Tomatoes and Toilet Paper: What People Ask Google about Greece

Here we answer some of the most commonly asked questions about Greece according to Google Search's autocomplete function.


Why are Greek statues missing heads?

For the same reason they are often missing a leg or a hand: the neck is thin, and therefore a fragile part of the statue. The head has broken off at some point during the thousands of years it was buried, or forgotten at the bottom of the sea. If you look around an archaeological museum, you’ll also likely spot a few body-less heads.

Why are Greek tomatoes so good?

Like all fruit and veg, tomatoes taste best when they’re cut ripe, and in Greece, tomatoes grown locally, outside under the warm sun, are widely available from late May until October. Particularly where the tomatoes on the table are grown locally, they are typically picked much riper than the tomatoes which are found in large supermarket chains abroad – supermarkets prefer less ripe tomatoes because they are firmer and less likely to be damaged on their way to the shelves (at the expense of flavor).

In fact, there’s no one “Greek tomato”; various varieties of tomato (or chrysomila, meaning “golden apples”, as they were first known when they arrived in the country in the early 19th c.) become equally delicious when vine-ripened in strong sunshine until red and plump.

That said, if you get a chance, try the small and flavorful tomatoes that grow on Santorini, as well as the meaty, organic heirloom tomatoes available at markets all over the country. If buying tomatoes at a market, make sure to specify whether you want to use them in a salad or to cook with, as different kinds are considered optimal for different uses.

Can you flush toilet paper in Greece?

Don’t. Greek plumbing often consists of dated, narrow pipes which will easily clog if you flush toilet paper down them (and definitely clog if you flush anything else like tampons or baby wipes). Instead, the paper should be tossed in the bin next to the toilet (which shuts tightly so as not to smell and usually opens with a foot pedal, so you don’t need to touch anything).

What is “cheers” in Greek?

“Stin igiah mas”, usually shortened to “yiamas”. It means “to our health”.

You may also get a “yiasou” from someone who wants to single you out for toasting. This means “to your health” and is also what is said when someone sneezes.

Why are Greek guys so attractive?

The generalization that Greek men tend to be good-looking has two likely explanations. One is the use of the words “Greek god” or “Adonis” (the beautiful lover of the goddess Aphrodite) to describe a well-built and handsome man. These expressions refer to the gods and men of ancient Greece, and how they were portrayed in ancient art. And art, apparently, often imitated life.

Writing for the BBC, classical historian Bettany Hughes noted the following about Greek male beauty in art: “For years, classical Greek sculpture was believed to be a perfectionist fantasy – an impossible ideal, but we now think a number of the exquisite statues from the 5th to the 3rd centuries BC were in fact cast from life – a real person was covered with plaster, and the mould created was then used to make the sculpture. Those with leisure time could spend up to eight hours a day in the gym. An average Athenian or Spartan citizen would have been seriously ripped – thin-waisted, small-penised, oiled from his “glistening lovelocks” down to his ideally slim toes.”

This has little to do with many Greek guys today.

A second explanation is the stereotype of the “Greek lover” – the man who would shamelessly hit on tourists in the summer, playing the role of the seductive lothario. In the golden 60s and 70s, this character became famous for his unbuttoned shirts, hairy chest and jewelry. Today, well, not that much has changed, though he’s bought himself a razor and a gym membership. No matter what he actually looks like, the memory of him is likely tanned on the beach, holding your drink against the backdrop of a setting sun (through your rose-colored sunglasses).

Why is Greece so beautiful?

In two words: diversity and light. Even us Greeks can’t stop raving about how so much of the country features both beaches and mountains, dense forests and sweeping views – or get enough of the summer sun.

When is Greek Easter?

Orthodox Christian Easter is calculated using the Julian calendar (the calendar used when the Christian church was formed), which is why it usually falls on a different date than in the rest of the Easter-celebrating world which uses the Gregorian calendar. This year, Orthodox Easter Sunday falls on April 19th. We’ve created a handy calendar with all the Greek public holidays which you can find here.

Why are Greek houses white?

