Visiting Greece has always been on my bucket list and although I’d be a tourist myself, there were a few things I wish I knew before I touched down. The 6 tips below are my own personal observations and recommendations and were the first few things I would always share with people when they asked about culture and customs. Because of that, I don’t claim to be a travel expert or know Greek etiquette inside and out, however I hope others traveling to Greece may find any of these tips useful.
1. Dress European
A bonus about being on holiday somewhere warm is the freedom to know you can live in jandals, shorts and a t-shirt. How when I stepped out into the street of Athens proudly wearing my summer attire, I noticed people constantly staring at my feet as they walked past. This happened over several days and I began to feel self conscious. After doing a bit of research I found that Eruopeans (Including Greeks) don’t wear jandals at all and consider this a tell-tale sign of a tourist. All though I was in fact a tourist myself, I didn’t want to come off ‘too’ touristy, I immediately opted to wearing shoes the majority of my trip. Shoes proved more practical to walk in as many of the streets are uneven and any archaeological sites are also dusty and required footwear with decent grip. Following my discovery that tourists tend to wear jandals, I too could pick them a mile away. This also goes for wearing backpacks, wide brimmed straw hats singlets and bumbags – tourist attire 101.
So if you really wanted to fit in amongst the local and not have them looking you up and down, sneakers and loafers are the way to go paired with tidy trousers (even though I still wore shorts with my shoes). This is really something I wish I’d known very early on in my travels as it would have saved me a lot of confusion and doubt about my ‘tourist-iness’.
Much like other countries in the world, Greece’s minimum wage is rather low and tipping can in fact be greatly appreciated. You’ll find that many stores around the capital, and throughout Greece, have a tipping jar near the cashier or near the driver of tour buses (this can also include taxi rides). So as a rule, if you have any spare cash/coins, it’s always polite to offer a little extra. When it comes to dining, your bill is always placed on your table during or after your meals. In some cases the bill may say that tips are not included, so this acts as a friendly reminder. The general rule for tipping while dining is 15-20% of your bill, or if you find that a little hard to follow, simply round your payment up to the nearest 10. That’s an easy rule to create and regardless, any tip would be greatly appreciated.
However, do remember that tipping isn’t compulsory, and coming from New Zealand (a country unfamiliar with tipping) it can be quite a foreign rule to follow, especially if you’re already on a holiday budget. So don’t beat yourself up over it and just be generous where and when you can.
I had no idea, but Greece is one of the many countries around the world where you can’t (or shouldn’t) flush toilet paper down the toilet. If you’re wondering what you do with any used toilet paper, let me tell you! Every bathroom you use, either in a hotel, restaurant, or out in public will have a small rubbish bin sitting next to the toilet. The rest is pretty self explanatory. Apparently the sewage systems in Greece aren’t cut out to handle the paper waste, so it’s disposed of separately in small rubbish bins. If this doesn’t sound like something you’d like to do, I’ve heard of people who carry their own plastic bags (or ziplock bags) with them to collect their own waste paper to dispose of later at their own discretion. Either way, it may be an unusual or uncomfortable routine to get used to, and I’m sure the occasion tourist forgetting not to flush their paper won’t break the pipes. Also if you’re ever on the look out for a toilet, they’re marked with a big WC (Water Closet), you’re welcome.
4. Learn Basic Greek
Although many Greeks speak English, especially in the larger cities, this can’t always be assumed and appears to become less frequent in smaller towns and rural settlements. Greece as a whole are very proud of their heritage and culture, and are also passionate about their language and communication. So I’ve found it very beneficial to learn some basic greetings and words in Greek, which will also be greatly appreciated by the locals. It’s very easy to Google translate words and listen to their pronunciation (so no need to buy any books), however locals are always more than happy to help teach you the basics as well.
Here are some very basic examples:
|Hello or Goodbye||Γειά Σας||yia-sas|
|Sorry or Excuse me||Συγνώμη||sig-no-mii|
|Please or You’re welcome||Παρακαλώ||pa-ra-ka-loh|
5. Have Cash
Although you can pay virtually anywhere using a debit or credit card, I found the best way to make purchases was with cash/coins. I also found that change in various stores isn’t easy to come by. As you can imagine, tourists may frequently use larger Euro notes which require more coins in change. So it’s also good to always keep a few extra coins on hand for those smaller purchases or to round up your total so a shopkeeper can give you a note in exchange. Or, if you’re not too fussed on getting change back, you can always offer for the store to keep it. However I did this on several occasions too, and the storekeepers insist I took the change, so just see how it goes.
6. Sit down – dining & Bill
This may not always have been the case when dining out, but this was my overall experience after several meals across Athens and Greece. Whether it’s breakfast, lunch or dinner, if you’re wanting to stop by any restaurants or taverna, in many cases you simply take a seat and assistance will come to you (from what I’ve heard, it’s not common for the Greek population to be told where to sit, they enjoy choosing for themselves). Once you’ve placed an order, a bill will often be placed on your table and if you order any other food or drinks during your meal, another bill could be added. When you’re finished, it’s common to wait for assistance to come and clear your plates and/or accept payment of the bill (if a counter or till is available, you can always pay here, but this may not always be the case. Another reason to stay seated is that many times we’ve got up to pay/leave and we’ve been asked to sit down because there was often a complementary small dessert, drink or shot of liquor to end the experience. In a nutshell, find yourself a seat, wait to be served, enjoy your meal, signal that you’re finished, pay/tip while at your table, thank your waiter and then leave.
If you feel I’ve missed out any other key tips while traveling through Greece, let me know. Or if you simply want to ask any questions, feel free to flick me an email. Happy travels!
To see my own Photo Journal from my recent visit, click here.