Archive for March, 2010

The Many Greetings of Easter

March 29, 2010

Everyday Greek is full of greetings and well wishes: kalimera for good day, kalo mesimeri for good midday, kalo apoyevma for good afternoon, kalispera for good evening when we arrive and kalo vradi for good evening when we leave. Then there is kali nychta for good night and kali ksekourasi for good rest. We say kalo mina, good month, on the first of every month and kali evdomada, good week, every Monday.

Easter is the biggest holiday of the year in Greece and this week is called Megali Evdomada, the Big Week. The Greek word for Easter is Pascha, which comes from the Arameic pascha and Hebrew pesah (Passover) and if you want to say Happy Easter it is Kalo Pascha. Towards the end of the week the more common Chronia Polla (Many years) tends to be replaced by a more solemn Kali Anastasi – Happy Resurrection. This is said until Saturday night; when the Holy light is brought in from Jerusalem and everyone light their candles off it at the strike of midnight. This ceremony symbolizes the resurrection of Christ and as the candles are lighted the Greeks say Christos Anesti, Christ Has Risen, to each other, which is answered with Alithos Anesti, Truly He Has Risen.

During the days after Easter Saturday those of you in Greece might be greeted on the street or in the supermarket with the phrase Christos Anesti and if you speak Greek, you can just answer Alithos (truly). It is also what you are supposed to say if you are breaking your red painted Easter Eggs against each other to see who will have a successful year: the one holding the “attacking” egg says Christos Anesti before he or she hits it and the one holding the ‘defensive’ one replies Alithos.

Happy Easter to Everyone!


The Evil Eye

March 22, 2010

If you have been to Greece, you will surely have noticed the little blue eyes that many are wearing or hanging in their cars/businesses/houses etc. This is the amulet that protects them against To Mati – the Evil Eye, also known as Vaskania.

The Mati is an age-old belief that people staring at you can provoke all sorts of unpleasant symptoms such as headaches, constant yawning, falling over or just really bad luck. It usually happens when they stare in a sort of envious admiration, which is why young children and animals, good looking or successful people and new houses and cars are more likely to get matiasmeni – “evil eyed”. Usually, the matiasma – evil eyeing – is not intentional – it just happens because you are looking at someone or something that you admire – perhaps with a sting of jealousy somewhere deep inside.

If you have a really bad headache (and know it is not a hangover) you might be matiasmenos and to get rid of the curse you will need to find someone to lift it. The process is known as ksematiasma – un evil eyeing – and is normally done by elderly ladies. They will put you to the test by dripping some olive oil into a glass of water – if it stays on the surface you just have had too much to drink or are maybe coming down with something – but if it dissolves into the water, the Mati has gotten you! A series of prayers are then said, accompanied by spitting and sprinkling of Holy Water and that should do the trick.

Spitting is, incidentally, a way of protecting people you admire from the Evil Eye. When you pay someone a compliment you are, by definition, admiring them and that is exactly when you might give them the Mati. Rest assured, the solution is easy: pay the compliment and then spit on them three times (not actually spitting – more like ftou ftou ftou in the air) and they are protected by your counter spell. Good to know next time you want to flirt with a Greek!

More about Greece and Skiathos at:

It’s Raining Chairlegs!

March 15, 2010

Being from northern Europe, I was brought up to talk about the weather and it came as quite a surprise to find out that the Greeks do the same. Although the main complaint here seems to be zeeeesth – hot – people in Greece seem to be just as fond of weather discussions as we are.

One difference, however, is that in Greece, the weather – o kairos – is talked about almost as an organism, a deity if you like, and perhaps this comes from the ancient ancestors who regarded every weather phenomenon and every wind as  god sent or even a separate god; Boreas being the northern wind and Zephyros the western, for example. Where you in English say “It is hot” the Greeks say “It does heat/cold” – it, being the weather (o kairos).  The weather does, in other words…

Another example is the old expression for raining: O Theos vrechi = God is raining. Speaking of rain we meet another difference from other European languages as hard rain is expressed with the English “cats and dogs” or the Swedish “sporegn” (whip rain). The Greeks say that it is raining kareklopodara, chair legs!

