Greek Customs and Habits

Greek customs and habits from a foreigner’s point of view

The following is a collection of personal experiences, in combination with a book review of a Danish book called “Graeske maend og andre mennesker” (Greek men and other humans) by Lone Spanheimer, ISBN 87-614-0112-9. As far as we know, the book hasn’t yet been translated.

greek customs and traditions

The white trees

The fact that the trunks of the trees are often painted white (limewash) in Crete and Greece is primarily to fight the ants. And besides it looks nice, too!

The rosary or worry beads

The rosary that most of the Greek men are holding in their hands, sitting outside the kafeneion (cafe in Greece), has no religious meaning, but is only a way of killing time. Try and buy one, it’s actually much more difficult to swing it than it looks like.

The iron bars

The iron bars sticking out from the roof are exclusively there for the purpose of a later extension of the house. They have NOTHING to do with exemptions from taxpaying, as long as the house isn’t yet finished. (It’s a good story though)!

Eating and waiting alone at a taverna in Greece

A single person sitting at a taverna, can wait quite a long time for the waiter to show up. In Greece it’s very unlikely that anybody eats alone. He/she must be waiting for someone. For the waiter it will be very impolite and bumptious, to ask for the order before all the guests have arrived. This has changed in the major tourist places, and especially for tourists, but you can run into this phenomenon in villages of Crete and Greece.

customs and traditions of Crete, Kreta

Paying cash

When the Greeks go out for dinner, they always pay cash. NO cheques and credit cards! And they have always got money enough to pay the bill for their company too. Not being able to pay, would be humiliating beyond belief.

Getting a house loan

Unfinished buildings is a common sight in Greece. The reason is that greek people build what they need today and leave the rest of the building unfinished for the future. It may seem that the Greeks are constantly building houses – and they are. Most Greek parents build a house for each daughter, but not for their sons (as they are supposed to marry a girl who will get a house from her parents). Often it is also the daughter that inherits her parents’ or grandparents’ house when they die.

The Greek social security system

The Greek social security system (IKA) is still being built up. Having financial problems will first lead you to your very closest family, asking for help. The family will lend you money indefinitely, and it’s now a point of honour to pay back the loan.

The Greek toilets

One can wonder and one can be disgusted at the standard of the Greek toilets. Part of the explanation might be, that the Greek himself never uses a public toilet. A Greek will do almost whatever it takes, to use his own toilet! So you see,….it’s mainly a problem for the tourist!

old greek lady in Crete

The Greek men in the kafenio (cafe)

You might get the impression that Greek men always sit on cafes and drink. They do often go to a kafenion, but not always, and rarely for a very long time. Often they have a cup of Greek coffee only. Most of them stay there for a short time, just enough to hear what have happened and also to make an appointment with for example the local electrician or the local bricklayer. Of course, Greek women can go to the kafenion as well, but most of them don’t want to, and besides they hear all the gossip from the husband when he comes home. For about 20 years ago, you would always find at least two kafenions in a village, no matter how small it was, but with different colours. The colours indicated the political party of the owner of the kafenion. This way you avoided political quarrels. Rather practical! It can still be found, but it has become more and more rare as less and less people care about politics in Greece.

– Read a review about the book “39 Coffee Houses and one Barber Shop


Theft is very, very rare in Greece. It’s simply considered too humiliating to steel other people’s things or money. On the other hand it’s OK to cheat a bit – especially if they don’t like the person they cheat.

The Greek priest

You see the Greek priest – or pappas, as they are called – everywhere, as you can’t miss them in their long, black dress and high hat. They are not obliged to wear their priest clothes all the time, but they do, as it’s most practical and they are easier to identify this way. The Greek priests can marry and have children, just like in the Lutheran church. But you will never see a woman priest. This is not allowed by the Greek Orthodox Church.

