Yes, you could use Google to learn many things about Greece. Or read a text book or tourist guidebook. But there is much more to this country than meets the (evil) eye! Here are 15 wacky (and fascinating) facts about Greece that you won’t learn in school or in a guidebook!
1. Greeks are superstitious. Very superstitious. One superstition shared by all Greeks is the evil eye, or “Mati.” The belief is that someone can cast the evil eye onto another person out of envy and jealousy. Once you have the evil eye, you must find someone to perform a ceremony to destroy the evil energy!
2. Spitting is encouraged in Greece and you will see old yiayia’s (grandmothers) spitting on their grandchildren all the time! Since time immemorial, Greeks have believed that spitting on someone is a way of combatting any form of evil energy or presence. It’s actually more like a ceremonial “FTOO, FTOO, FTOO”; just be aware!
3. Greeks steal plants from one another… and admit to it, and encourage it! You probably won’t find in your Fodor’s guidebook the fun fact that Greeks believe that plants and flowers will only root if they are stolen! They will actually tell you to come back later to steal from them if you would like some cuttings from their plants (which are also from stolen cuttings).
4. Greeks believe in “magical bread”. You see, Greeks believe that bread is a gift from God with roots from the Bible story of the Sermon on the Mount. This leads to many villagers never throwing away any bread, because it is considered bad luck, using leftovers to feed to the animals. Also, many Greeks are superstitious about who eats the heel of the loaf. It is believed that young single women should eat it and then their future mother-in-laws will like them. This tradition begins when girls are as young as 5 years of age!
5. Waving hello = BAD! The common “palm facing out” gesture, known as the “moutza” in Greece, is a normal form of greeting for most people worldwide … but if you see Greeks doing this, they’re not waving hello, they are basically flipping you the bird! Greeks wave either with their palms to the side or facing them. To be on the safe side, just greet people the good old-fashioned way in Greece — with a kiss on each cheek.
6. Symbolism in passing someone a knife. Beware! Never, under ANY circumstances, should you hand someone a knife in Greece. The proper way to give someone a knife is to set it down on a table and let the other person pick it up. It is believed that if you hand the person the knife that you want to fight with them!
7. Salt is powerful stuff, according to Greeks. In fact, according to Greek Folklore, salt can even be used to get rid of an unwanted guest! The process is so simple, you should try it out next time you want someone to leave your house. Just sprinkle a little bit of salt behind them — it is thought that the salt has powers that will drive them to leave your house.
8. When you think of Greece, you think of Feta cheese, ouzo, and many other typical items associated with the country and culture. But did you know that Greece is the world’s largest producer of sea sponges? The island of Kalymnos is famous for their beautiful natural sponges that people dive for and then sell. Next time you are using a natural sponge, think Greece!
9. Easter time in Greece is magical, and the biggest holiday celebrated in the country. However, Greeks believe in some pretty weird things in regard to Easter (Pascha). One of the weirdest is that salt, eggs and bread are forbidden to leave your home after sundown, under penalty of bringing bad luck to the house! So, if someone comes knocking at your door after sundown asking for salt, eggs or bread you shouldn’t give these things to them. If someone wants an egg, invite them in and cook it for them; never give it to them to take out of your house. Also, in an even stranger twist on this belief, if you want to give a guest a doggie bag that has bread of any kind in it and you know that they will be leaving your house after dark, you must leave the bag with the bread outside of the front door before the sun goes down. Only then may they take it with them.
10. All Greeks over the age of 18 are required to vote by law. There is no opt-out option when it comes to voting, yet a lot of Greeks don’t vote. Ponder that for a while…
11. Blue roof tops are more than aesthetic… according to Greek folk tradition, rooftops are painted blue in order to ward off evil!
12. Greeks are touchy about their coffee. If you ask a Greek for some Turkish coffee, odds are they will give you the evil eye! Truly, do not ever make this request – not in a Greek person’s home nor in a cafeteria. First of all, it is Greek coffee and you will be told its entire story back story (so be sure to get comfy first!). Secondly, you’re in Greece, so again, it’s Greek coffee!
13. Greeks have a tradition of wearing black after the death of a spouse or loved one. Some people will wear it for the entire year following the death of someone close to them such as a parent, while widows often will wear a black dress every day for the rest of their entire lives!
14. Greeks cash in so big on their “nameday” that this day is actually considered of greater importance than their birthday. Most Greek names have saints associated with them, and your nameday is celebrated on the annual feast day of that saint. Every Greek person will have at least one name day to celebrate within the calendar year.
15. Annually, Greece breaks a unique tourist record… as the only country in the world that can claim having two tourists per one Greek! Amazingly, Greece has double the number of tourists than it has in actual population. And that number is growing, as tourism continues to reach new heights each year in the country.