White paint such as the low-cost whitewash traditionally used on houses in Greece (most notably in the Cyclades) reflects sunlight. Thus walls and roofs painted white absorb less heat and keep homes cooler during the scorching summer months. Today the all-white look is also an aesthetic choice, especially at tourist destinations.

Why are Greek trees painted white?

There are three reasons! First of all, Greeks whitewash the trunks of trees for the same reason they do it to their homes: to protect them from the sun. Sun scald can cause bark to crack, making the trunks susceptible to boring insects and fungi.

Secondly, the whitewash used in Greece is traditionally made with ground limestone, which increases pH levels in the soil (i.e. makes it less acidic) – an added plus when it eventually makes its way into the ground with the winter rain (adding lime to soil is known as “liming”).

Finally, for aesthetic reasons! When the whitewash comes out in the spring, it goes on houses, walls, pavements and trees – basically, on anything that looks like it needs some freshening up.

What do Greeks call Greece?

Greeks call Greece “Ellada”. The origin of the name is uncertain, though some say it derives from the progenitor of the Greeks in ancient mythology, Ellin, or Hellen.

Another version of the name, “Ellas” (usually written Hellas in English, with the “H” remaining as a trace of the older, polytonic Greek orthography), is still used in formal situations, and is often the name seen on souvenirs and patriotic posters.

In fact the official name of the country is not “Greece” at all, but the “Hellenic Republic”.

What is Greek yogurt?

Greek yogurt, while seemingly so different, is just regular yogurt that has been strained to remove some of its liquid, thus resulting in a thicker, creamer texture, and more intense flavor.

Why is the New Testament in Greek?

Under the Roman Empire, Greek was the most common language in the eastern Mediterranean. Even many Jews spoke Greek at this time, which in all likelihood is the reason why the New Testament, which was created during this era (specifically, in ca. 50-110 AD.), was written in Greek, rather than in Hebrew or Aramaic. 

Is Greek tap water drinkable?

Not everywhere. In places like Athens and Thessaloniki, as well as many mountain villages with their own spring water supply, the tap water is absolutely fine to drink. However, many of the Greek islands have limited or no water supply of their own, and the quality of the tap water varies greatly.

On some islands, the quality is even different in different areas, as part of the island may have its own water, while another part relies on water shipped from the mainland (which is not suitable to drink after it has been sloshing around in a ship’s hold). In other words, always ask the locals/hotel staff. Bottled water is sold everywhere they sell food or drinks.

Does Greece celebrate Christmas?

Yes, with some minor differences. You can read about Greek Christmas celebrations here.

Why do Greeks smash plates?

This custom, which you’ll rarely come across today except at tavernas and events catering to tourists, is thought to have started as a funeral tradition in ancient Greece. Later, it became common at celebratory occasions, like weddings, where the broken crockery symbolized a new beginning for the bride and groom, or at friendly reunions, where plate-smashing would happen at the peak of the party, as a carefree result of drinking and being merry.

Today, plaster plates are used instead of the real thing, to avoid cuts and unexpectedly large bills at the end of the evening.

However, smashing plates is no longer common practice. Instead, at the “bouzoukia” (clubs with live bouzouki music) today, you’ll come across flower tossing – a similar custom slightly less wasteful and dangerous; guests purchase trays of flowers to throw at the singers, and at each other.

Why do Greek soldiers march funny?

We’re guessing that this question refers not to Greek soldiers in general, but to the Evzones, the ceremonial Presidential Guard which stands in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier – a memorial dedicated to the Greek soldiers who’ve been killed in war – below the parliament building in Syntagma Square.

You can see the Evzones’ particular slow, stylized walk, periodically stamping hard on the ground in their wooden “tsokara” shoes, during the changing of the guard, as they mostly otherwise stand perfectly still. Their movements both help the circulation and are symbolic.

Photographer Dimitra Hatziadam, who spent three years photographing the Evzones, told us: “The reason that the Evzones strike their feet powerfully on the ground, according to tradition, is in order for the dead heroes to hear that the Evzones are still there, standing guard over the memorial”).

Is Greece in the EU?

