Saturday, 13 January 2018

A Box or a Bottle

When we first moved here, as I've written about extensively in the first three or four books, we had to adjust to a raft of weird and wonderful ways in which Greek social etiquette differs from that in the UK. After well over twelve years on Rhodes, we're still discovering ways in which the Greeks do things very differently from how we did them back home.

Just a week or so ago, we were invited to a get-together of probably three or four families, along with a few other assorted friends, making a group of probably thirty or so in our friends' lounge for a very enjoyable meal and παρέα. Back in the UK it was a no-brainer, we'd have taken a bottle of wine or two, maybe a box of chocolates perhaps, job done. 

Here though, you need to turn up bearing one of these...

The cake-box from the zaherplasteion (this photo courtesy of

Of course, they come in thousands of different designs, but the basic structure is the same, as indeed are the contents -  sweet, sticky Greek pastries and cakes, which they call 'glika' [lit: 'sweets'], and you won't need me to tell you, if you know Greece, that the 'zaheroplasteia' are everywhere. A 'zaheroplasteio' is what the French might call a 'patisserie', a cake and pastry shop, and if you have a sweet tooth you'll be in trouble. More often than not they come with a coffee shop as part and parcel of the business and it's no accident that they can be found often in quite remote villages.

When Greeks turn up to a social occasion they're much more likely to arrive bearing one of those boxes, often wrapped with a nice silky ribbon too, than they are to bring a bottle of wine. It can also make your eyes water to follow this custom because, whereas you can pick up a fairly decent bottle of wine for five or six Euros, to fill a box like the one above at the pastry shop will more than likely set you back fifteen to twenty!! You go into the store and you're faced with a counter that looks something like this...

This shot courtesy of

You may find that you can get maybe nine regular-sized 'glika' into your box and they can cost anything from a couple of Euro to four each. Frankly, between you, me and the gatepost, I don't have a very sweet tooth and this can present one with quite a challenge. Once the meal is out of the way, if indeed the evening involves one (which it usually does), then the women will parade into the room with the cake boxes, a flurry of paper tissues, probably some little glass side-plates and those tiny three-pronged forks that never seem to me to be big enough for anyone with a regular-sized mouth.

They'll do the rounds of everyone present and you're kind of expected to select and take one of the 'glika' to eat, even though simply looking at them can add a couple of stones to your weight, a few inches to your waistline and get you diagnosed in pretty short order with type 2 diabetes. Try throwing you hands up and protesting that you'd 'love to, but you're really rather full', and they'll be mortally offended. People who eat such stuff can never get their heads around the fact that some of us don't actually want to eat these things, at least not with the frequency that most people here seem to.

We very often elicit the comment, "What are you worried about? Look at you! You don't need to watch your weight!" 

Often this will be uttered by someone who's much larger than they ought to be, primarily because they do eat such stuff too often, and someone who can't quite see the fact that the reason why we are still the right shape and size is precisely because we don't eat such stuff as a habit. If we did, then we most certainly would have to watch our weight, not to mention make much more frequent visits to the dentist.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not averse to the occasional naughtiness in the food department, but when you check out the number of zaheroplasteios around in Greece, you begin to understand that it's because for just about every 'yiorti' they'll be rushing there to grab a box of cakes with which to celebrate it. Think about it, there are name days, birthdays, saint's days, the usual big celebrations like Christmas, Easter and Valentine's Day, and you can add to that a whole raft of national and local religious paniyiris that pepper the calendar here. For each and every one of those they'll be scurrying off to stock up on the glika.

I know, I sound a bit self-righteous about all this, but it's no accident that over 578,000 people were diagnosed with diabetes in Greece in 2017 alone. And that in a country with an adult population of a mere 9 million. 

Anyway, I kicked this post off with the fact that one is continually discovering subtle differences in the culture when one moves countries. So, to redress the balance a little, there are a lot of traditions and mores that are followed here that we much prefer, or at least quite like. One such, although often causing headaches for the authorities, is the tradition of naming the firstborn son after his grandad and the first girl after her grandma. It does tend to limit the growth of new and innovative names in the country as a whole, but also harps back to patriarchal days when families were very close, which is still the case in the more rural areas, of course. When I refer to 'headaches for the authorities', that's because it causes problems for things like tax numbers and utility bills, medical records and a raft of other stuff along those lines, because everywhere you go there are so many people with the same names.

Right then, that's that post written, so I'm off for a glass of wine. I think I'll pass on the sticky cake this time around though.

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