Although I loathe stereotypes, I enjoyed being in this story that I am going to tell it as one which is characteristic of Greeks, and Greek men in particular (no – not that kind of story! Now who is stereotyping!)
I spent my third day in Athens climbing up the Acropolis and then, like the Grand Old Duke of York, climbing down again. It turns out that I chose to do my climb in 37C, so I was pretty tired and in need of sustenance by the time I got down the hill to Monastriaki. For those of you who don’t know, Monastriaki is a square named after a monastery (see – foreign is easy!) which is one of the best places to start a tour of the Acropolis. It is surrounded by small streets full of open air cafes, souvenir shops and markets; cheerfully chaotic and touristy and mildly expensive, but not cynically so. Finding a cafe was therefore not difficult and I chose one on the corner with Mitropoloos which is called Mnaipaktaphz. If you decide to go there, don’t worry about which side of the street to sit. Both the bar on the one side and the restaurant on the other are owned by the same guy and they use the same menus.
Now, if you have already been to Greece, you will know that tourist taverna food tends to be a strange fusion of Greek and English quisine which is heavy on meat, starch and oil. Now don’t get me wrong, I am as much a carnivore as the next guy, but not in that heat, after that kind of walk. So I chose the Greek salad and a half-litre of Hellas beer. I have to say that my waiter didn’t look terribly impressed – I am not sure if he was questioning my wallet or my sexuality – either way my choice didn’t get a high approval rating.
Anyway, a short time later, the salad arrived. After saying “Efharisto” (thank-you) I took a closer look and realised there were no olives. Now, to be fair, the make-up of a greek salad can vary and the picture in the menu didn’t show any olives as such, so I shrugged to myself and when he came past again, I stopped him with my second greek word – “parakalo”, (please/excuse me, etc) “may I have a bowl of olives?”. So the waiter says, “yes”. Then he looks at my plate and realises what is the matter. A minute later, back comes the salad with a big helping of black green olives on top. Back to my other greek word,”Efharisto” – “poli” (very much).
But it gets better – half way through my meal, a shot of ouzo appears on the table, with a bow from the waiter, to which I bow in return. Cool, thinks I before I move onto “phew!” after a sip of the fire-water. And then, just after i finish that, along comes a plate of honeyed yogurt by way of a dessert, also on the house. Well, at this point, I think that he is taking it a little too far, so I determine to leave a good tip. To indicate this, I shove the note under the dessert plate, while I start to get up. But he quickly grabs the note and after three steps to the till and back, returns with the change, which he offers with a nod of the head. Now he definitely has gone too far, so with my own nod and a smile, I turn my hand back on his and return the change. “Efharisto poli” we both say at once, nod and then turn on our way.
You see, I don’t think that the Greeks are necessarily generous as a nation – some are, some aren’t. But the older men, especially, are very strong on hospitality and honour. And I think what happened there was a demonstration of both, which was refreshing to us both.