My Big Fat Greek Wedding is a classic movie. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it. I learned several things from that movie. For one, I learned the proper salutation for the Greek Easter. Each year, I call my three Greek friends and yell, “Xristos Anesti!” (kree-stose ah-nest-tee) into the phone. They laugh and respond with “Alithos Anesti!” (al-ee-thos ah-nest-tee). My greeting to them means, “Christ has risen” and their response back means, “Truly, he has risen.” I always felt so cool when I did this. I felt cultured, ethnic, and thought it would be absolutely normal for me to have statues of Greek gods and goddesses on my front lawn, and to put flowers in a Bundt cake. (Those are references to the movie, I apologize if you haven’t seen it.) So when my best friend asked if I wanted to live with her and her family in Greece over the summer, you could say I was a little bit excited.
During the month of July I lived in Athens, Santorini, and a beach town in Southern Greece. A word of caution for travellers, there is a significant difference between going on vacation as a tourist and living in the culture with a family that resides there. However, my experience was far better than anything I could ever imagine. The lessons I learned there I will remember for a lifetime. They’ve made me a better person and I’d like to share them here with you:
1. Baklava, Gyros, and Mousakka, Oh My!: I love food, so much. In Greece, I ate home-grown tomatoes, squash, zucchini, peppers, oranges, grapes, clementines, watermelon, the list goes on and on! There was fresh bread from the bakery each morning, and ethnic home-cooked meals every evening using all local and natural ingredients; simply delicious. Europeans don’t have additives in food like Americans do. You will rarely find “diet” foods and many people don’t overdo it eating junk or fast food. They even rarely snack between breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Life is a slower pace over there. People take their time enjoying their meals, they waste little of it, and the food is more nutritious for them.
So lesson #1 is if you have a kitchen, try some different recipes with fresh ingredients! If you don’t have a kitchen, still try and appreciate your food more. Linger over it and enjoy the experience of eating (and cooking!).
2: Tell Your Friends and Family S’agapó (I love you): That meal you just cooked? Have family or friends over to enjoy it with you. Put your phones away and turn the television off. In Greece, we would start dinner at 9pm and sit for hours talking, sharing stories, and laughing. If it’s nice out, grab some plastic chairs and sit on your front porch when the sun is setting. It costs no money to sit and talk, but it is relaxing and fun. Some of my favorite memories of Greece are hearing stories and talking to people that I didn’t know who later became like family. The people you have in your life should be cherished. With good friends and family, happiness will come.
3. “We all different, but in the end, we all fruit.” – Show Respect: I was always taught to respect my family, relatives, teachers, employers, and priests all my life. While in Greece, I learned that respect is something that should be shown not only to people, but to a culture as well. Have respect for other religions, beliefs, values, foods, languages, music, and all the things that might be different from your own culture. I know it’s hard to understand life from a different viewpoint but what may seem strange to you might be completely normal to someone else, and vise versa. Show respect for the differences you see in people and you will be treated with the same respect.
4. “What you mean he don’t eat no meat? It’s okay, I cook lamb.” – Show Hospitality: A family opened their home to me for a month, no charge. They treated me as a part of their own family and showed me such care and compassion that I will forever be grateful for. Even at restaurants, cafes, museums, and on the street, people in Greece were so open and hospitable. That has taught me to just be kind. Try opening up and treating people with extra compassion. Take time and learn about new friends and even old friends. Talk to your family and treat them well. Open doors for strangers, let older people have the seat on the bus, buy your friend a coffee. Small acts really do mean a lot. Being hospitable is one of the greatest characteristics to have and also one of the most rewarding.
5. “Give me a word, any word, and I show you that the root of that word is Greek” – Never Stop Learning. Textbooks and lectures aren’t always fun, that’s a given. But learning can be, and you should do it as much as you possibly can. I am guilty of loving Greek mythology, but seeing the Parthenon with my own eyes and learning about the history of Greece was far more rewarding than any reading. I learned language, traditions, customs and more, just from being there for a month. The world is so much larger than you’ll ever realize. Truly experiencing life will teach you more (whether good or bad). Try to explore new languages, new traditions, and new foods. Go see art, visit churches, swim in oceans, hike mountains, and discover cities. Go somewhere, anywhere, and see what you learn. Be open to all the amazing possibilities out there and never shut something out because it is unfamiliar.
Mark Twain said it best, “Throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”