The astral bodies are named after the ancient gods, apart from the planets, whose names remain Greek in Greece (not Latin as in the rest of Europe): Hermes, Aphrodite, Ares etc. The sun is still called Helios, after the old sun god, and the moon Seline, after his wife. An old myth tells us that Helios was such as jealous husband that Selene only dared go out when he was away, which is why she comes out at night when the sun is sleeping. So if Helios is out tomorrow and it doesn’t do cold and doesn’t rain chair legs…do go out for a walk and enjoy the weather…

To see some weather photos from the North Sporades, Greece, please go to:

Filos or Gnostos?

March 8, 2010

Calling someone a friend is something most of us do rather sloppily; without really thinking about what the word actually means we use it about people left and  right. So do many Greeks! The Greek word for friend is φίλος, filos, for a man and φίλη, fili, for a woman. The prefix  fil/phil indicates that we are friends, admirers or lovers of something.

For example:

philosophy = the admiration of wisdom (sophia-wisdom)

philhellene = an admirer or all things Greek

philharmonic = a friend of harmony

anglophile = an admirer of all things English

There are a whole bunch of sexual ones as well but we will not go into them here…

To define the word filos/fili when speaking of human relationships the angry American writer/director Michael Moore comes to mind. In his book Stupid White Men he writes about how fed up he is with people claiming to have black friends in an attempt to prove they are not racist. He goes on to say that we all need to stop and think about what a friend actually is: someone you share your deepest feelings with and trust completely, someone you spend time with in each other’s home and know you can phone up at three in the morning if you just want to talk.

If a person does not fulfill these ‘criteria’ he or she is more likely an acquaintance and in Greek the word is γνωστός, gnostos, for a man and γνωστή, gnostee, for a woman. It comes from the word γνώση, gnosi, which means knowledge and we meet it in words such as agnostic (someone who does not know what he or she believes in) prognosis or diagnosis.

When speaking with a Greek person, it is a good idea to contemplate which word applies to the people you know as you might be defined by it. The Greeks say “Δείξε μου τους φίλους σου και θα σου πω ποιος είσαι” = Show me your friends and I will tell you who you are!

Xenos – Friend or Foe?

March 1, 2010

Greeks are well-known for their hospitality and their word for it is filoxenia. The word literally means “friend of strangers” but can also be translated “guest-friend” because of the double meaning of the word xenos.

In Greek, xenos is pronounced ksenos, with emphasis on the “e”, which is pronounced as the “e” in end, or error. The word means stranger or, more generally, anyone who is not from one’s community. An Athenian, in other words, is just as much of a xenos as a foreigner from Britain, Sweden, Germany etc. when he or she comes to Skiathos.

Xenos, however, also means guest! This is a very good reflection on how Greeks view anyone coming from elsewhere as filoxenia, hospitality, has been considered something sacred since antiquity. Mistreating your guests, even of they were your worst enemies, was regarded as sacrilege during antiquity and to this day Greeks, especially the older generations, always make sure to be the best hosts they can be. It is unheard of, for example, to not offer something when a person visits their home, even if you are the gas man coming to read the meter!

In English we encounter the word in xenophobia, the fear of strangers. Here, the word has no reference to the guest-aspect; instead, it plays purely on people’s fear of the unknown. It should be noted that this word is used by Greeks as well to characterize someone who is racist or just generally suspicious of people coming from elsewhere.

The Greek word for hotel is xenodochio and literally means “guest container” and someone who is paraxenos is really strange. What everyone wants to be, though, is filoxenos (masc) or filoxeni (fem) as this is the person who is very hospitable. With filoxenia comes some unwritten rules for the guest as well: never come empty handed when you first visit a Greek’s home and always accept what is offered to you when you visit – you are not expected to finish it, just to acknowledge the offer – not doing so is an insult!  If you are given a plate of food to take home, never return it empty; put some sweets or cakes on it, for example.

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