The word 'barbarian' derives from the Greek word barabaros, which means 'one who babbles in an unknown language'. People who spoke in languages that the ancient Greeks could not understand were considered 'babbelers'. Thus, according to ancient Greek standards, if you visit Greece and don’t speak a few words you are a barbarian! In order to make sure you can practice a bit before you come to Greece, and to ensure you avoid the babbler status, take a look at some of the most useful Greek words and phrases that will help you get by during your stay.
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Translation: Good morning/Good evening/Goodnight
Break Down: Kalo/i = good, mera=day, nihta=night
The Greek word "Kalimera" - credits: Greeking.me
Although these may seem like formal ways to greet someone, these are possibly some of the most commonly-used words in modern-day Greece. Greeks are a feisty lot but are also very polite, and are always quick to wish everyone and anyone well. You will hear this over and over again in many different forms (if you hear Kalo/i before a word you can be sure it is something positive!).
Translation: Please/ Thank you/ you’re welcome
The word parakalo is used in many ways in Greek - it is even used to answer a phone call or a knock at the door. Perhaps the most common way you can use it is by saying please and you’re welcome. If you are buying a coffee or cheese pie, add parakalo at the end of your request to be polite. When you get your coffee or cheese pie, say efharisto -one of the hardest words to get your tongue around- to say thank you and earn an extra smile from your server. We love it when travelers make an effort to speak our language! You can also say parakalo to say you’re welcome. So, if you hear someone say efharisto, you reply with parkalo!
Translation: Where is….
It's all Greek to me - credits: Greeking.me
Where is the Acropolis? Where is the nearest souvlaki shop? Perhaps you won’t have excelled enough in the Greek language to ask those crucial question in full, but how about just the first -and most important- part of the sentence? If you have a map or a picture of a souvlaki wrap in your pocket and are looking for your way around, grab the nearest bystander, point at where you want to go and say the magic words 'Pou Einai'?
Tha ithela ena freddo espresso/cappuccino parakalo!
Translation: I would like a cold espresso/cappuccino, please!
Greek coffee - credits: Tomas Mehes/Shutterstock.com
Is it close to 40 degrees Celsius in the middle of Greek summer and you are looking for something cold to drink to start your day? It’s a good thing you’re in Greece because this is perhaps the best place to get an iced coffee. Coffee is a very special and necessary part of the average Greek’s consumer habits, so you probably won’t go a block without finding a place that sells it. You can have iced espresso or iced cappuccino (with a bit of cinnamon on top) as you have never had it before. All you have to do is say: 'Tha ithela ena freddo espresso/cappuccino parakalo'.
Your server’s next question to you will be: Zahari? Which means 'sugar?' So, if you really want to up your game, see below how to order your coffee just how you like it.
Black (no sugar): Sketo
Sweet (2 sugars): Glyko
Very Sweet (2+sugars): Poly Glyko
Nai, Thelo/ Oxi, Den Thelo
Translation: 'Yes, I want / No, I don’t want'
Yes, I want a piece of baklava, will definitely be something you will want to say at some point during your trip to Greece. Nai may sound more like no to English speakers, so get your ear used to that sound meaning 'yes'! And If someone tries to push that baklava on you it is probably because you said 'no' instead of the Greek word oxi - another difficult word to pronounce.
If you want something, you have to ask for it! And if verbal communication fails you, don't worry, that's what body language is for! With a good mood and a bit of patience, you'll go far in Greece!