Greece cultural insights
The following cultural insights are intended to provide snapshots of the overall social and cultural norms as well as the workplace environment that a Canadian might face working in a specific country. The content in no way reflects official policy or opinions of the Government of Canada, Global Affairs Canada or the Centre for Intercultural Learning.
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Local and Canadian perspectives for the following subjects:
- Communication styles
- Display of emotion
- Dress, punctuality & formality
- Preferred managerial qualities
- Hierarchy and decision-making
- Religion, class, ethnicity, & gender
- Privileges and favouritism
- Conflicts in the workplace
- Motivating local colleagues
- Recommended books, films & foods
- In-country activities
- National heroes
- Shared historical events with Canada
- About the cultural interpreters
- Related information
If you are meeting someone for the first time, good discussion topics are his/her job and family. Consider the place you are meeting at and what kind of other conversation can be fostered by the environment (if you meet in a gallery, you can talk about art etc). Let them talk first and get the information you need in order to understand their perspective in life. Discussion on personal relationships should be avoided; your curiosity may offend people. Greeks love to laugh and a good joke is a good way to break the ice.
Good topics of conversation include a brief description of your family, and an overview of your background. It is important to clearly define yourself as a Canadian, as Greeks tend to clump together in their mind a concept of North America as “America”. Greek attitudes towards Canada and the U.S are mainly friendly, although many Greeks disagree with some U.S foreign policy. Greeks are very politically polarized and have strong views. The country is practically equally divided between the Right Wing New Democracy Party, and the more Left Wing PASOK Party. It is advisable to use caution when talking about political issues; it is best to avoid talking about issues regarding other Balkan countries (the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and Albania) and Turkey. Greeks are generally warm and receiving people, however they do not smile and laugh very often during conversations. Early on when first meeting someone, in Canada it would be natural to joke, add smiles and some chuckles to lighten the mood. This would be perceived a little odd in Greece, as people are initially firmer. However as they become more familiar with someone, Greeks are very easy to get along with and very laid-back in general.
Greeks are people that hug and kiss and stay close together. I do not think that there is an acceptable distance that separates two people when talking to each other; you have to set your own distance between you and the other person. Touching is also acceptable in a conversation. Eye contact is important in the Greek culture. An old saying says that “the eyes mirror our soul” and in that way, they have power. Make eye contact; it is a sign of personal empowerment, but also a sign of seeking communication contact with other people. As long as the tone of the voice has a “friendly” colour, there are no instructions for how to tone your voice and how direct your speech can be. Expressing one's emotions and feelings in your gestures and behaviours are an acceptable thing in Greece.
When it comes to touching someone, Greeks are much more active than Canadians. Firm handshakes are frequent between co-workers, and a lot of times patting of the shoulder or back is also frequent even among people who are relatively unfamiliar with each other. As a formal gesture (for example when greeting co-workers at a function outside the work environment), males and females will greet each other with a kiss on both cheeks. Females and females may also do this, but males and males usually just shake hands.
In general, physical contact is probably more important than eye contact in establishing a rapport. When it comes to hand gestures, it is best to avoid an open palm directed at someone's face, as this is an insult. Having your back turned to someone is also not a good gesture. It's important to note that winking at someone is probably used more often in Greece and is often a simply friendly gesture.
Display of emotion
Affection and anger belong to the Greek public domain, but situations of anger are not very common. Walking in Athens, for example, you will see couples kissing, walking together hand in hand. Going to a work meeting with Greeks means that disagreements may arise and it may be vivid, but not violent.
Displays of public affection are more prominent in Greece and it is common, for example, to see a couple kissing on a park bench.. Greeks are very “European” in their feelings towards sexuality, and are quite liberal about it. In general, Greeks will show their emotions; they will not hide them. Greeks are very assertive people and will speak out if they feel they are being mistreated. It is common to see people arguing fiercely over parking spots, for example. Even close friends having a political conversation in a café can get quite vocal with each other. Often times, raising ones voice is common and should not be taken too seriously, as violence rarely erupts.
Larger displays of Greek assertiveness would be the numerous political rallies and labour union strikes which take place in the country. They are for the most part loud and peaceful but some political rallies especially can be violent.
Dress, punctuality & formality
In Greece, employers value an individual for his/her good appearance. Dress code is very important to them. Employees should be fashionable, yet formally dressed. Self-presentation is important in order to gain your employers attention and the attention of the customers of the company you are working for. Do not forget that you represent the company of your employer. First impressions are always valued in a Greek cultural environment.
