Probably my favorite part about traveling the world alone in this past year has been the surprising gestures of kindness that people have extended to me. When I needed it most (like hitchhiking through South America) or didn’t even know I needed it, people have helped me along on my journey in so many ways. It’s a heartening reminder of the goodness of people, that I’ve been the recipient of unprovoked kindness from strangers all over the world. One of the most glowing examples of this was on my recent visit to Greece. I hadn’t been to Greece in five years, and although Greece has always held a place in my heart, I had almost forgotten how much I loved it there. And one of the main reasons, is the warmth of Greek hospitality that I felt throughout my visit. More so than almost anywhere else I have traveled, in Greece I feel like I am at home surrounded by family. The Greeks have such big loving families and if you have Greek friends or have seen My Big Fat Greek Wedding, you know that it can sometimes come off as overbearing. But I have always loved that about Greeks, and I think that because of their big family mentality, they are also eager to extend their Greek hospitality to visitors. Here are a few examples of what I mean.
The Warmth of Greek Hospitality
I have landed in Athens airport and I jump on the train for a familiar ride into the city center. I’m not even two blocks out of the Monastiraki metro station when I have my first encounter with the warmth of Greek hospitality. I’m walking to my hotel but I take a small pause in my step to look around and get my bearings. An elderly gentleman notices my hesitation, and immediately asks where I am going. The eager desire to help is written all over his face. I respond and he says I have just one more block to go, straight ahead. “Thanks so much!” I respond. “Where are you from?” he asks. I say I’m from the United States and he responds, “Wow, that’s awesome! Welcome to Greece.” Oh, it feels so good to be back!
Once on the island of Santorini, I arrive at my airbnb just in time for breakfast. The Greek woman who runs the B&B greets me with a big smile and hug, like I’m her own daughter returning after a long time away. She doesn’t speak much English and I speak no Greek at all, but we manage to exchange pleasantries. And after a few minutes of knowing each other she’s exclaiming “Beautiful girl! Good girl!” and giving me another hug with kisses on the cheek. I felt like I was visiting my long lost aunt, she was so warm and welcoming to me. And these interactions persisted every day that I was there. Despite our language barrier, I always knew that I was welcome there.
Walking around town in Fira, a village in Santorini, I wander into a beautiful little gift shop. I’m not really looking to buy anything since my long-term travels with only a carry-on bag prevent me from taking on any extra items. But the shopkeeper, a young Greek woman, is happy to chat and have me look around. After a few minutes she says what’s been on her mind the whole time, she says, “I just love your hair, it’s so beautiful. If I had hair like yours I would wear it so that two braids wrap from the front to the back, just like a Greek goddess.” Wow, I respond that I love her hair too, so dark and shiny. I say we could trade for a little while if she likes, and we both laugh. She asks where I’m from, welcomes me to Greece, and gives me a small pin with the blue eye bead that can be found all across the country as a symbol of good luck. What a kind gesture! I put it on my camera strap and it goes with me everywhere, serving as a reminder of her and everyone I met in Greece.
I was out for dinner in Fira, Santorini with some friends, at a great little wine bar called Ampelos. We go to order some wine but the waiter regrets to inform us that they are out of it, and offers a substitute bottle that comes from the village he grew up in. He promises us it’s just as good, and he is right! It’s the perfect complement to the delicious food we’ve ordered. We’re having a great time catching up and laughing, enjoying a second bottle of the Greek wine. Then the owner comes over to check on us and see that we were enjoying ourselves. We certainly were and he could tell, so he brought over a bottle of wine on the house for us, so we could continue to enjoy ourselves at his restaurant. It was entirely too kind and we would have refused if he hadn’t started opening the bottle before we had a chance. We were floored by his genuine desire for us to enjoy ourselves and enjoy his restaurant, and his consideration made a great dining experience exceptional. I can’t imagine that happening anywhere else, that’s Greek hospitality.
After a week of these kinds of interactions, just being welcomed so genuinely and whole-heartedly by Greeks, I was sad to be leaving. I reluctantly ordered an uber to the airport, and when it arrived I loaded my suitcase and myself into the car. It’s a pretty long ride to the airport so I get to chatting with the driver who gives me all sorts of recommendations that I make mental notes of to enjoy on my next visit to Greece. He points out the street he lives on as we pass it, the best beaches along the coastline, tells me which islands to visit, and asks if I’ve tried the Greek coffee. I say that I’ve tried the frappe, is that the one he’s talking about? No, the Greek coffee, it’s better, he says. He can’t believe I haven’t tried it, but I assure him I’ll be able to try it at the airport before I leave, since this seems very important. No, no, he says, we have to stop to get you one! I say it’s not necessary but he’s already pulling the car over. He says this is the best café around here, I’ll be back in a minute. Wow, okay that’s super nice of him. He comes back with not only a Greek coffee but also a cup of Greek coffee ice cream because when he saw it he thought I should try that too. I thank him greatly for the kind gesture and he’s right, they’re both super delicious and I would’ve been missing out if I didn’t try this before I left. We continue chatting the rest of the way to the airport, and when he drops me off he leaves me with a hug and a promise to connect over email so he can give me some more advice for my next trip to Greece. I walk away smiling, thinking to myself what a great experience this has been, to be treated to the warmth of this Greek hospitality. And I promise myself to pay forward this kindness to others because I know how nice it feels to be the recipient of it.
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