There’s so much to explore in Greece, with a varied mainland and thousands of islands. Greek people are very proud of their language and culture and appreciate it when people make an effort to speak Greek. Your experience there can only be improved by learning some of the language before you go, but after you’ve mastered the pleasantries, what should you learn? Here are some Greek phrases to take with you that will help you to really immerse yourself in Greek culture.
1. Ena kafe, parakalo
Like Turkey, Greece is fond of their very own coffee. Greek coffee is far removed from what you’d get in a Starbucks. Made with a fine coffee grind in a tall, narrow pot (called a briki, cezve or ibrik), it’s served with the grounds still in the cup, which are left to settle as you drink, and foam on top. Drinking coffee is a leisurely affair in Greece and a coffee-break can last hours. The main phrase you need is ena kafe, parakalo (a coffee, please), but you’ll also want to know how to ask for different levels of sweetness.
Sketos – unsweetened
Metrio – somewhat sweet
Glyko – sweet
Varyglyko – very sweet
Traditionally served black and usually with a glass of water on the side, drinking Greek coffee is something you don’t want to miss. If you’re unsure though you can ask for it with milk (kafe me gala), or even just for an instant Nescafe (ena ness).
2. Ya mas!
If you’re planning to spend a lot of your time in Greece in the many tavernas, you’re sure to want to know how to make a toast. The Greek version of “cheers” is ya mas, which means “to our health”. As in other countries, you clink glasses when you toast. In fact, there’s a theory that this tradition originated with the Ancient Greeks. By clinking your glasses together your drink would slosh into the other person’s glass and therefore if it was poisoned, they would be poisoned too. You can also make a toast to someone else, by saying stinygiasou (to your health) in informal situations and eis igían sas if you find yourself at a more formal function.
This multifunctional word will serve you well in many different situations. Sometimes it means “oops!”, sometimes it’s used as a call for attention and it’s even cried when the flame is lit on the flambé dish saganaki. Often opa is just an interjection when everyone’s having fun, especially when dancing (think of the image of Greeks breaking plates!). Greek singer Giorgos Alkaios sang his song “OPA!” at the Eurovision song contest in 2010, as a message to Greeks to dance and be happy in the face of the economic crisis. Opa is about excitement and high spirits, which you’ll be seeing plenty of in Greece.
4. Fili mou
Finally, Greeks are very friendly and it’s not uncommon to use affectionate terms even towards strangers. Fili mou means “my friend”, moro mou “my baby” and agape mou “my love”. Don’t be too surprised if a complete stranger proclaims their love to you!
To learn more useful Greek phrases before you go on your travels, send us a quick enquiry about lessons in your city.
Can you speak any Greek already? Which other phrases are essential to an authentic Greek experience?