The meaning of hospitality in Greece

The meaning of hospitality in Greece

A trip to Greece doubles as a lesson in hospitality (Image Source: Faye Couros)

By Faye Couros | @CourosFaye

My year 12 Classics teacher Mr Andrew was a charming man who managed to inspire a whole class of 17-year-olds to enjoy The Odyssey.

I was gripped, and I always remember the theme of xenia (the ancient Greek concept of hospitality) and its importance in The Odyssey.

Mr Andrew talked about how vital xenia was in Ancient Greece, and I was intrigued because I know all too well how important it is still.

Growing up, my parents would fight over the bill at restaurants and always pay for their guests, and visiting anyone Greek included eating way too much food.

This mid-semester break I was lucky enough to visit Greece and meet long lost members of my family. We were strangers, and the language barrier was tough, but from the moment we set foot in their city of Thessaloniki, they treated us like old friends.

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View from my Airbnb in Thessaloniki (Image Source: Faye Couros)

For Australian travellers, it is testing getting off that 20-something hour journey, and then trying to find transport to your accommodation is the bitter cherry on top.

However, when we landed and the exhausting dry heat whipped around us, I was overwhelmed with gratitude to find two uncles greeting us at the gate.

These two strange men, I happened to share a surname with, whisked away our bags and took us to a car large enough to accommodate three large suitcases.

I was humbled when they told us they rented the car and took time off work to drive us around (twice to places four hours away).

Greece is arid, sweltering, and a little rough around the edges, but it was evident through my uncle’s actions that the people are genuine and infectiously humbling.

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View of Thessaloniki from an ancient wall (Image Source: Faye Couros)

Of course, no matter how hard we tried to slap our debit cards onto the machine, or money on the table, we were never allowed to pay for food or any additional expenses in their company,

It is a dance of gratitude that ultimately makes you surrender to their hospitality.

No matter how rude it feels to let someone pay for your things, in a way, I always feel like more of an asshole if I reject the gesture.

Due to a lack of thorough research, I ended up in the west of Thessaloniki, an area the Airbnb host said was pretty good but “at night just be a bit careful”.

Feeling unsafe to walk outside alone when my dad and brother went to a monastery three hours away (and I could not do another long-haul drive due to the erratic nature of Greek drivers), I was put in touch with a girl called Aspa.

On an hours notice, she got on a bus during a ferocious heatwave in a city made out of pasty concrete to meet me at my accommodation.

We walked to the city’s coast and had an iced coffee, and it was a relief to get out of the area I was staying in and experience the city with a local.

I am still amazed that someone with no ties to me would so readily come to my rescue when I can’t be bothered to bus into the city most days.

We got along really well, and she made a point to buy me some souvenirs and as much as I tried to pay, my hand was flicked away.

I see the landscape of Greece a contradiction: the land is brutal and rocky, but the vibrant blue sea licking its edges softens it.

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A beach in Milos that is only reachable by boat (Image Source: Faye Couros)

There is the new mirrored by the old, taxi drivers who scam and strangers who buy you thoughtful gifts.

But to me, it is the people who make this country unique, and this spirit cannot be captured in a travel agent’s pamphlet.

Instead, it demands to be felt by weary and wide-eyed travellers.

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