At the heart of the matter, I believe, is the concept of philoxenia, the obligation in the Greek culture to treat strangers as honoured guests. This obligation is so ancient that its origins are thought to lie in the belief that, you never know, these strangers that you’ve just met could well be gods. Zeus or Hermes, perhaps, disguised as ordinary human travellers. So ingrained is philoxenia in the Greek psyche that, to my mind, it has become who they are.
Travellers to Greece are often astonished by the spontaneous generosity they meet, I once read in a guide book, and astonished I’ve been. I’ve received endless offers of coffee or ouzo. Wine pitchers topped up with a wink. A lime once tucked into my hand by the grocer after I’d paid for my iced teas. A basket of Sifnos eggs to cook for my breakfast the next day. A home-made goat’s cheese. Sweet treats from taverna owners to end many meals – cakes, cookies, or yogurt with fruits… On occasion in more than one taverna, a meal that I’m not allowed to pay for … well, just because. That’s the other thing with Greeks. They express their love through their food.
Imagine, I often think and especially these days, a world that lives by philoxenia.
Greek Kindness, thesifnoschronicler on wordpress
Reading this, I remember again Mother’s story about her Greek friend when we were in Zambia. That time, the country was reeling from the tailend effects of the Rhodesian War. Food supplies got scarce, even in the capital (Lusaka). Families worried.
Luckily for us, Mother had a Greek lady (and her British hubby) friend she met from my school, also expats but had been in residence much longer than us, who owned one of the biggest grocery and bakery in town. She reassured Mother not to worry and said that if she needed anything, flour, sugar, eggs, anything at all Mother only had to call her. And that, Mother can relay the info to the other Filipino expats (about five families in all in the area).
So when, indeed, our supply ran out and so did local shops’, it was to her Greek friend that we relied for regular replenishment until such time a semblance of normality in the local market returned. Their supply chain apparently had not been affected by the civil war.
I was too young to have been aware of that event but I’ve since been filled with gratefulness. One doesn’t forget such kindness.