You've probably heard that in Europe, almost everyone in the tourist industry speaks at least a little English. That is certainly true for Greece and many other countries. But in most cases, Greeks will speak English more warmly—and sometimes, even more fluently—if you try greeting them in their native tongue first. Learning some Greek phrases can enhance your trip in many areas—and may save you some money, time, and frustration along the way. You can also find it useful to quickly learn the Greek alphabet. It's not too hard because the Latin alphabet gradually evolved to its current form from the Greek alphabet and most people have encountered a few Greek letters in a math or science class.
How to Pronounce Greek Phrases
These are a few basic phrases all travelers to Greece should master, written phonetically. Accent the syllable in CAPITAL letters:
- Kalimera (Ka-lee-ME-ra): Good morning
- Kalispera (Ka-lee-SPER-a): Good evening
- Yassou (Yah-SU): Hello
- Efcharisto (Ef-caree-STO): Thank you
- Parakalo (Par-aka-LOH): Please (also heard as "you're welcome")
- Kathika (KA-thi-ka): I am lost
To pad your vocabulary even more, you can also learn to count to ten in Greek, which comes in handy if you are given your hotel room number in Greek.
Yassou means hello; it is a very casual greeting and is more commonly used among friends. You'll likely hear the more formal version, yassas, during your travels. Most workers in the service industry will greet guests with yassas.
The Problem With Yes and No
Answering a question in Greece can be tougher than you think if you're a native English speaker. In Greek, the word for "No" can sound similar to "Okay"—Oxi, pronounced OH-kee (as in "okey-dokey"). You may also hear it pronounced it Oh-shee or Oh-hee. Remember, if it sounds at all like "okay" it means "no way!"
On the flip side, the word for "Yes"—Neh, sounds like "no." It may help to think it sounds like "now," as in "Let's do it right now."
While these Greek phrases are fun to use, it's not recommended to try to make travel arrangements in Greek unless you are truly comfortable in the language and good at pronunciation, 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 Oxi means "No" in Greek, and Neh means "Yes," your brain may still tell you the opposite.
More Language Resources
This valuable resource on learning the Greek alphabet in eight 3-minute lessons will help you get a grasp on traveler's Greek. Go through these fun lessons—they are quick, easy ways to help you learn to read and speak basic Greek. Being able to read Greek will be especially helpful when navigating as some street signs and business names aren't offered in English
Practice The Greek Alphabet with Greek Road Signs
If you already know the Greek alphabet, test your reading speed by looking at road signs. If you are driving by yourself in Greece, this skill is essential. While most major road signs 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.