Today I feature the guest post by Danny, a fellow blogger writing at What’s Danny doing?. Danny tells us about his adventures when hitchhiking in Greece and experiencing Greek hospitality. Enjoy the read!
Not so long ago I found myself at the side of a road in Northern Greece– a place in Europe I’d never explored before.
My girlfriend and I were standing with thumbs turned upwards, backpacks at our side, forcing a smile beneath a blistering late summer sun; waiting with growing desperation for some kind soul to offer us a ride. We had a few stale biscuits and half a bottle of tepid water left. Resources, of both the literal and mental kind, were running low.
But then, miraculously, a rather fancy looking car drove past. It pulled over a few meters away, stopped for a second- as if pondering what to do next- and then reversed slowly back towards where we stood in anticipation.
Two olive skinned, smiling men sat in front of us, eyes and voices welcoming us into their car. With great relief we sat down, bags on our laps, feeling immensely happy to finally be somewhere cool and comfortable.
In broken, but brilliant, English: “Where were we going?” “What were our names?” “Where were we from?” We answered gratefully and asked questions of our own. And very quickly we realized we’d been picked up by two of the kindest, warmest and most generous people we could ever have met.
The events that followed this chance encounter were of the kind I’ve come to expect and love of travel.
The sort where openness to experience, alongside a hefty dose of a total fluke, blend together to create memories that last a lifetime.
Table of contents
My Experience of Greek Hospitality
In short, we stayed with these two godly Greeks for the best part of that day.
They listened to where we wanted to go, took us to see all the sights along the route; went far out of their way to drop us exactly at our end destination. They even offered to host us in Athens, where they lived, if we ever made it that far.
And, a couple of weeks later, when my girlfriend and I eventually found ourselves there, we gave them a call. True to their word, they hosted us for free, opened up their homes and invited us into their lives. They showed us the city, took us to the lesser known local spots, took us out for dinner at a friend’s restaurant, helped us get blind drunk on Raki, and shed light on what it’s really like to live in Greece these days- struggles and all.
These two incredible individuals did not have much; they did not live a fancy life. But what they had, they shared. Their generosity was incomparable and like nothing I’d ever experienced.
It was a true lesson in hospitality. It got me interested in the role that hospitality has played, and continues to play, in Greek culture…
Why are Greeks so Hospitable?
It turns out hospitality in Greece goes back a long way. Like, a really long way. In fact, it stretches back thousands of years to ancient Greek times, when people believed the Gods roamed the streets alongside them, disguised as lowly travelers.
As a result, the ancient Greeks welcomed guests and travelers into their home, treating them with complete kindness, respect and generosity. They showered them with all they had to offer: bed, board and everything in between.
After all, their guest could be a God! For fear of mistreating and disrespecting a deity, hospitality was the only option. It demonstrated their virtue and piety to the Gods among them. This practice even had a name in Ancient Greek culture: Xenia- a name that derived from the ancient God, Zeus, who was apparently referred to as ‘Zeus Xenios’ in his role as a protector of travelers.
These days Xenia is no longer a hard and fast rule in Greek society. However, it surely laid the foundations for current social practices of hospitality there. So, though hospitality in Greece is no longer tied to a sense of religious devotion, it seems to remain present as a practice. In some ways, this makes it even more commendable.
I mean, it is no longer duplicitous in any way: hospitality is no longer just a vehicle for godly goodwill. Instead, it’s a purely voluntary act, offered out of pure kindness and a sense of obligation to do good unto others.
That’s a beautiful thing and one that I had the great fortune of experiencing first-hand.
Modern Day Expectations of the Guest in Greek Hospitality
I didn’t feel like we had to do anything to repay our amazing Greek hosts. At no point did their hospitality seem tied to anything other than sheer niceness. It didn’t hinge on my girlfriend and I having to behave in a particular way, or repaying them somehow. We were made to feel entirely welcome and were invited to stay as long as we wanted.
We were unaware of any expectations on us! Frankly, I don’t think there was any…
But, having done a little bit of reading into it now, apparently there are couple of things that a ‘good guest’ in Greece should consider when the recipient of Greek hospitality. It’s pretty simple: don’t stay too long and offer a gift when you leave.
Thankfully my girlfriend and I managed to do both of these things! And to be honest, I think they seem reasonable asks of any guest and pretty standard practice for any polite, respectful human! For all we received in our few days in Athens, a bottle of wine offered as a gift at the end, plus a note expressing our gratitude, was the least we could do.
In summary, my experience of hitchhiking through Greece led me to discover the immense Greek hospitality. That chance encounter on a hot, tiring Grecian day led, ultimately, to a refreshing, inspiring reminder of the good that happens around the world.
We received an expert lesson in how to treat strangers: that respect, courtesy and generosity of spirit and resource should always be a go-to response when called upon for assistance. Looking backward, it is easy to see where this tradition of hospitality comes from Greek culture. Looking forward, I think we can all learn a thing or two from the Greek example about how to treat our friends and neighbors.
About the author: Danny Newman is a 26 year old who’s travelling the world and writing as he goes. He’s felt a little lost recently, and he wants to discover exactly what he’s doing, and where he’s headed in life, one adventure at a time. You can follow his journey over at whatsdannydoing.com.
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