"Don't worry," travel agents will say reassuringly. "In Greece, almost everyone in the tourist industry speaks a little English."
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 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 (Ka-lee-ME-ra) - Good morning
Kalispera (Ka-lee-SPER-a) - Good evening
Yasou (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.
Want 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 room number in Greek.
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!"
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 the phrases above are fun to use, it's not recommended to try 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.
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.
Practice The Greek Alphabet with Greek Roadsigns
Already know the Greek alphabet? See how you do on these Greek road signs. If you are driving 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.