In the workplace you need to look relaxed and slowly open up to your colleagues. It is a process. Greeks are famous for their openness and relaxed attitude, but in an antagonistic environment, you have to contemplate about how to approach them so that they can be your friends. In a strict working environment, there are titles for everyone. You should address your superiors as Sir, Madam etc. Usually, you will find that after some time into a conversation they will ask you to address them with their names.
In a Greek business/company, if you want to prove yourself, do not forget deadlines and be punctual even though others are not. Yes, sometimes, daily work is relaxed in terms of your responsibilities, but do not forget that you have to prove you are productive and that you care about your job.
You can call in sick but if you can give a little warning, that would be perfect. You can be absent for a reason (kids are taking their transcripts at school and you have to go), but discuss that with your employer. If you are sick and you come to work, your employer will likely have you take the day off.
In the office environment, men generally wear suits and ties of various colours, and women wear a variety of business suits and other outfits. In general, Greeks pay close attention to their appearance and follow fashion trends closely. It is perfectly acceptable for women to wear somewhat revealing clothing.
The most appropriate way of addressing a stranger would be Mr. followed by the family name (eponymo). This would be the common way to always address a person of authority, and for younger people to address older people. Often times, familiar seniors will be addressed as Mr/Mrs + their first names (onoma). Sometimes males will introduce themselves by simply saying their last name followed by a handshake to another male who will reciprocate. They will then continue in conversation. Generally, colleagues use first names to address each other on a daily basis.
Greeks, as mentioned before, are very assertive and very vocal people. Many times they would rather resolve conflict by voicing their concerns to each other clearly, and then coming to a resolution. Thus secrecy and keeping within oneself is discouraged. Even if someone's views are opposed to someone else's, the courage to bring issues to the forefront is admired.
In official meetings and interviews, Greeks are generally on time. However, in more informal meetings or events, Greeks may often show up several minutes late, and it is not taken very seriously.
Preferred managerial qualities
Education is one thing that Greeks value in a manager or a local superior, but they also value fairness in the work environment. Dialogue, between the manager and his/her employees, is just as important as the position itself. Employees look up to someone who does his/her job efficiently as a leader, but also is open to new ideas. Discussion is a big part of the job. Problems that may face some non-locals can be discussed over a cup of coffee or a team meeting. It is important to be democratic in the work environment and create trust bonds equally with everyone in your team.
Give your employees the ability to come and talk to you about problems and allow space for humor. But do not overdo it. You do not want to lose your professionalism. Moreover, do not forget that Greeks cannot stand punishment. In order to put things back on track, if a problem arises, you have to appeal to their sense of honour, because they are conscientious people and if you convince them of your trust in them, they will never let you down. You will soon get signs of admiration from your staff, but this can be taken away anytime. The channels of communication will help everyone discuss and initiate a bonding between the employers and the employees.
While education and a hard working demeanour are important, being able to lead and to persuade people using speech is perhaps more important than anything else. Innovation is encouraged as well. It is difficult to know how the staff would view a manager, but as said before, in most cases Greeks will let you know how they feel about you verbally, or with other body language.
Hierarchy and decision-making
In the work environment decisions are usually taken by the managers or supervisors. That does not mean that new ideas and recommendations are not taken into consideration. Usually, one is allowed a certain power in decision-making in his/her branch of responsibilities. Whatever you do, do not take the risk of doing something without having taken feedback from your supervisor. It is important to have your questions answered and work collectively to reach the goal you have set.
Decisions are usually made by the main operating officer, or manager, after consulting with other people of authority. In general, the hierarchy in the company may not be as clearly defined and it wouldn't be very difficult for an employee to contact a person in upper management directly.
Religion, class, ethnicity, & gender
Generally, women have to work harder in order to prove themselves in the work environment. This reflects the tradition that women stayed at home most of the time taking care of the household and the children. Even though times have changed, Greek women are put sometimes in a difficult position in their workplace. Non-local women may face the same difficulties in the work environment.
Religion is vital to Greek culture, but not significant in terms of relationships in everyday life. It is vital when it comes to tradition and personal faith, but not in the workplace. I do not believe that Greeks will hold one’s personal beliefs against a colleague. They are more concerned about personal characteristics.
It is very common that a Greek can call a Canadian American. (Please specify that you are a Canadian). Greece is in the process of becoming a multicultural country. Many immigrants live and work in Greece, but people are not extremely tolerant with the situation because of political and historical reasons. You may hear racist remarks addressed to minority groups, but it is coming from a nation that was homogenous for centuries.
