Café Culture In Greece
When we travel, there is always a degree of surprise and pleasure as we begin to discover how other people spend their past time, what practises are considered acceptable and what the routines of everyday life feel and look like.
It often starts the moment we arrive at a new country, the first impressions giving way to the first questions which we anxiously set upon friends and locals demanding to know what until then we had failed to consider.
One of such things that surprises and delights visitors when they arrive in Greece is the importance that is placed on coffee, cafes and the indispensable coffee break time.
And it is when you begin to pay attention to the presence of coffee houses and the plastic cups positioned at every car’s cup holder and every delivery man’s hands, often while driving, mostly while holding a cigarette in the other hand, that you notice the sheer number of coffee houses and the endless stream of invitations “to catch up over coffee” that people extend to each other in their everyday life.
And as you begin to notice the particles that make up the everyday life of most Greek people, you might turn to a friend and inquire about the number of coffee places that are present, whether or not that has always been the case, or wonder about how the economic crisis has affected the coffee drinking habit of a nation.
” We drink a lot of coffee ” most locals will answer” it is just how it is done in Greece” others will say.
Some will discuss how coffee drinking is a practice of relaxation and a pretext for people to come together and share the worries of the day. But maybe what you hear will come from the point of view of someone that believes it to be a waste of time, a sign of laziness and idleness in today’s world.
Even more likely, someone will comment about the youth of nowadays squandering their day in such puerile fashion when there are more important things to be done.
Look a bit closer. You might see the divide between the modern, trendy establishments that mushroom around the parks, the squares and the touristy areas, and those unfortunate looking, fusty little shops that have wooden tables and chairs that are torn and frayed and seem to be exclusively visited by people traversing the seventh or greater decade of their lives.
So, what then does it mean if old and young alike, albeit in different ways chose to spend a good portion of their day, sitting in tables of 3 or 4, under the shade of a nearby tree planted on top a grey sidewalk, while sipping tiny cups of coffee and indulging in a game of backgammon that seems to go round and round in a never-ending competitive match.
You might then come to the conclusion that a defining aspect of the lives of those that call Greece their home, whether long-time residents or visitors that have decided to stay, is to make time for the moments that are counted in friends, in laughter and in sharing a human connection.
Rudyard Kipling tells us, that “the first condition of understanding a foreign country is to smell it.”
So, while you are walking down the street, inhaling the sweet scent of oranges, oregano and basil, on a hot summer day, or maybe after you sample the crunchy tartness of the filo pastries, overflowing on bakery windows, then you can make your way towards a corner cafe, position yourself so that you look out towards the street, order a traditional Greek coffee, with sugar to taste, and spend a few hours experiencing the flow of life, the strengthening of the bonds between friends and acquaintances and the way the Greeks choose to invest on friendship, family, and community.