You know the feeling when you visit a country where 1. You don’t speak the language 2. You can’t read anything?
Yep, I know the feeling too.
When I visited Bulgaria many years ago, I knew two words only: good morning and thank you.
I also didn’t know how to read the Cyrillic alphabet and even though many letters look like the Greek alphabet (it is derived from the Greek script anyway) most of them don’t and, of course, the sounds are different.
I know, I know, you can go by with some English, it’s true.
But not everyone knows English.
Plus, it felt great to make the effort to communicate with the nice lady at the hostel each morning! Saying good morning and thank you in the language can definitely make a difference with people in the country you visit.
Sure, a travel phrases book is always helpful if you want to know a bit more. But getting some extra information from a native speaker makes your trip somehow easier and interesting, don’t you agree?
This is why I write this post today. To help you feel at ease in your first (or next) trip to Greece.
After all, it’s summertime. Greece is beautiful. The equation is simple: go to Greece! And grab these 10 words to practice before you go and once you’re there. Ready?
No special introductions for this word: Γεια (Yiá) [Hello and Bye].
How can you enter or leave a space without saying hello and bye? That’s right, it means both - you’re extra lucky here!
Γεια is usually said with σου (su) [you, singular and informal] or σας (sas) [you, plural and formal], if you want to address someone and sound more natural. So go ahead and greet someone in Greek: Γεια σου!
What was the second word I mentioned about my trip to Bulgaria? Ευχαριστώ (efharistó) [thank].
I’ve actually realized it’s a verb we use all the time.
Buying something at the grocery store, getting the information we need about a place we visit, getting the keys to the room or the car, getting tickets… literally everywhere!
Compared to English, we omit “you” so it’s more like “merci” or “gracias”, “grazie”, “Благодаря” (gotta be proud of learning a Bulgarian word!). Go on and say: Ευχαριστώ.
Παρακαλώ (parakaló) [please and you’re welcome]. Another bonus word for you.
Asking for something politely, can be said with παρακαλώ - usually at the end of the sentence. And when someone thanks you, you can reply with παρακαλώ. (Curious for an example with “please” ? Go to #8!)
ναι (né) [yes]. I agree, if “no” in your language starts with n, ναι in Greek sounds confusing. It reminds me of how I get confused with the word “north” in English (and with nord in French or norte in Spanish!): in Greek, the word and symbol for south starts with N, so I always, always have to think a bit.
What helps me is that I’ve taught myself to “think opposite”.
You can do the same for ναι! Practice the word with nodding down once since Greeks do this often.
Όχι (óhi) [no]. Here's the 5th word in Greek; I have good news for you.
You can start making short sentences: ναι/όχι, ευχαριστώ. Just a note about nodding όχι. Sometimes Greeks nod upwards, sometimes side to side. Other times nodding upwards can be done with clicking the tongue, usually in an informal conversation.
If you come from a neighbour country, I’m sure this sounds familiar!
Πόσο (póso) [how much]. You can use this word on its own, but the complete sentence is πόσο κάνει (póso káni) in singular.
NOTE: The currency is euro but you’ll find many Greeks still missing δραχμή (drachmé). In fact there’s even a monument outside the Town Hall in Athens. For real! Here it is:
This little word takes you a long way - literally!: Πού (pú) [where].
I remember travelling to Spain - before my Spanish learning era - and just speaking a few words. Saying the place I wanted to visit and the word for “where” was the one thing I needed to ask for directions.
Of course not knowing the directions was a bit of a problem! Gestures come to the rescue immensely here.
Νερό (neró) [water]. As our 10 word list is almost finished, I couldn’t have left water out! “Νερό, παρακαλώ” is a great way to ask politely.
Good to know: νερό in Greece is a must have on the table; in most of the cases you get it for free at any eatery or café. Simply say Νερό, παρακαλώ to refill!
Now I´m cheating a bit. You can´t really use this word on its own. But I´ll give you a couple of good and common examples. The word is: Τι (tí) [what].
So... do you remember κάνει (káni) from #6? Add and s to it and you have ti kánis (how are you? singular, informal. See more about formal and informal here). Or, add the last word below and you can ask anything you want to know!
Είναι (íne) [it is]. Combined with τι (tí) [what], you get "what is...?" and then add the word you want to know.
Are you in a taverna not really knowing what you eat (has happened to me in Finland ... fortunately it was actually good!)? Then ask τι είναι ... and add or point whatever you want to know.
Are you with Greek friends and hearing a word repeated over and over? Ask τι είναι plus what you hear and you 'll get your answer. Are you in a shop and wondering about an object? Again, ask: τι είναι...
So there you have it. Your list of 10 words. Go ahead and get them here.
Download and even print it to take it with you in your trip. (BONUS: I've added some phrases for you to use, since I'm feeling extra happy you're visiting my country!).