June 16, 2003

Talk to the Hand

By Armando Huerta © 2003

Just having hosted two American friends for the past week I really became aware of how much more accustomed I’ve become to Greek mannerisms and expressions. It’s natural to have picked them up after living here eight months but having my friends visiting and having to explain it to them made me become aware of how different and noticeable they really are.

The first major one is that I told them under no circumstances to show their palm with the fingers spread out to a Greek. This American habit, from hailing cabs or waving to a friend, is considered an extremely offensive gesture in Greece, dating back hundreds of years. I made the mistake on my second day, after having a 12 Euro bill placed in front of me, of asking for five back from the twenty I handed over with my hand showing the change amount with my fingers in the aforementioned way. Needless to say the waitress was nonplussed. I can only think how an American waitress would have reacted to having the money handed to her with one hand while the other was extending the middle finger.

Another difference you notice is that Greek service staff, in general, are not very effusive with people they don’t know. You won’t often see that ear to ear American smile worn by TGIF waitresses named Cindy when introducing themselves before suggesting an appetizer to start. Greeks do smile, but it is usually hard earned. There are exceptions, notably tourist traps or establishments on the island were people are more easy going. In general, if a Greek is smiling from the minute you walk into a restaurant you pretty much are guaranteed to bend over in front of the register when paying your bill.

Shorts. Americans love wearing shorts but if you want to immediately look like a tourist, wear one in Athens… or any Latin American capital for that matter. No matter how hot the weather, Greeks not on the islands or the coast, do not wear shorts. It’s considered too informal. This is funny coming from people that drive the wrong way on one-way streets and ride motorcycles down sidewalks but that inconsistency is part of the charm.

Sexy TV. No matter the time of day or the channel, you’ll see breasts and ass in everything from movies to television commercials during newscasts. PAX this ain’t. I can only imagine how right-wingers whom are visiting fall to their knees while clutching their bibles to the chest when turning on Greek television. I personally like it! I think it’s enormously refreshing to see sex treated so benignly. The best part is that it’s not solely heterosexual either. On regular public channels they show unedited episodes of Queer as Folk and lesbian slasher thrillers. Good times. Good times.

Armando Huerta is a writer living in Athens, Greece.

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