Each country has a variety of differences in food, music, values, religion, and more. All of these, together, create a unique culture that is valuable and really fun to learn about. Athens has a unique history that is tied to an Ancient past that most people have learned about in school. While many things have changed over the past two millennia, some have stayed the same like the love of olives and architecture. Learning about the ancient while experiencing the modern is an amazing experience, but it can also be uncomfortable at times. For me though, I embrace the uncomfortable feeling as it is the first step towards understanding a new place and the people within it. Below, I will discuss a few of the differences I have noticed.
Difference #1: Staring
I was told by one of my professors that Greece is a country filled with people that stare. Initially, I didn’t really know what they meant by that. Once I started paying attention, however, it became clear. People on the street, in the store, and virtually everywhere love to stare. They will look at you for what I would deem as an inappropriate amount of time. Of course, it can’t be my place to tell someone how long they should stare, but for me it felt uncomfortable. Apparently, the constant stares is normal for Greeks. You might make direct eye contact with someone for, like, 5 seconds, and then look away at something else and it not be weird. I am definitely used to it now and it feels pretty normal to do, but the fact that staring was one of the first cultural differences I noticed is interesting to think about. It is especially evident during COVID because of the masks. Eyes are the first thing you see when you look at someone, and it is hard to read their body language.
Difference #2: Community
The U.S. holds a very individualistic culture, and Greece is definitely does not. Whether it is giving you an extra baklava at the coffee shop or an extra loaf of bread at the bakery, people are accommodating, friendly, and make every place feel like home even to a stranger. This follows the Greek idea of Philotimo, a word that has multiple meanings. People have explained it to me as family, community, being good, and even bringing meaning to life. Whatever it true definition may be, it is superseded by what it does. It makes people friendly and positive, and it also makes them honest because they want to get things right the first time. This creates a sense of community, regardless of what neighborhood you are in. Greeks are curious, like the woman who asked what I was doing in the neighborhood of Kaisariani. It wasn’t because I was not wanted there, but because she does not see people who look like me down there and wanted to make sure I knew my way around. She even pointed me in the direction of her family’s bakery that had an amazing Bougatsa (Turkish Custard Pie).
Difference #3: Walks
While this might be more of a city thing, it is one that I noticed a lot. Greeks love to go on walks. It’s the Indian couple who run the mini-mart by my apartment taking their young boys for a walk around the block. It’s the older couple walking up and down the farmers market in exercise-apparel. It’s also the hordes of people who walk for miles in the local Philopappou Park among ancient ruins and the Acropolis. People walk to escape the cramped polykatoikia (apartment buildings) that are infamous in Athens for their tight layouts. Even in cities in the U.S., I haven’t seen the routine walks that are a normal part of Athenian lives, but if I was living here permanently, I know I would take walks often and actually, I do take them often.