In Greek, hospitality translates as xenía (ξενία) or filoxenía (φιλοξενία), and you should experience it at least once in your life. Why? In the following, we will list a few reasons to inspire you to choose Greece as your next holiday destination.
But first, you should know that in ancient times, xenia was a law of offering protection and hospitality to strangers. It was important enough to have as its patron Zeus Xenios: “Zeus, the god who protects strangers.”
Back then, Greeks believed the gods roamed among them disguised as beggars. And, as the legend tells it, they did:
In the story of Baucis and Philemon, Baucis tells her husband, “You! Mighty Zeus, whose temple is the sky, has decreed that anyone who approaches our home in need of food and shelter ought to be welcomed.”
You will find similar accounts of gods’ habit of roaming among humans in disguise in Homer’s The Odyssey:
“Antinous, you did ill in striking that poor wretch of a tramp: it will be worse for you if he should turn out to be some god—and we know the gods go about disguised in all sorts of ways as people from foreign countries, and travel about the world to see who do amiss and who righteously.”
On Crete Island today, filoxenía may no longer be the law imposed by Zeus Xenios, but it is a way of life. The Cretan filoxenía is legendary, and you will discover it everywhere you go on Crete Island, you come as a stranger and leave a friend.
Filoxenía in Complimentary Treats
Filoxenía manifests itself in various forms, some less obvious than others. If you are a tourist, you will notice the little things or courtesies, for example, when you sit at a taverna, and they welcome you immediately with a glass of fresh water.
At the end of every meal, they serve sweets on the house, so, although on the menu, you do not have to order dessert. They also bring you a small carafe of raki (tsikoudia), a traditional spirit unique to the island, and although named like the one on mainland Greece and Turkey, it is not anise flavoured.
Raki is a symbol of hospitality, deeply rooted in Cretan traditions and culture. It welcomes strangers and builds friendships. It is omnipresent at every Cretan table and social gathering, regardless of the occasion.
Even when you arrive at a hotel, you will often find complimentary sweets, fruits, and drinks in your room to welcome you, although this detail may not be specified when you make your reservation.
Day to Day Filoxenía
Cretans sincerely appreciate politeness in conversations and will always greet you with “Geia sas” (Γειά σας!), meaning hello and used to say goodbye. Therefore, it is polite for you to repeat the greeting with a smile, and you will immediately win their goodwill.
From here on, efcharistó (ευχαριστώ) for thank you, and parakaló (παρακαλώ) for please and thank you, go a long way. For example, when you order something in a taverna, it is polite to add parakaló at the end of the sentence, and your server will appreciate it.
While these are common expressions for every situation, they are indicative of the locals’ fondness for geniality and good humour. Moreover, they also have a different phrase for wishing you well, depending on the occasion: for example, Kalo mina (Καλό Μήνα) is the good wish for the beginning of every month. Then, you will have wishes for birthdays, name days, get well soon, a new haircut, buying new clothes, a new house, weddings, baptisms, etc. Greeks have good wishes for everything. That is a cultural attribute indicative of their hospitality, too.
You will find yourself in endless conversations with a local when you ask for directions; for example, they are happy to share “insider’s tips,” recommending you off-the-beaten-path attractions, their favorite tavernas or beaches, and so on. If you want to experience Crete like a local, you need to be friendly and not shy to ask where to go and what to see or do.
Cretans love sharing and appreciate your willingness to learn more about their past, culture, heritage, and traditions. The more interest you show, the more they give and “embrace” you like family.
Cretans are compassionate, warm, down-to-earth, and ready to help you when you are in a jam, whether you are a stranger or a friend.
These are some motives why Greek and Cretan hospitality is unique, and you should try to experience it at least once in your lifetime.