For the majority of people money is important for their survival going through with their expenses for the month, but as everywhere the big dream is pervasive; that of the winning of money in 6/49 thing that signifies that class is important for the Greek. There is antagonism in the workplace in terms of salary, but usually one is paid whatever he/she is worth (as valued by the company). But again there are incidents where women are underpaid in comparison to men.
Men and women are equals. There remains the traditional notion that women should stay at home, but especially in urban, Greece women are choosing to pursue careers and then family.
The vast majority (around 98%) of the population are Greek Orthodox Christians. People believe strongly in their faith, and there are Christian churches on almost every street. Because of this, there exist some tensions between other minority religious groups, especially with Muslims from neighbouring Albania. Religion affects the workplace mainly because many Orthodox religious holidays are observed throughout the year by all employees (Easter, Christmas, other feast days).
There is no “class system” in Greece. People in urban Greece (Athens, Salonika, Patras) are generally working or middle class, and there are also people on both spectrums, either very rich or very poor. Greeks in general are well off compared to recent immigrants arriving there who are often employed in low wage jobs in agricultural or industrial sectors.
Most people consider themselves Greek, or Hellenic. That means they speak the modern Greek language and are Greek Orthodox Christians. Other minority groups include Albanians and smaller groups of people from Eastern Europe and the Middle East. At times, immigrants may be treated with less respect, mainly through getting paid less for doing the same job as a Greek.
It is important to establish a personal relationship with your colleague before getting to business. This will help you understand his/her motivations and expectations from his/her job or a project that you’re working on together. The best ice breaker is going out for lunch, dinner, or a cup of coffee. Outside the workplace, one is more relaxed and will open up about personal ideas, life and work. The same technique can be used with a client. Give him/her the pleasure to talk to you about himself or herself and humanize the business deal. Again, there is no need for overdoing this, because it may turn your business plans upside down.
In most cases a personal relationship is important. For example, before a large business deal is struck. Trust can be established by two individuals through good conversations with some touching (patting on the shoulder), and through smaller kind gestures. Often times an exchange of gifts between two individuals can go a long way in establishing a friendship (for example two men exchanging fine bottles of liquor).
Privileges and favouritism
Some colleagues or employees will expect special privileges or considerations given the personal relationship or friendship you have established. You may be asked to hire his/her friends or family (that is the most common). You need to establish the difference between friendship and work in order to keep your professionalism with your colleague-friend. If someone is in need, it seems reasonable for the employee to help her/his family or friend in gratitude for their services. Be careful; in a workplace you need to establish the same criteria for every employee. The privilege of being helped out should be a privilege for all.
An employee would not expect any explicit special privileges. However, if a friendship exists between an employee and his/her boss, it is more likely that they will get a better pay raise. Even though the concept of hiring friends and family is widespread in Greece, it is important to note that preferential hiring of familiar persons happens when the person in question meets the job requirements (education, work experience).
Conflicts in the workplace
When experiencing a problem with a colleague, it is wise to meet them privately at first over a cup of coffee or lunch. In that relaxed environment you can explain yourself more clearly. If the problem concerns your group on a work assignment and if you have not found a solution between the two of you, it is wise to put the problem on the table in front of your supervisor or manager. It is not difficult to see if someone has problems with you or he/she is offended by your behaviour. Greeks express their feelings in a clear way. If they do not, be sure that the information will get to you. Make sure that the misunderstanding is cleared up with dialogue and understanding.
A direct approach is the best approach to take. Telling others or hiding things from someone will not do any good. It is best to let your feelings be known, and for you to resolve your conflict vocally.
Motivating local colleagues
Money is a major motivation for Greeks to perform well on the job, but not the only one. Fear of failure is important for Greeks that want to exceed in the workplace. It is important that the working conditions should foster creativity and inspire one to work: equality in the office environment, dialogue, bonding between colleagues and managers, partnership and all these accompanied with a very strong sense of safety.
All of the above mentioned points would motivate people to do well in their job. Job security is probably the most important, along with providing for one's family. Fear of failure isn't really an issue, as most Greeks take pride in their work.
Recommended books, films & foods
To learn about Greek culture, you have to go experience it in Greece, create your own perception of the culture, culture is something living.
Watching Greek news broadcasts can be informative. If a Greek neighbourhood exists in your city, spending some time there would expose you to most aspects of Greek culture. Eating souvlaki, moussaka, or roast lamb at a Greek restaurant would expose you to some of the tastes of Greece. Listening to some music from Giorgos Dalaras provides someone with the sounds of present Greece, with influence from the past. Also, for a satirical and funny outlook on the Greek office environment, and Greek social life in general, I recommend Stathis Psaltis movies.
