If the eye is the window to the soul, the language of a people is the door to a better understanding of their cultural beliefs and thought processes.
A look at some words and expressions we often hear in Greek will give us an insight into the Greek mindset and cultural values. For example, Ti na kanoume (What will/should we do?), Pios kseri (Who knows?), and Ksero ego (Do I know?) are heard often. They appear to illustrate a common belief that ‘the matter is out of our hands’. This is easy to understand when remembering Greece’s long history of occupation and government bureaucracy.
The expressions Prota o theos (God first/willing) and Makari, loosely translated as “May your wish come true” spoken with an upward glance to the sky, symbolise the belief in trusting the matter to God.
As health is an important factor of Greek life, the everyday greeting for hello and goodbye, Yia sou (sing.) or Yia sas (pl.), are short forms of Stin i yia sou/sas meaning “to your health” - this is also used as a drinking toast. Greek mothers and grandmothers frequently say Iyia na ehoume (may we have health) or when someone is sick, the Greek equivalent of ‘Get well soon” is Perastika (may it - the illness - pass).
The term parea (company/companion) is a crucial concept to the Greek psyche and infers that nothing is worth doing without the company of close friends. This sociable nature is sometimes difficult for a foreigner to get used to when the notion of privacy is not a shared one. Another important Greek concept is expressed in the word filotimos (love of honour), used to describe someone generous and possessing integrity.
Some frequently encountered exclamations are very colourful and phonetically charming - Egine hamos (All hell broke loose!); Haos (chaos); Krima (What a pity!) and Po po, an all-purpose exclamation. Another word heard in the workplace is Egine, literally, “it happened” and meaning “no sooner said than done”.
Reprinted with thanks to the AWOG (American Women’s Organization of Greece) publication ‘Living in Greece’.