Athens: The Cultural Codes and Etiquette You Need to Know

BY Maria Pappa

Athens: The Cultural Codes and Etiquette You Need to Know
Photography by Dimitris Lambridis


Greece has become synonymous with hospitality. Greek people are warm, welcoming and friendly, in some cities more than others. Thessaloniki and some parts of Northern Greece are extremely hospitable, even by Greek standards. For example, when visiting a friend from those parts, they tend to treat you every time you go out, which can be a bit suffocating after a while. Family is very important here and we tend to form strong relationships and friendships. Religion is also huge.

We smile a lot and we swear a lot, especially when driving. Greeks are very passionate when talking about politics, football or music, things can get very loud but that doesn't mean they’re arguing or fighting. Don’t be startled if you hear the word malakas (it literally means wanker in English), it’s mostly used as an expression of wonder rather than a slur, except if the body language or the face of the person says otherwise. The moutza gesture (when you forcefully raise the palm of your hand to the direction of a person) is a tricky one; in most cases it’s considered insulting and you can get fined if the police catch you doing it while driving. If invited to a party or a friendly gathering it’s customary to bring a gift like drinks, sweets or flowers depending on the occasion. It is not uncommon for older Greek people to ask you a lot of – sometimes intrusive – questions about your personal life, don’t take it the wrong way. We are also very tactile; good friends kiss each other on the cheeks, but if you don’t feel like kissing anybody, just shake hands. A light pat on the shoulder or arm is a friendly gesture that shows fondness.

Now for some other things to note. Most people are named after a Greek orthodox saint but that doesn’t apply so much to younger generations. We usually celebrate name days the same way as birthdays, minus the cake. Regarding tipping, waiters in Greece don't expect to receive a percentage of the bill, people tend to leave a pourboire (an amount that often rounds up the bill) on the table or added to the card payment. If going by percentage, 5% for a large bill is appropriate, and for smaller bills, 50 cents or €1 will do the trick. As for the many signs you’ll come across warning against flushing paper down the toilet, the sewage system is a complicated issue and it’s advisable to kick the habit when in Greece.