Good websites to visit
- www.ert.gr – news, radio links
- www.phantis.com – news, links to other greek sites
- www.culture.gr – info on sites of cultural significance
The best way to learn about the culture is to meet people, make friends and go out. Travel to other places away from the city, to learn about traditions and history. Radio, newspapers and television are also messengers of culture. Theatre is also important, such as going to a concert; this can show you what Greek spirit is. If you had any experience of Greek culture in a Greek community in Canada that does not mean that you know Greece. The Greek communities in Canada attempt to preserve Greek history; Greece is however, a living country.
Reading newspapers and watching television are probably the best ways of learning about culture. Having a coffee in a café facing a main city square can provide you with time to simply observe what people are doing. Attending some soccer or basketball matches can also be very entertaining, as Greeks take their sports very seriously. There are also many public places where people congregate to play chess and backgammon, which are good places to start up a discussion.
Greeks have first of all heroes from antiquity such as Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and many other philosophers. Greeks are proud of their history and they create heroes from people they hold in high regard. More recent Greek national heroes are historical figures that fought for Greece's independence and freedom from the Ottoman Empire in 1821. Their memory is celebrated every March 25th. Greeks also commemorate the soldiers that fought against the Italian fascists when they attempted to occupy the country in 1940. This is commemorated every October 28th. Everyday heroes, though, for the new generation are created through the media and television.
- Theodoros Kolokotronis, Giorgos Karaiskakis – Greek revolutionaries that fought for Greece's freedom from the Ottoman Turks in 1821.
- Dionysios Solomos – Great author and poet, wrote the national anthem.
- Odysseas Elitis, Yiannis Ritsos – Both great literary figures and Nobel Prize winners.
- Alexander the Great, Pericles– Just two of the many historical figures of Ancient Greece.
Shared historical events with Canada
There are no shared historical events between the host country and Canada that could affect work or social relations. Greece and Canada have a strong bond created by Greek immigrants that moved to Canada for a better future, but never stopped to love Greece.
Canada and Greece fought on the same side in both world wars, and generally hold similar, fairly moderate political views on the global scale. Due to geographic distance, there isn't much interaction between the two countries. However, due to the large Greek communities in Canada's cities (100,000 in Toronto), the decisions that the federal government of Canada makes that affect Greece can affect many Greek-Canadians directly and indirectly.
Some Greeks think that Canadians may have the same political agenda as Americans, and they sometimes do not differentiate between U.S. and Canada (politically, socially, and geographically). This is a stereotype which can be a potential problem in a time of political crisis in Greece. Generally, though, Canadians are greatly valued in Greek society.
It is possible that some people may think that Greece is mainly rural, agricultural and pastoral. This is true for some remote regions, but the majority of the population lives in large cities. Personality wise, Greeks are more similar to Italians and other southern Europeans than Northern Europeans.
About the cultural interpreters
Your cultural interpreter was born in Greece the older of two children. She was raised in Athens until the age of 18. She moved to Canada to complete her university studies. She is graduating this April with an Honors BA from York University. Your cultural interpreter immigrated to Canada to live, work and study in Toronto. She is currently living in Toronto working for OMNI TV.
Your cultural interpreter was born and raised in Toronto, the youngest of 2 children. He studied Life Sciences at the University of Toronto. His studies sent him abroad for the first time in Greece where he lived for 4 years in Athens. He is currently living in Canada, in Toronto and has no children.
Intercultural Issues are intended to provide snapshots of the overall social and cultural norms as well as the workplace environment that a Canadian might face working in a specific country. For each country, two perspectives are provided: one by a Canadian and the other by a person born in the selected country. By comparing the "local point of view" with the "Canadian point of view", you will begin to form a picture of that country's culture. We encourage you to continue your research using a variety of other sources and to use Triangulation as an evaluation process. Although cultural informants were asked to draw on as broad a base of experience as possible in formulating their answers, these should be understood as one perspective that reflects the particular context and life experiences of that person; they are not intended to be a comment on any particular group or society.
You may disagree with or object to the content of some responses. This is to be expected given the complexity of the subject and the problems associated with speaking generally about an entire country and its people. We would encourage you to share your experiences; your contributions will help to make Country Insights a richer environment for learning.
The content of Country Insights in no way reflects official policy or opinions of the Government of Canada, Global Affairs Canada or the Centre for Intercultural Learning.
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