I flew to Athens earlier this month, to meet a college friend who was on a business trip. She was speaking at a medical conference, and I came only for the sightseeing and the food. Her trip was a couple of days, constrained by work obligations on either side. I took the whole week, figuring if I was going to travel that far, I should make time to explore.
It wasn’t high season for tourism, yet everyone told us we had exceptional weather. So I think we lucked out – not too many crowds (though we heard many many languages other than Greek) yet shirtsleeve weather.
I spent most of the week in the Athens area, walking in the pedestrian areas near the Acropolis, visiting some of the more minor museums, saving the top of the Acropolis and the National Archaeological Museum for when my friend arrived later in the week.
The people I met in restaurants, stores, and on the street all had more than enough English to make my trip easy, and many positively beamed when I offered up the most basic conversational niceties in Greek, such as hello/goodbye (Yassas), good morning (Kalimera), or good evening (Kalispera).
And the welcome was almost infallibly gracious. For instance I saw a beautifully coiffed, expensively clothed businesswoman in Constitution Square stopped at the pedestrian streetlight help a pair of Asian tourists struggling with a map. She looked like she could have been going to the Parliament building across Syntagma Square to serve in some important government office, and there she was, helping a couple of disoriented tourists locate where they were on their map.
I experienced such a warm playful conversational spirit there – many of the really touristy street restaurants have barkers out front to engage passers by and invite them in, but honestly they seemed happy enough for a little repartee (“maybe later” was enough to disengage without rudeness on either side, and once “why not?” when parried with “I just ate!” made me and the barker laugh), so it wasn’t annoying but kind of fun.
I was humbled to hear all of the conversations in English by non-English speakers, German, Scandinavian, French tourists speaking in English to the Greeks in the restaurants and hotels, and the Greek staff responding in English.
Given that tourism is Greece’s #2 economic driver, after shipping, I expect that the spirit of welcome may be there year-round. Perhaps since I went in the off-season, I received more, as it was undiluted across a throng of other tourists.
I had a wonderful time and was in tears in the airport. I told the gate agent that I didn’t want to leave, and she looked at me sweetly and said I could always come back.