So you’ve booked a trip to Greece. On the to-do list: Dust off your camera to capture the awe-inspiring ruins and dazzling cliffside sunsets, find the perfect island-hopping outfits for stylish Instagram snaps in front of white-washed houses draped with bougainvillea, and prepare yourself to come back a few pounds heavier from all the feta and haloumi doused in olive oil that will surely be eaten at many a quaint taverna.
Lower on the list of priorities may be picking up a few Greek phrases to converse with locals while you’re there. Even though Greece is seeing record numbers of tourists, few people consider trying to learn Greek as part of their travels.
The culprit is likely the Greek alphabet. If you’re unfamiliar, think of the angular shapes used by college fraternities and sororities everywhere. Unlike the Latin alphabet of romance languages, Greek letters are indecipherable for English speakers, making the language more difficult to learn than Romance languages such as Spanish, Italian, and French.
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But don’t let that stop you from trying to pick up some Greek, especially before you leave for your trip. Michaela Kron of the popular language learning mobile app Duolingo, told Travel + Leisure of a survey they did of their users: “One interesting finding… was that many make the mistake of not learning a language ahead of an international trip, but in hindsight wish they had done it. We actually found that many of our users pick up Duolingo after a trip, likely because they are inspired by their travels to pick up a new language.”
While you’ll find that almost everyone speaks a basic level of English in the most popular tourist destinations, Greeks are a very friendly and social people, and will love if you can trade a bit of banter with them in their own language — even if they poke fun at you for trying. When they treat you to a free slice of halva cake or a shot of ouzo at the end of your meal, you’ll know you scored points for trying.
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So get ahead of the curve and try to learn some Greek before you go. We assure you that attempting (and even butchering) the most basic of phrases with locals will make the trip more memorable — and perhaps even lead to a lasting friendship.
Below, you’ll find phrases written first in Greek and the phonetic pronunciation following in parentheses, with emphasis placed on the syllables in capital letters. Use Google Translate to play an audio of how these phrases are pronounced.
Basic Greek Words and Phrases
Hello: Γειά σου (YAH-soo)
The less formal way to say “Hi” would just be “Γεια” (Yah). If addressing a group, say “YAH-sas”.
Nice to meet you: Χάρηκα πολύ (HA-ree-ka po-LEE)
How are you?: Tι κανείς (tee-KAH-nis)?
Good morning: Καλημέρα (kah-lee-MER-ah)
You would say this greeting up until noon, and then for the rest of the day you can use “Γεια” (yah) as the standard greeting.
Good afternoon/evening: Καλησπέρα (kah-lee-SPER-ah)
Beginning around late afternoon/dusk and into the evening, you can use this greeting.
Goodnight: Καληνύχτα (kah-lee-NEEKH-tah)
Say this when going to bed.
Thank you: Ευχαριστώ (eff-kha-ri-STOE)
Remember that a good tourist is a polite tourist.
Please / You’re welcome: Παρακαλώ (para-kah-LOE)
In Greek, the word for “please” and “you’re welcome” is the same, making it all the more easy to learn. It’s polite to say “para-kah-LOE” after asking for directions or the price of something. It can even be used to mean “I beg your pardon?” or “Huh?” when you’ve misunderstood or want someone to repeat something.
My name is... : Με λένε (may LEH-neh)...
What is your name? πως σε λένε? (pos-oh LEH-neh)
Goodbye: Γειά σου (YAH-soo)
The more informal way of saying bye would just be “Yah.” Recall that this is the same as saying hello (similar to “ciao” in Italian or “aloha” in Hawaiian). If addressing a group, say “YAH-sas.”
See/Talk to you later: Τα λέμε (tah-LEH-meh)
You may hear people ending their conversations with this phrase as well.
Yes: Ναί (neh) ; No: όχι (OH-hee)
Be careful not to confuse yes and no — it's easy to mistakenly associate "neh" with "no" in English, and "oh-hee" with "okay" when in fact it's just the opposite! An easy neumonic is to remember that they're actually the inverse of what you would initially think.
Excuse me / Sorry: Συγνώμη (See-GHNO-mee)
Say this to get someone's attention, ask to pass by someone, or apologize if you've bumped into someone.
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Useful Greek Phrases for Travelers
Where is the bathroom?: Πού είναι η τουαλέτα (Poh-EE-nay ee tua-LEH-tah)?
Helpful hint: "Poh-EE-nay" means "Where is?" so you can ask for help with locating something by saying this while pointing to a specific location in your guidebook or on a map.
Do you speak English? Μιλάτε αγγλικά (Mee-LAH-teh ag-li-KAH)?
Cheers!: Στην υγειά μας! (STIN-eh YAH-mas)
This literally means "To our health!" If addressing a group of people not including yourself, say "STIN-eh YAH-sas," which means "To your health!"
Bottoms up! Ασπρο πάτο (AHS-pro PAH-toh)
Meaning literally "white bottom," if you use this with a new Greek acquaintance, you'll be sure to impress.
How much is it?: Πόσο κάνει αυτό (POH-soh KAH-nee af-TOH)?
You can get by with asking "POH-soh KAH-nee" (How much?). Adding the "af-TOH" just means "How much is it?"
I don’t understand: Δεν καταλαβαίνω (Then Kah-tah-lah-VEH-noh)
Help! Βοήθεια (voh-EE-thee-yah)
I love Greece: Αγαπώ την Ελλάδα (Ah-gah-POH teen Eh-LAH-tha)
Oops!: Ωπα (OH-pa)
If there's one Greek word you may have heard before, it's likely opa. Originally meaning "oops" or "whoops," it's now also used frequently as an exclamation of enthusiasm or joy in celebrations or to show appreciation for music, dancing, food, and drinks. For example, when you've thoroughly impressed your waiter with your new Greek skills, and he offers you a round of ouzo shots on the house, you can say, "Opa!" in appreciation.