Yes. Greece became the 10th member of the EU (then the European Economic Community) when it joined in 1981. It adopted the euro in 2001, becoming one of the first wave of countries to begin using the new currency in 2002.

Why do Greek ladies wear black?

It’s their mourning dress. In Greece, after losing their husbands, widows would traditionally wear black for the rest of their lives (though very young widows would tend to change out of the black after a period of mourning).

Why do Greek surnames end in s?

Brace yourselves, because here comes some grammar: Greek male given names and last names almost always end like masculine nouns, in the masculine nominative singular: -os, -is, or -as.

The female versions of the same last names, however, have the genitive form, ending in -i, -a, or -ou, which might seem slightly outdated and anti-feminist since you could literally add the article “tou” before a woman’s last name, and it would translate to “belonging to (father’s/husband’s last name)”.

There are exceptions to this rule, especially among expat Greeks. The last name of yours truly, for example, is Kapsalis, though I often use Kapsali to avoid a long conversation about where I’m from.

How is Greek raki made?

Raki is a pomace brandy made by distillation that is very similar to the Italian grappa. We have a detailed article about it here.

Why does Greece have so many cats?

In many countries, state run and private animal shelters collect most of the stray cats (and dogs) that live in and around cities and villages. In the cases where those animals aren’t adopted, they’re often euthanised. In Greece, on the other hand, the attitude towards euthanising animals is generally very negative, and laws reflect that. According to Greek law (link in Greek), the responsibility for stray cats and dogs falls on the municipalities. Each municipality is obliged to have animal clinics and shelters, to collect stray animals, and see to that they are healthy, chipped, and spayed or neutered. If they are healthy but a home can’t be found for the animal, they are to be released (and regularly fed).

The stray cat and dog population numbers are supposed to be kept down through spaying and neutering, though unfortunately not all municipalities actually have or devote the necessary resources for the job. Most of the work tends to be executed by animal protection charity organisations, which in turn are funded by donations, which are rarely enough. As a result, you may see stray cats that are undernourished or with kittens. Some are even poisoned by people who believe this to be the right way to keep the cat population down (although this is strictly illegal, punishable by imprisonment).

Thankfully, there are also many stray and semi-stray cats that are cared for by kind humans who give them food and may also take them to the vet when needed. They live quite well outside in Greece, thanks to the mostly warm weather and good year-round hunting.

At tourist destinations, well-fed fur-babies are often spoiled by visitors, in exchange for not objecting to being photographed. Also, it’s worth noting that many cats do belong to someone. Almost all Greek cat-owners will let their cats roam free outside, often without collars because of the choking risk, as keeping cats locked indoors is considered cruel.

Does Greece have sharks?

The short answer is yes, but don’t be scared off yet! While plenty of shark species live in the Greek sea, the truth is that most of them are harmless living in deep waters, and have no interest in coming anywhere near, let alone threatening human bathers. As such, apart from getting caught in fishermen’s nets from time to time, sharks are very rarely spotted in Greece, and any tales you’ll hear of shark attacks are local legends.

What are Greek fries?

One of the best things ever. Made with real potatoes and good olive oil, thick and delicious.


Read More

PHILOXENIA

Why Are Greeks So Hospitable? An Anthropologist’s View

The hidden layers of meaning in Greek hospitality, seen through...


PHILOXENIA

Victoria Hislop on Greece and Philoxenia

The renowned English author of bestsellers including “The Island” and...


Aegean Islands

Samothraki, the Alternative Choice

Magical, wild and exquisitely beautiful, the northern Aegean island of...


Mainland

Karystos: A Year-Round Attraction

The fresh food, beautiful scenery and incredible natural light are...


Greece Is Blog Posts

Coronavirus Diary: Life in Athens in Times of (Another) Crisis, Day 24

BY Gigi Papoulias

Editor’s note: The following has been taken from...

read more >

Cheese Pies and Other Reasons for Hope in the Time of COVID-19

BY Pavlos Zafiropoulos

Of the varied mosaic that is Greek food,...

read more >

Quarantine Stories: My first Sunday in Confinement

BY Mariana Mégevand

These days, sitting on the balcony is as...

read more >