Understanding Greek Body Language
January 9, 2018
Each culture has different gestures and body language. Although many are considered universal (e.g. shaking the head means ‘no’, nodding means ‘yes’, etc.), in some countries they may mean something totally different.
In addition, some cultures rely on a large amount of body language to convey their meaning, while others tend to stick to spoken words.
Greek people (along with many other Mediterranean cultures) use a significant amount of gestures and body language. Before you start doing business with counterparts in Greece, read up on the most common forms of Greek body language to avoid misunderstandings and confusion.
Interestingly, the Greek way to signal “yes” resembles the Americans’ “no” gesture. A Greek “yes” is tilting the head to either side and making a sideways motion while slightly closing the eyes. It’s quite similar to the gesture Americans make when they are confused about something. Funnily enough, “yes” in Greek means “naí,” a sound hauntingly similar to the English “no.” Confusion guaranteed.
Similarly, the Greek “no” is rather like the American “yes.” When they want to signal “no,” Greek people raise their eyebrows and their whole head upwards, while softly clicking with their tongue. It resembles a half-nod.
When a Greek person signals to somebody to join them, they extend their arms with their palms facing downwards. Then they open and close their fists, their fingers moving up and down.
“What do you mean?”
If your Greek business partners don’t understand what you’re saying, they’ll tilt their head from side to side while opening their eyes wide.
When a Greek person is grateful for something, they signal “yes” first, then place their right hand on their heart.
Gestures to avoid
As in every culture, there are hand gestures in Greece that suggest obscenities or anger. Unfortunately, these same gestures indicate something totally different in the US.
Here’s a list of gestures you better avoid while in Greece.
If you hold up your hand with all your fingers extended, you most likely want to illustrate the number 5. Well, don’t do that while in Greece because this is a grave insult. If a Greek person gives somebody the moutza, it means they think the recipient is an idiot (to put it mildly).
While this is a positive gesture in the US, for Greeks, it’s quite offensive. Giving the thumbs up to somebody in Greece is equivalent to giving the middle finger to an American.
Creating a circle from your thumb and index finger is a sexual insult in Greece. So if you want to signal your agreement with something, better say it out loud.
Holding up the index and little fingers
This gesture has a meaning for the whole of the Mediterranean region, and it’s not a nice one: it signals that the recipient’s spouse is cheating on them.
Holding up the little finger
While some people start counting by holding up their little finger, in Greece it carries a more obscene meaning: the recipient has small genitals.
Bonus: a few useful Greek phrases
Greek is a difficult language, and nobody expects you to learn it. However, if you know a few phrases, it signals to your business partner that you’re committed to your cooperation and it will increase their respect for you.
- Hello/Goodbye = YAH-soo (Γειά σου). When addressing a group, say YAH-sas.
- Nice to meet you = HA-ree-ka po-LEE (Χάρηκα πολύ).
- How are you = Tee-KAH-nis (Tι κανείς).
- Please/You’re welcome = Para-kah-LOE (Παρακαλώ).
- Thank you = Eff-kha-ri-STOE (Ευχαριστώ).
Another way to make sure you don’t offend your Greek business partners is to always pay them on time. You can guarantee that by using Veem to send business payments. It’s a connected payments platform that avoids the fees and delays of traditional bank wire transfers.
Veem offers convenient features that the banks can’t, like real-time payment tracking and end-to-end customer support, to ensure your money arrives intact and on time.