In the game of ‘one-up-manship’, the Greeks seem to always win; and they don’t even know they are playing. Everywhere we went, we would encounter the next “nicest person ever.” We would consistently be surprised by delicious Greek dishes, potent drinks, or fascinating stories, all with no expectation for anything in return. In fact, the times we did try to leave money, we were scolded strongly. We were told very clearly that in Greece, we are their guests, and they will take care of us.
In Santorini, we met Costas, the owner of a very Greek restaurant called Nausam. Costas was a passionate proponent of his country, and yet felt a strong fascination with the US. We spent hours discussing politics, food, travel, history and more, all while a steady stream of fresh, local dishes poured onto our table.
After running our marathon in Athens, we headed back to a familiar restaurant in the bustling market below the Acropolis. We were starving and exhausted. Our server was a large, gregarious man with slicked back hair and gleaming eyes. At first, he was all business, but once he realized we were not typical tourists and were really looking to experience the real culture of Athens, his whole demeanor switched. He spoke fondly of his time in America, and about his recent financial troubles that led him to working 18 hour days. He brought us an unending supply of baked feta, pita, and Mythos, mixed in with Ouza, all on the house. He shooed away the peddlers who were trying to sell us flashlight canes and roses. Throughout our meal, he kept telling us how wonderful Greece is, and where we should go to see the “real” Athens. By the time we finished the meal, we were thoroughly satiated and excited to see the city. In the matter of an hour, our new friend has transformed our vision of Athens as foreign and crazy, to familiar and friendly.
Later that night, we met a friend of a friend of ours, who took us out to show us his city – the side we don’t see in the news. We bounced from bar to restaurant, feeling the pulse of Athens, and hanging out among the city’s young and hip.
Everything we experienced the Greek people indicated that they were hard-working, honest, and generous. They are truly optimistic and excited to share their culture, even in the face of 25% unemployment and other issues that the country is facing. They knew it might get worse, but they remain proud of who they were and where they came from.