The Meaning of the Greek Word 'Kefi' and the Tradition Behind It

Cityscape of Athens
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Kefi (also commonly spelled kephi) has been described by various Greeks as meaning the spirit of joy, passion, enthusiasm, high spirits, overpowering emotion, or frenzy. Kefi takes many forms and is usually, but not always, associated with the expression of positive emotion or fun.

The custom of smashing plates is considered an expression of kefi when the soul and body are so overwhelmed with an exuberance that you must find an outlet, and so is dancing with a glass of water balanced on the head.

Over the years, the citizens of Greece have adopted a number of different expressions and uses of this popular little word.

Whether they realize it or not, many tourists to Greece are looking for their own spirit of kefi, which may be found on a friendly beach or in a Greek taverna. If you're planning a trip to Greece this year, don't be afraid to get infected with "the spirit of Greece," the nearly indefinable concept of kefi during your stay.

Uses of Kefi in Greek Culture

In ancient times, the frenzied maenads (matrons) following Dionysus could be considered to be expressing a bloodier version of this concept of overwhelming passion and enthusiasm. In modern times, you might think of the iconic image of Zorba dancing on the beach in Crete in the film "Zorba the Greek," although that, too, carries an undertone of sorrow.

The fact is, some Greeks say that kefi is not just something you experience in times of happiness, but it is an energy you maintain even when things are tough.

It's dancing in the rain, so to speak. It's a culturally embedded idea to stay positive, and you'll likely hear it casually in conversation when friends are getting ready to go out dancing or just had a really great day at work.

While kefi can roughly be translated to "fun" or "joviality," many Greek people consider kefi to be a uniquely Greek characteristic, a magical element of being in Greece, enjoying the culture, and having fun like no one else in the world can.

Other Common Greek Words About Fun

While kefi is the essence of fun in Greece, there are many other popular words and phrases that Greek citizens use to talk about their favorite activities. Closely related to kefi, the word meraki is another untranslatable word that refers to enjoyment for what one does and the benefits that joy has on your work output. 

On the other hand, paratzatha is used to refer to people watching, which is another way many Greeks like to have fun when they're not out dancing or partying in their off-time. As a result, you'll find a lot of outdoor seating and open public spaces in popular Greek cities like Athens or Mykonos. You could also refer to people sitting at these establishments as "aragma," which is a Greek slang word meaning the same thing as "chilling" or "hanging out" does in America.

You'll also want to know some Greek greetings before you head out, and the most important of these is yia sou, which means "good health" and is used as an informal way to say "hello." Once you're ready to depart though, you can say a friendly "filia" which means "kisses" and is used as a way to say goodbye in Greece.