Greek Hospitality Explained
- by XpatAthens
- Wednesday, 04 March 2020
Greeks are famous for their hospitality toward guests, visitors, family, and friends. They are renowned for being philoxenoi, as if it is written in their DNA. Anthropologist Sofia Zinovieff, first lived in Nafplio, Greece in the late 80s as a postgraduate student researching modern Greek identity and tourism. Her article gives in-depth insight into the hidden aspects of Greek hospitality.
No matter how graceful Greek hospitality is, anthropologists argue there's more to the phenomenon than free-floating kindness. In essence, it's part of a system. In many pre-industrial societies, you automatically give a stranger a meal or a bed for the night, knowing that someone will do the same for you or your loved ones. Some degree of reciprocity is implied, even if it is not implemented. These habits become deeply rooted.
Another very significant factor is the way hospitality contributes to social standing. Many of us may have witnessed Greek "big men" paying for everyone on an evening out or offering large feast in their homes to recognize the processes described above. The Harvard anthropologist Professor Michael Herzfeld believes that, on the island of Crete, hospitality creates a symbolic reversal of power relations. As Herzfeld writes, "At the level of collective representations… [hospitality] signifies the moral and conceptual subordination of guest to host."
After finishing her PhD, Sofia Zinovieff, returned to Greece with her Greek husband and 2 daughters. She writes, "In Athens, I soon saw that aspects of traditional hospitality and generosity have survived, even if circumstances have changed. The reality of millions of tourists visiting each year makes it harder to find the random acts of kindness encountered by earlier travelers. And while many Greeks have been inspiringly hospitable and openhearted towards refugees and migrants (whose mass arrivals coincided with the country's own recent economic crisis), we have also witnessed philoxenia's ugly opposite – xenophobia. Nevertheless, the tendency to maintain social ties and rules of hospitality within the city is still reminiscent of earlier times in more rural communities." "When you treat someone to a coffee or a meal or invite them into your home, you bind them to you in a fluid, open-ended debt that may never be repaid but that may help you in some way in the future. This is the village within the city."
However, the potential for self-interest does not diminish the positive impact of hospitality which creates a "virtuous circle". Hospitality remains hardwired in Greece, if fact you rarely come into someone's home without being offered a glass of water, sweets, and much more. Despite anthropologists' arguments, the potential compensations of hospitality are unlikely to be a concious motive of the giver or the receiver.