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Entries from September 2007

A Tiny Greek Language Lesson

September 28th, 2007 · Comments

I am in no way qualified to offer a language lesson. My only qualification is I'm doing it for free. If you can figure out how to download the podcast to your iPod, have at it.

You can find lots of more comprehensive language lessons on the internet. The BBC has excellent traveler/beginner lessons for many languages, including Greek. However, I didn't find the Greek as useful as the Italian had been; it jumps immediately into complicated sentences and you must first learn the alphabet and pronunciation on your own. The sentences are too complicated to actually retain for longer than it takes to go through the unit and its quiz. Though I got 5/5 right on most of the quizzes, it didn't significantly increase my knowledge of Greek. It is fun nevertheless, with lots of pronunciation to listen to.

No means...yes?

Yes and no, very basic language building blocks, and easy, right? No. Or do I mean yes?

Yes is Nai.

No is Ohi, sometimes transliterated Okhi.

So yes is no, and no is OK.

I tried to get these to feel right in my mouth. I practiced saying "ohi" while frowning and shaking my head. I practiced saying "nai" while smiling and nodding. Eventually I got Ohi to feel right because at least it has the same vowel as no. I tried to get Nai to feel right by rhyming it with "yeah," but it really doesn't. It's just "Nay." I never did get used to Nai meaning yes. Hopefully you'll do better than me.


As in most languages, there are many, many ways to greet someone in Greek.

Allegedly, "Herrete" is the all-purpose greeting. The Pimsleur tapes were big on Herrete, and the other tapes I listened to also purported that this is the all-purpose greeting.

These people have never been to Greece.

I *never* heard it on the street, ever. And I traveled through a fair bit of the country so I don't think it's a regional thing. I tried it out a few times to gauge reactions and did not get an enthusiastic response. I mean, people knew what I was saying but they didn't say it back. If you say Kalimera to someone they will always say it back.

Another all-purpose greeting, one that is actually used, is "Yia sas." This is less formal than (the alleged) Herrete, like Hi as compared to Hello. It comes in two forms, "Yia sas" and "Yia sou." Like many languages, Greek has a formal and an informal "you." Yia sas is the formal (and the plural) you, Yia sou is the informal you. As someone coming from a language without a formal/informal you, I have never had a handle on when the informal is appropriate. It is my philosophy that you can't offend by being too respectful--think of how awesome it was when you were a kid to get a card addressed to Ms. Such and Such--so I just skipped Yia sou altogether.

Good morning is Kalimera, and it is liberally used. Say it with a smile to the people you pass on the street (within reason of course) and you'll get a smile and a greeting back.

Good afternoon is the dreaded Herrete. I just didn't say anything in the afternoons.

Good evening is Kalispera, though it is used less often than Kalimera. It's a nice way to greet the host of a restaurant before you ask if you can sit.

Good night is Kalinichta. I had occasion to use this only with hotel front desk personnel, but maybe you'll have a more amorous adventure than I. The Lonely Planet phrasebook's "romance" section will come in handy if you do.


Please and you're welcome are both "Parakalo."

Thank you is "Efharisto." I never got a good pronunciation on this one. It is sometimes transliterated "Efkaristo," and I couldn't work out whether the "k" was added to make it easier for the English speaker to pronounce, as "h" is not a hard consonant for us. I was understood either way I pronounced it.

Signomi means both "excuse me" and "I'm sorry."

Eating and Drinking

You can always order your food and drink in English with no trouble. If you want to get fancy you can order your Greek salad as a "horiatiki," your water as "nero," and your wine as "krasi." Ouzo, luckily, is the same in both languages.

At the end of the meal, ask for "To loghariazmo, parakalo." You can even get really fancy and say "Signomi, to loghariazmo, parakalo."

My specialized phrase, which I made sure to learn very well, was "Imei hortofagus," I am a vegetarian. it was understood by everyone I said it to.

Language Barriers

I didn't run into any language barriers, and if you don't stray too far off the beaten path neither will you. Nevertheless, you can tell someone you don't understand Greek, "Then katalaveino Ellenika," and ask if they speak English, "Milate Anglika;" In Greek, a question is signified by a semi-colon and officially the question mark doesn't exist. I saw it used everywhere, of course.

Smile and Nod

If you're at a loss, just smile. Smiling is universal, and universally appreciated.

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