Engaging with the local culture has been some of the most valuable parts of my trip so far! The waiters and waitresses have been so kind at all the restaurants we’ve eaten at, especially in Nafplio! Most of the waiters loved interacting with us and even gave us free desserts! I also enjoyed learning about the culture of Greece through shopping, exploring, and eating with locals! My ability to speak and understand the Greek language has also improved since being in Greece. Despite my minimal understanding of Greek, I was still able to communicate with the locals. I have learned that much communication can be done through language barriers.

The local stores and owners are all so cute! At one store, kind of a hole-in-the-wall place, the owner spoke to us through Google Translate. It has been so interesting to observe how the store workers react when we walk in. In Olympia, locals were talking to us, urging us to go to shops and restaurants on the strip we were walking down! In Athens, there were many little stands set up near the Agora and souvenir shops where the workers were talking to us, really trying to get us along with other foreigners especially, to buy little knick-knacks and jewelry. I have noticed that in the smaller towns, the locals were just happy to see us walking around, probably hoping that we will help support their businesses, many of which are family owned. One man who owned a local jewelry store came out to talk to us and told us that he met his wife when she came into his family’s store when she came through on a study abroad trip! I also became close friends with a sweet old man who owned a bookstore! He showed my friends and me some poetry, and then he opened up to us greatly and told us stories about his life. He ran the torch in the Olympics in the 1960s, and then his son did in the 2000s!

Some of the biggest culture shocks were the eating habits, bathrooms, and the normal speaking tone of the Greeks. Lunch and dinner are eaten much later in the day, around 2 and 8 respectively. Restaurant service workers do not check up on you as much as they do in America; if we needed something, we typically had to flag them down. In America, waiters usually give you the bill right when you finish eating, but in Greece, they wait long until you’re done eating and even then, you have to flag them down. In the bathrooms in Greece, you can’t flush your toilet paper; some bathrooms didn’t even have toilet seats. Everyone in Greece speaks and laughs much quieter than people regularly do in America. We often got looks from people as we walked down the road or were sitting in restaurants for being too loud.

Nonverbal communication is fairly universal. I was able to communicate with locals by pointing, waving, and smiling. These actions are sometimes better understood than words. A man I met during my time in Greece opened up to me though just meeting me, and I was able to learn a lot about his personal life despite him knowing minimal English. We also met a storeowner who told us he met his wife while she was in Greece and came into the store we were at. So many of the waiters, waitresses, museum workers, and storeowners were so kind and welcoming.

Throughout the past few weeks, I have gained a great understanding of acceptance, compassion, and openness. I have learned how to not stand out as much as a typical tourist by assimilating into the norms of Greek and European culture! My eyes were greatly opened to how similar people are across cultures.