That is certainly true. But in most cases, Greeks will speak English more warmly -and sometimes, even more fluently- if you try greeting them in the Hellenic tongue. It can enhance your trip in many areas - and may save you money, time, and frustration along the way. You can also may find it useful to quickly learn the Greek alphabet
Here are a few helpful phrases to master, written phonetically. Accent the syllable in CAPITAL letters:
Kalimera - KaleeMEra - Good morning
Kalispera - KaleeSPERa - Good evening
Yasou - YahSU - Hello
Efcharisto - EfcareeSTO - Thank you
Parakalo - ParakaLOH - Please, also heard as "you're welcome"
Kathika - KAthika - I am lost. This one is particularly useful.
The problem with Yes and No:
In Greek, the word for "No" can sound like "Okay" - Oxi, pronounced OH-kee, as in "Okey-dokey". Others pronounce it "Oh-shee" or Oh-hee. Remember, if it sounds at all like "Okay" it means "No way!" And the word for "Yes", Neh, sounds like "No" - NEH! It may help to think it sounds like "Now", as in "Let's do it right now."
I wonder how many travel problems are the result of this misunderstanding? It happened to me with a hotel keeper I knew well, who still thought my "neh" was "No!" when she asked me in Greek if I wanted her to arrange a rental car for me.
While the phrases above are fun to use, I don't recommend trying to make travel arrangements in Greek unless you are truly comfortable in the language, or there is no other alternative available, which, for the casual tourist, almost never happens in Greece.
Otherwise, you may end up with a situation like this: "Yes, honey, the taxi driver just said it's okay, he'll drive us all the way to Mount Olympus from Athens!%But when I asked him to drive us over to the Acropolis, he said "Nah. Funny guy." Even if you know OHkee means "No" in Greek, and "Neh" means yes, your brain may still tell you the opposite.
Travel does do strange things to the mind; I once chose to go on foot to an appointment on Mykonos, thinking it was an easy walk away. Unfortunately, at that moment my brain inexplicably chose to convert kilometers to miles as if they were Chinese li, a much shorter unit of measure left swirling in my synapses from a journey to Asia. Oops. I arrived at my appointment much more tired and sweatier than I had intended, but fortunately, since this was laid-back Greece, I still arrived ahead of my host!
Here are some other resources to help you learn traveler's Greek:
Go through these fun lessons, or sign up for my daily e-course on learning the Greek alphabet. They are both quick, easy ways to help you learn to read and speak basic Greek.
Practice The Greek Alphabet with Greek Roadsigns
Already know the Greek alphabet? See how you do on these roadsigns. If you are driving yourself in Greece, this skill is essnetial. While most major roadsigns are repeated in English, the first ones you'll see will be in Greek. Knowing your letters can give you a few precious moments to make that necessary lane change safely.
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