Tips for Tourists in Greece

fishing boat in Greece

Paying for a sun bed

At most beaches you will have to pay for a sun bed and an umbrella. If you think that it is just people trying to get money out of the tourists you’re very wrong. It’s a job in Greece having a piece of a beach. A man seeks for a particular part of the beach each year, and he pays a sum of money, to be allowed to put up his sun beds and umbrellas. During the season it’s now his responsibility, that this part of the beach is kept properly. The price you pay will depend on where the beach is situated, what kind of facilities (taverna, toilets, showers) there are. The tourist police checks that he does his job properly.


In Greece you much live with the GMT-time, and in this case GMT is an abbreviation for “Greek Maybe Time”. The Greek people have a very different attitude to time. When the bus is scheduled to come 10.30, it will come between 10 and 11, depending on the traffic, how many people the driver had met and felt he should talk with, and many other small things. Or a local might tell you that the bus will arrive AFTER 4 p.m.! Then he hasn’t promised too much. The Greek people don’t live by the clock. The Greeks also have a different opinion about when it’s morning, afternoon and evening. You say Good Morning until 12. If you have agreed to meet in the ‘afternoon’, the earliest meant by this will be 6.00 p.m.! In Greece, the evening meal begins no earlier than 9.00 p.m. Also no one will think anything of it if you telephone at 10.00 p.m. in the evening. However, ‘siesta’ time, between 3.00 p.m. and 5 p.m. is held as sacred. During the siesta, though, it is very unpopular to disturb someone.

Entering a Greek Church or Monastery

If you want to see a Greek church or monastery inside, you must be properly dressed. It’s considered rude to enter a church if your shoulders and knees aren’t covered. This rule goes for both men and women. So if you as a tourist wants to be polite against the country you’re visiting, have this in mind.

white village houses in Crete, Greece

Invited out by a Greek

If a Greek invites you out for dinner or a drink, don’t EVER try to make him “split the bill in half” as we often do here in Northern Europe. I know some tourists who wanted to be nice to their host for the evening, and they snapped the bill out of his hand and paid it. Never has a friendship been that close to ruin, and the Greek man was more embarrassed than you could ever imagine!

Invited to a Greek home

If you are invited to a Greek home, remember to bring something for the hosts. Flowers or chocolate is the most common. If the occasion is a name day, you must bring a present, which you deliver when you enter the house. The present will be put together with the rest of the presents on a table – unopened. The Greeks will open the gifts when all the guests have left. If he or she doesn’t like the gift they don’t have to pretend a lot of gratitude that they really don’t feel. Actually it is a very practical habit.

Giving tips

Even if it says everywhere that tips are included in the price, it is common to give tips if you’re satisfied with the service. About 10% would be appropriate. But remember not to “over-tip”, something that this little story explains well: Some friends wanted to tip the waiter at the hotel where they had stayed for 2 weeks, so they left 30 Euro the last evening. When they were 10 steps away from their table the waiter stood in front of them saying that they had mistaken the Greek money. They explained that they hadn’t. The waiter then joined them in the bar, where they had coffee and Metaxa, and later, drinks and ouzos. When they called the barman for the bill, they found out that the bill, which was much higher than 30 euros, was already paid by the waiter they had tipped before.

donkeys in Crete, Greece, traditional life

Facts about Greek women

  • Officially there is equality between the sexes, but still women are paid less.
  • About 40 % of the Greek women are engaged in active employment.
  • Theoretically Greek women are liable for military service, but only volunteers are taking part in the service, and the women seem to be satisfied with this situation.
  • When divorcing, all belongings are equally split between man and woman.
  • Today a Greek woman may keep her maiden name when marrying.
  • Today Greek women only give birth to half as many children, as they did before World War 2. The birth-rate is the second lowest in Europe. Italy has the lowest birth-rate.
  • Since 1982 it has been legal to have a civil marriage. But still 95 % are married religiously in the church.
  • Arranged marriages are forbidden by law. Paying dowry is illegal too. But still you can see examples of both!
  • The average age for Greek women is 80 years. Men can stand the women for 75 years only!

* Article by Birgit Smidt Sneftrup and Bo Transbol, Denmark.


Read more:

© All Rights Reserved. Reproduction or copying without permission is prohibited.

Similar Posts