I had no previous knowledge of the Greek culture or language when I arrived in Athens, Greece, for my semester abroad. What I did know about Ellatha, better known as Greece, was the sunny island beach scenes that I had seen in Hollywood movies. I quickly learned that those generalizations were inherently misleading, yet without them, my experiences with the Greek culture would not have been so astounding.
As a resident of New York, I was pleasantly surprised by the generosity and hospitality of the Greek population. For my first few weeks in Athens, it was comforting to find the people so willing to help the lost American girl asking for directions. On one occasion, I asked a man who spoke very little English for directions and, although he didn’t know the area, he continued to call and find someone who could help, while not even stopping until he hailed a taxi for me. That sort of kindness is hard to overlook and is definitely not as common back in New York.
In Greece, the people seem to enjoy life for the simple pleasures. They don’t hurry along their daily routines, but rather spend their time relaxing. Whether it’s during the nationwide siesta hours or down at the coffee shops, where most locals flock to, the pace is slower. Even drinking coffee turns into a drawn-out ritual, where one cup of Nescafe, the national caffeinated beverage, can last for hours.
In the evenings, I learned that a lot of Greeks go out to eat for late dinners at traditional tavernas, where house wines and shots of ouzo, the drink of choice in Greece, are commonly on the house. There is no declining these free drinks either, as it is considered highly disrespectful to do so. The difference between these local tavernas and American restaurants is that Greek people take their time eating and enjoying the present company. Regardless of what is ordered, it is expected that one will sit for hours on end without having to worry about getting rushed out by the staff. As an American, I was so used to just eating my meal and leaving after only an hour, that when it came time to ask for the check, I would receive awkward glances from the locals.
Not only is Greek culture fascinating, but being able to experience firsthand the rich history of such an ancient city truly makes learning more fulfilling. Seeing the view of the Acropolis on the walk to class every morning or the remnants of antiquity from every hilltop make this a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
My Greek may still be etsi-kai-etsi — so-so — and I’m sure I have a lot more to see and learn, but living and learning in the birthplace of western civilization is an unforgettable experience that I will definitely look back on with nostalgia.
Junior Journalism major