Understanding the Greek Culture | The Greek Culture Today

Can you measure the Greek culture? What does it mean to be Greek? What are Greeks like?

Although we live in the era of convergence and globalization, there is a call to protect local cultures and maintain a certain level of cultural diversity. If we want to protect our cultural identities, it is crucial to understand what our cultures actually are. Understanding cultures is also essential for anyone who wants to introduce products and concepts in a foreign market or working in a multicultural environment.

Understanding the Modern Greek/ Hellenic Culture

Today, we will try to understand the Greek culture based on different metrics and examples. Before we get started, it is important to clarify that we perceive the modern Greek culture as a continuation of the ancient Greek culture, with the difference that it has been influenced throughout the years from the cultures of the Frankish states, the Ottoman Empire, the Bavarian and Danish monarchies etc.

The Greek Culture as a High-Context Culture: Communicating Without Words

In a past video it was mentioned that Greeks place non-verbal communication at a higher level than others. We could safely say that Greek people are masters at decoding indirect speech and body language. Anthropological and cross-cultural studies agree with that statement.

In his 1959 book “The Silent Language”, American anthropologist Edward T. Hall introduced some new concepts that define culture. One way of categorizing cultures is by dividing them into high-context and low context cultures.

High-context cultures use a lot of hand gestures. People like maintaining eye contact and pay close attention to other peoples’ posture and facial expressions. It is not about what is being said, it is about what is not said.

On the other hand, people in low-context cultures prefer speaking in a direct and clear way. They are not making a lot of gestures and rarely pay close attention to others’ facial expressions.

It comes as no surprise that Hall places the Greek culture in the first category. If you have ever visited Greece, you should have already noticed that people speak with their hands and always try to maintain eye contact when they speak to you. It is also important to note that, if you annoy a Greek person, they will most likely give you many cues. If you don’t notice them, don’t be surprised if you see them getting mad at you all of a sudden!

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The Greek Culture as a Collectivistic Culture: It Is About “Us”

The American anthropologist also distinguishes cultures based on whether they are individualistic or collectivistic. Most western countries, such as the United States of America, are considered to be highly individualistic. People in these cultures strive to be independent from an early age. At the same time, they might find it hard to take decisions with others, maintain strong relationships over the years, and they are more susceptible to loneliness.

Greece is on the other side of the spectrum, since it is recognized as a collectivistic culture. Greek people love sharing experiences with others and maintain close relationships with their families throughout their lives. They like sharing food and they are less likely to travel alone. There is no shame in asking for help and independence is perceived differently than in the US or other individualistic countries.

If you ever visit Greece and want to immerse yourself in the culture, try ordering food with the group you are dining with. You can order a bunch of different dishes and try a bit of everything. If you are visiting alone, don’t be surprised if the locals approach you and invite you to join them. Philoxenia (φιλοξενία) is the Greek tradition of hospitality. Its roots go back to ancient times and it requires people to be welcoming towards strangers.

The Greek Culture as a Balanced Masculine Society with Feminine Characteristics

The Dutch social psychologist Geert Hofstede has also contributed immensely to the study of national cultures. He came up with many different cultural dimensions, including masculinity vs. femininity.

Masculine cultures, such as Japan and the United States, value success and do not view competition as something negative. People raised in these cultures learn the importance of standing out of the crowd and becoming winners.

On the other hand, feminine countries, such as most Scandinavian countries, strive at improving the quality of life of every person, instead of being considered “the best country in the world”. Characteristics that are considered feminine, such as being nurturing and caring, are valued more than being competitive and ambitious.

Greek culture ranks somewhere in the middle, maintaining a balance between masculine and feminine characteristics, but it is considered a bit more masculine than feminine. Greeks are very proud of their heritage. Successful people, such as Aristotle Onassis, a Greek shipping magnate who was one of richest men to have ever lived, are admired.

At the same time, there is distinction between “confidence” and “overconfidence”, “ambition” and “overambition”. Since ancient times, Greeks have been referring to «ευγενής άμιλλα», that is often translated as “fair play”. Although Greeks are interested in winning and competing, it is very important to be ethical and not “step on top of others” to get on top. The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche had a theory that the ancient Greek spirit of fair play led the Greeks in creating “their great civilization”, as he said.

Other Dimensions of the Greek Culture

Hofstede has come up with many more dimensions for defining a culture, such as power distance, uncertainty avoidance, indulgence, and long-term orientation.

Greece has intermediate scores in indulgence, meaning that it has a healthy relationship between restrain and enjoying life, and in long-term orientation, meaning that it maintains some links with its past but looks towards the future.

Indeed, you will see Greeks enjoying nice meals most days of the week. Drinking red wine is often recommended by doctors to protect the heart and, according to statistics, the Greeks are the most sexually active people in the world. At the same time, there are some clear limits between indulgence and over-indulgence.

For example, drinking alcohol in Greece is enjoyed by most adults, however, our drinking culture is very different than of other nations. Drinking a little bit on a regular base and enjoying it with friends is preferred over “boozing” and getting black-out drunk every Saturday night.

This balance can be explained by the ancient Greek quote «(παν) μέτρον άριστον», which is often translated as “all in good measure”. This might be the quote that acts as a compass in each Greek person’s life. Enjoying life but not loosing control is the most common piece of advice we get from our caregivers and teachers in our childhood and teenage years.

The cultural dimension that is the most unbalanced is that of uncertainty avoidance. The Greek culture ranks as the most avoidant in the world when it comes to uncertainty. This dimension explains how different nations manage anxiety and react to threatening or unknown situations.

It is worth mentioning that during the years of the Ottoman Occupation but also after the Greek War of Independence, Greeks had and have faced a great number of wars, political instabilities, violent regime changes, national divisions, civil wars, and financial crises. Greeks have recently faced a great uncertainty: the Greek government-debt crisis in the aftermath of the financial crisis of 2008, which created a social, cultural, and humanitarian crisis.

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