No doubt, most people don’t speak Greek and certainly aren’t going to learn it for a trip!
And with its massive tourism industry, most Greeks who work in the service sector are able to offer visitors at least broken English, and more often a sophisticated handle of the tongue.
That said, knowing a handful of key Greek phrases goes a LONG way to gain the respect of the lovely locals and ensure you receive the very best service.
Here are a few key phrases, written phonetically, to get you through your holiday, divided by category. The capitalized syllable is the accented one to emphasize.
“I don’t speak Greek!”
If you want to get out of learning any of the below phrases, learn this one phrase: I don’t speak Greek — then mee-LAH-oh eh-LEAN-eee-KUH.
Greece, especially in the villages, is a country of “good mornings” and “goodnights.” Like in rural France, it’s considered rude to enter a store or walk by someone on the street and not greet them. Depending on the time of day, what you should say changes.
Good morning: kah-lee-MER-uh — say this in the morning and into the early afternoon
Good afternoon: kah-LO messy-MER-eee — say this in the afternoon, siesta hour
Good evening: kah-lee-SPARE-uh — say this in the evening until the sun sets
Goodnight: kah-lee-NEEK-tuh — say this after the sun sets, or simply to say goodnight
Hello: YEAH-soo! — say this at any time if you forget the above greetings!
Please, you’re welcome: par-uh-kah-LO — you can’t go wrong saying this whenever you interact with someone
Thank you: eff-HAR-eee-STO — Greeks love when you say thank you in Greek
How are you? tea KAHN-ees? — you will be asked this often
I am good, thank you! EEE-may kah-LO, eff-HAR-eee-STO — that’s how you reply
Cheers! see-YEAR! — Greeks cheers to absolutely everything
How much does this cost? po-SO kah-KNEE? — to ask in the shops and when you need your bill at a taverna
I don’t understand: then kah-tah-lah-VEN-ees — people will usually switch to English at this point
Food and Drink
Bottle of water: anna boo-KAH-lee nair-OH – It’s dry here. You’ll need a lot of water and most islands don’t recommend drinking tap water.
Wine: kruh-SEE — Greeks mostly drink simple table wine with meals
Beer: anna BEER-uh — Try a FIX, Mythos or Alpha, a few popular domestic brews
Coffee: kah-FEY — If you don’t specify, you will be brought a small thimble of Greek coffee, similar in taste and texture to Turkish coffee. Greeks don’t take coffee in to-go cups, ever.
Frappe: frah-PAY — Drink frappe while you’re here, it’s what we drink and it’s delicious! It’s shaken cold coffee, served over ice. You can have it glee-KUH (sweet), met-RI-oh (medium) or skeh-TOE (bitter), with our without gah-LAH (milk)
Ice cream: pah-go-TOE — Because Greek ice cream is the best in the world
Snacks/small plates: meh-ZEHS — Think of mezes as Greek tapas. Like the Spanish, Greeks typically don’t drink without food, so restaurants and bars will bring a small snack with a drink order — nibbles such as feta and olives or peanuts. But mezes can also be something much more involved — a variety of small dishes and dips eaten with bread either before or in place of a big meal. A favourite way to eat lunch in a group is to order half a dozen mezes to share amongst the table, versus individual meals, adding as you go.