Greeks are generally considered open, friendly, and approachable. They may reveal intimate things about themselves and invite you over for dinner right after your initial meeting. But, don’t be fooled, building a strong friendship or business partnership with a Greek man or woman requires work, patience, and a clear understanding of the Greek cultural dimensions.
How Easy Is It to Make Friends in Greece?
As a foreigner, making friends in Greece is neither too hard, nor too easy. According to an InterNations survey from 2021, the country is the 32nd friendliest country for expats in a list of 65 countries. That places Greece somewhere in the middle. Helinika will help you navigate through the cultural dos and don’ts and win the heart of the Greek(s) you seek friendship or business partnership with.
Actions That Will Make a Greek Like You
- Ask about them and their family. The Greek culture is more on the collectivistic, rather than on the individualistic side. If you know a Greek person’s family, partner, or very close friends, you may ask them how these people are doing. Greek people usually see themselves as part of a group and showing disinterest about the other members of their close group, may be interpreted as disinterest about them as well. A small talk between Greeks usually goes as follows: “Τι κάνεις; Τα παιδιά; Ο/Η σύζυγος, όλοι καλά;” (translation: “How are you? The children? (What about) the spouse, is everyone alright?”. It goes without saying that if the Greek person of interest hasn’t revealed details about their family life, you don’t have to ask how his or her family is doing. Lastly, not asking about the person’s family members is not considered rude. However, considering his/her family in your conversations, will help you win the Greek’s heart!
- Cook for them or ask them out for dinner. The best business deals, romantic relationships, and friendships are usually paired with food. Greeks, like most Mediterranean cultures, revolve around food and cooking. If you are a good cook, invite the Greek of interest over for dinner. If not, invite him/her out at a good restaurant. It doesn’t have to be fancy nor expensive; but the food quality must be top-notch. Food is taken seriously in Greece and people can discuss for hours at the dinner table, even after having finished their meals. Normally, Greeks order or cook different dishes, place them at the center of the table, and share them all together, instead of ordering individual dishes for each person. This is another detail to keep in mind.
- Offer to pay/return the favor, even when reassured you don’t have to. Philotimo is an admired characteristic in Greece. Everyone wants friends who have this attribute. A person with philotimo is an honorable person who doesn’t accept gifts, help, and other offerings easily. Having a small argument with the person who wants to pay for your dinner or offer you something for free is usually expected. If the other person insists, you can then accept their offer. And no matter what the other person says, you should always try to return the favor at some point. Even if they have reassured you that you don’t have to. Not doing so is not the end of the world – but you won’t be seen as a person with philotimo in their eyes. This may seem complex and unnecessary to someone who comes from a low context culture, where communication is usually direct. However, when meeting with Greeks, you should be able to “read the room” and understand people’s expectations, without being told what these expectations are.
- Allow them to pamper you. Have you ever heard of the Benjamin Franklin effect? You know, the one that suggests that a person who does a favor for you will like you more than the person you do a favor for? Well, it definitely works with the Greeks. When visiting a Greek person’s home, let them pamper you as they like. Greek philoxenia requires them to offer you something to drink and something to eat. If you stay the night, they will probably offer you fresh towels and bedding and they will prepare breakfast for you. Of course, you don’t have to eat at their place, but try not to reject every single thing they offer to you. Otherwise, you will be considered an “ακατάδεκτος” – an adjective that could be translated as “someone who doesn’t accept offerings”. Trust me, it will be hard to make friends with Greeks if they think they can’t pamper you at all.
Things to Avoid – a.k.a “How to Make a Greek Dislike You”
- Avoid criticizing someone close to them. In individualistic cultures, a person’s actions reflect their own personality, mood, and thinking, unless they are minors. In collectivistic cultures, a person’s actions reflect their entire environment – friends, family, community. Greece is somewhere in the middle but does lean towards collectivism. Although an adult’s actions are judged individually at the courthouse, when it comes to ethical criticism, someone’s wrongdoings will bring shame to everyone close to them. If someone commits a crime, their family members might self-isolate for a while, regardless of whether they were involved in the crime or not. The actions of the individual have consequences for the entire group. For this exact reason, when meeting a Greek person, avoid being overly critical towards people who are somehow related to them. They will take it personally. Yes, they may recognize, for example, that their cousin is a dishonest business owner who lies about his or her products’ real value. However, calling them out in front of your potential friend, client, or business partner, will seem like an attack to the entire family. The same goes with friend groups. Unless you are already integrated into the group, avoid criticizing a member at the presence of another member.
- Don’t visit them empty handed. Unless you are already good friends and visit each other regularly, avoid visiting a Greek person’s house empty handed. Especially when you visit their house for the very first time. You can bring a dessert, a meal you prepared at home, a bottle of wine, some flowers, or a home accessory. That is especially expected when visiting someone who is of older age, since young people tend to overlook these details.
- Don’t disrespect them at their home/office. Greeks will often tell you to feel at home at their place. Philoxenia, hospitality, is taken very seriously in Greece but not only from the hosts’ side. A visitor is also expected to respect the space of the host by trying not to make a mess, accepting some pampering, and asking for permission before visiting other rooms in the house – even if it’s the bathroom. Of course, this doesn’t apply when visiting someone who is already a very close friend. If the Greek host lives with others, acknowledging them and/or making small talk with them, is expected.
- Avoid being inflexible. Flexibility is key when meeting the Greeks. An appointment may change last minute, someone might arrive later or earlier and sticking to the schedule is not always a priority. Losing your temper and accusing them for this, will not help at all. If the other person is constantly changing their mind, try persuading them to stick to the plan without making any accusations. Patience is key.