We are on Greek time GMT +2

iconAn anecdote about a foreign tourist visiting the island of Ikaria (in the east Aegean) illustrates very well (if to an extreme), the relaxed attitude concerning time that some foreigners (at least from north Europe, north America, or Australia) often notice in Greeks.

The traveller in question was told to wait at a certain kafenio (Greek coffee house traditionally frequented by men) for the boat back to Athens, but arrived just a few minutes after the boat had departed. Noticing his distress, one of the old men who passed his mornings at the kafenio, and who spoke a little English, said to him: Don't worry! There will be another one in three days!!!

Though some Greeks are right on time for appointments (euphemistically referred to as English Time), many are not, and many don't like to plan things for an hour or even an exact day, wanting to leave things open, to allow for spontaneity.

Similarly, Greeks will often overestimate how long it will take to walk or drive to a certain destination, or how far away it is. It's always a good idea to multiply by two or three when given an estimate, especially by villagers, who live less by the clock than city folk. Greece is a country where half the populations still smokes, time or distance can occasionally be measured in the time it takes to smoke a cigarette or even two or three. To walk from here to there is three cigarettes.

icon 2Time in the Greek day

Though the Oxford Dictionary of Modern Greek defines the Greek word 'mesimeri' as 'midday or noon', and 'apoyevma' as 'afternoon', foreign visitors to Greece will soon understand that both translations are misleading when applied to structure of the Greek day.

Though 'mesimeri' does mean quite literally 'midday', a typical morning work shift in both cities and villages (though the latter may be that of a 'self-employed' farmer, ends at around 2:30, and those with jobs in stores often work an evening shift from around 6:30 to 9:30 or 10 or later, the midday break for the meal and subsequent nap hence beginning sometime after 2:30, with many actually sitting down to the meal around 3 or 3:30 pm (or even later in hot weather).

'Apoyevma' means literally, 'After/from the meal' but the term is applied to the period following the large midday (2-3 pm)(mesimeri) break described above, which includes the nap after the meal.

Consequently, when Greeks says that they'll meet you ' to apoyevma' ('in the afternoon' if one follows the Oxford dictionary definition), that can mean anytime from 5 pm till as late as 9 pm, with 'evening' (vradhi in Greek) meaning maybe as late as 10 pm, and 'nikta' (night) meaning really the wee hours. Everything, that is to say, is pushed forward in relation to the 'Western' clock, though morning (pro-ee, in Greek, with accent on the second syllable), does indeed mean the same thing as it does in north Europe or North America, with very early morning expressed by (repeating the word twice for emphasis, hence 'pro-ee pro-ee'.

The 'midday' nap: Or-ess kee-neese e-see-hee-as or 'hours of popular quiet'

mangasIt is not only considered very bad manners in Greece to make noise during the period from around 2 to 5 pm (and especially after 3 pm), but there is a law against it (though broken sometimes by those doing construction or using rototillers, because work is often excused if the workers have no other time to do that work). This is less so and rarely enforced in the city of Athens much to the chagrin of many lovsl residents. In theory it is quiet time. Siesta time!

So if a visitor to Greece is staying in a rooms complex that is near the houses of local Greeks, it is not appropriate to sit outside talking loudly and playing a radio or live music at that time.

The same need for quiet holds for those renting apartments in Greek towns or cities. During the hot summer months the midday meal and nap may get pushed forward until it cools off a little, with the meal even as late as 4 pm, and the nap to 5 pm or so. Few rules are 'set in stone' in Greece, but to be on the safe side, in the heat of summer, one should be aware that many Greeks are still napping until maybe 6:30.

Many visitors to Greece learn to do as the Greeks do, and find that this way of patterning one's day makes perfect sense, given the climate.

Greek Style