Do you attend a Greek festival each year near where you live? Many cities and towns host them annually, usually sponsored by a local Greek Orthodox Church. The Greek culture is intriguing, and these annual festivals can provide a real taste of not only Greek food and pastries but also the music and dancing of the various regions in Greece.
Nothing can give you the full flavor of Greek culture however like actually spending time in Greece. One of the best ways to experience traditional Greek culture is to live on a Greek island for a while—especially one that is less well-known and therefore less commercialized. One such island is Symi, located in the group of islands called the Dodecanese, which includes infamous Rhodes, the Greek island that housed one of the Seven Wonders of the World—the Collosus of Rhodes—the statue of the Greek Titan Helios.
In contrast to the large island of Rhodes, Symi is home to only 2500 inhabitants. Because it has not been blemished by much tourism, Symi still retains its traditional island way of life. Symi does not have an airport, so it can only be reached by boat. The island is covered with oregano, sage and thyme. You can smell the distinct aroma of these herbs just about anywhere you go. No matter where you travel on the island, you’ll also encounter goats or hear the sound of nearby goat bells.
Symi has traditional Symian houses for rent, some of which were originally owned by wealthy sponge merchants. You can stay in these renovated traditional homes and live among the local people. Along with these long-ago-mansions, Symi also has small hotels and studios for rent. When you stay in any of these accommodations, you have the chance to live like a true islander and let go of the stress of your modern-day world.
A special destination is being created on the island at an organic farm located in Marathounta. There you’ll find apartments for rent that overlook the beach. Along with activities you’d expect to find on a Greek island—snorkeling, walking, and swimming—they offer Greek cooking classes and language classes, as well as organic farming. This could be the perfect destination to stay for an extended period and immerse yourself in both the Greek culture and language.
You might want to be sure your stay encompasses the summer months because during that time, the famous Symi Festival takes place. Music and drama groups from other nearby islands, as well as from other parts of Greece, come to perform at the festival.
Of course you aren’t going to learn about the culture just by going to your local Greek festival or reading about ancient Greece. Greeks are culturally different than Americans (of course), and it’s a good idea to prepare yourself. You likely know a handful of phrases that will help you order food, or get basic directions.
However, it’s also important to understand “how things work.” For example, in a restaurant, the server isn’t going to stop by your table to ask how everything is, unless you request something. It’s completely common and acceptable to order more than once, and to inquire about items that you might like to taste. It’s easy to feel slighted by what can easily appear to be lousy service and end up having a miserable time, not knowing what to eat, or when the check will come. Travellers, who do know to be more forward in their requests, usually find dining in Greece to be a wonderful experience.
Should you have the pleasure of being asked to dinner, resist the impulse to reach for the check. Hosts always pay for dinner in Greece– it would be embarrassing not to. It goes the other way too: If you invite a guest to dinner, he’s not going to split the check with you.
There are many more cultural nuances you’ll want to be aware of, including what is known as “Greek time,” a very casual relationship Greeks have with keeping schedules. So long as you understand these kinds of differences in advance, you’ll enjoy yourself much more.
If you decide to visit Symi for an extended period of time, it’s probably a good idea to rent out your home or apartment, or even pack it up altogether, if you live in a small apartment. One secret to making extended travel work is to limit your housing expenses back home.
To save on rent (and preserve your personal property if someone will stay in your place), you can store your home’s contents in a self-storage facility. That way, when you return, you can move your belongings back in and have everything as it was before you left, or stay rent free and find a new place to land!
You’ll also want to consider opening an online bank account, setting up automatic payments or paying off small bills completely, cancelling your current cell phone plan in favor of an international one (though you are unlikely to need it), and forwarding your mail to a trusted person who you authorize to open it and deal with possible issues that might arise. Using a web-based email (and even setting up a free blog) not only ensures that you can stay in touch as necessary, but it can also encourage you to document your adventures, which for many, provides encouragement to be more adventurous!
You should also know that Greece requires a residency permit for stays longer than six months. This permit includes a stipulation that you must stay in Greece at least the first six months after receiving it, before you can come and go at will, to other countries. By leaving Greece before the six month period, you will be kept out for 90 days, until you can return again! There are safeguards against such mistakes, but knowing about them ahead of time is the best way to make and keep the plans you intend to have.
After spending time on Symi, your friends and family will be anxiously awaiting the first gathering catered by you, including some of the wonderful Greek cuisine you learned to prepare. Be sure to play some bouzouki music and serve up Ouzo too. Stinygiasou—to your health!
Our guest author, Kenneth McCall, builds creative and innovative tools for customers seeking self storage units. Kenneth is the director of operations at storage.com which provides self storage Dallas listings, and storage units in many locations across the country. In his spare time he likes to get outside, ideally with a boat and waterskis.