in the closet if you’re considering going into a Greek church or monastery, as it’s considered pretty rude not to dress properly when you do so. For both genders, knees and shoulders should also be properly covered as ignoring these rules won’t win you any popularity contests among congregations. Religion is an important element of Greek life and there are numerous chapels across the country. At some of the more popular churches that tourists often frequent, appropriate modest clothing is available for purchase outside.
3. Don’t Drop Your Drawers
If you are the type that likes to moon your buddies on a trip, resist the urge in Greece. Being cheeky like that is actually a chargeable offense in Greece, and you could face a fine or even jail time if caught in the act.
4. Careful In The Streets
When crossing the streets in Greece, use caution as drivers don’t generally pay attention to pedestrian crossings. It’s so crazy in fact that a driver is more likely to make a sharp turn around you than actually slow down or stop to let you cross. If in Athens with a rented a car, it’s still better to use taxis or public transport, both of which are easy to find and go all through the city. If you’re not accustomed, you absolutely don’t want to drive your car within the city limits. The Greeks do their own thing on the roadways and in Athens crazy driving is kicked up many notches. Be safe and leave the driving for less harrowing roads.
5. They Take HIV Testing Very Seriously
In an effort to curb the alarming rates of HIV in the country, they’ve instated a pretty alarming law in Greece. Public Health Decree 39A states that the Greek police can detain people they suspect of being HIV positive and force them to take a test. If that’s not draconian enough, landlords are allowed to evict people if they’re HIV positive, which is deemed a public health threat. There have been cases where personal information about people with HIV was splashed over the media. On one hand, it’s good to be on top of diseases, but critics of this decree feel that this is a violation of human rights.
6. Greeks Bearing Gifts
Get an invite to a Greek home and super excited, are you? Well you better not show up empty-handed. Your hosts will expect a gift of some sort when you arrive. On “name days,” be sure to bring a present with you and hand it over as soon as you enter the house. The kicker? If the recipient doesn’t like the gift you chose, they aren’t required to act like they do, or as though they’re thankful. Don’t get too stressed out over your gift choices though, as for regular invites, chocolate or flowers should do just fine to win your hosts over.
7. Cash Cow
While many of us have grown accustomed to plastic-based financial transactions, in Greece cash is the way to go. Even in restaurants it’s seldom that credit cards are accepted and it can’t be pleasant to get to the end of a meal and realize you can’t pay (you might have to wash a lot of broken dishes!). Writing a check you say? Forget about it as unless there’s been some prior negotiation, personal checks might as well be toilet paper. On the other hand, many stores say they accept credit cards, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be able to use one once you reach the counter. Always have cash on you and if you don’t have any, ensure that an ATM is close-by so you can get some at the drop of a hat.
8. Bum Bin…
Just when you thought you had potty-training down, the Greek throw in a twist. As the toilet system in Greece is not as advanced as other European destinations, get accustomed to throwing used toilet paper into the bins provided. Yes, even the number two kind.
9. Talking With Hands
Mountza is a gesture where Greeks thrust their hands out, five fingers spread, as a show of disapproval. Drivers often use this one and if you decide to do so without cause, expect to offend. So make sure you have your palm facing you when you wave at someone. If you wave with an open palm or they’ll take it as an insult rather than a greeting. Another reason waving open-palmed could be misconstrued is because the Greek version of “come here” looks like they’re pawing the ground with the palm facing downwards.
10. Gesturing Continued
Greeks are well-known for the many movements and gesticulations they use while having a conversation. A simple “no” becomes a clicking tongue while the head is raised in a backwards motion. Their heads, faces, and bodies in general become a part of this conversational dance, and it can be a real treat for visitors to watch. To take part, however, may be a different matter and will take some getting used to learn the appropriate body language.
11. Call Of The Wild
Get that allergy medicine ready as Greek streets are overrun by strays. Whether you’re in the cities or islands, stray cats and dogs are numerous, and with so many locals abandoning pups and kittens, it doesn’t seem like this problem will change in the near future. Locals sometimes feed the animals and you can too, but overall it’s best to be careful when encountering these strays.
12. If It’s Yours, It’s Yours
While you should be careful to keep your wallet or purse safely tucked away when in highly-populated areas like public transport or cities, it’s very unlikely you’ll experience theft in Greece. This crime is so rare because in Greek culture it’s seen as a gravely embarrassing act to steal from others.
13. Drinks All Round
The legal age limit for drinking is 18—16 if supervised—but this is more a suggestion than enforced. Watch your teens when vacationing as though some cafes and nightclubs have entrance signs against underage drinking, there are no ID checks at the door or when one orders a cocktail. Otherwise follow the locals’ lead as they consume popular beers like Alpha and Mythos, or retsina, a traditional wine. Raki, ouzo, and tsipouro are also popular traditional alcoholic beverages that Greeks love.
You might think that flailing your hands about, scrunching your face up, and even shouting “Where am I?” at the top of your lungs is an acceptable cry for help. In Greece you might as well be a wallflower. If you’ve got a question for a local just go up to them and ask. In their culture it’s more socially acceptable to leave tourists alone, letting you to make first contact, so don’t be shy and end up more lost than you already are. Just ask.
15. When Shopping…
While large malls in the big cities open until the evening on weekdays, smaller Greek shop owners observe their siesta in the afternoon. Siesta hours can vary, and things can be closed for a few hours anywhere between 2 and 5. Malls are usually open until the afternoon on Saturdays, and closed on Sundays. Don’t worry about last minute shopping for souvenirs to take back home though, as the islands’ gift shops a generally open seven days a week, with some opening their doors twenty-four hours a day.
16. Eat It Up
If you’re accustomed to early lunches and dinners, you might want to readjust that timing while in Greece. Lunch at three and dinner at nine is perfectly acceptable. On a no-carb diet? Either way, expect bread with your lunch as Greeks don’t consider it lunch unless there’s bread. Quick coffee? Think again, as the Greeks’ emphasis on the “just chill” lifestyle extends to coffee breaks and you can expect one to last up to two hours. If you’re at dinner and waiting on the rest of your party to arrive, don’t look for a waiter to bring anything before then, as guests are never expected to eat alone. If a waiter approaches prior to the rest of the party arriving, it’s considered presumptuous and rude. Then what time are we going to eat you ask? Dinners can run till well after midnight. Opa!
17. The Club Scene
Forget about heading out at eight and partying till one in the morning, you’ve just finished dinner around that time as it is. Nope, get your club ticket—which is usually good for the first drink too—and party from after midnight until the sun rises. There will be lots of Greek music rocking you in the early hours, since locals prefer their music to international tunes.