Greece

crime and theft

Violent crime and theft rates are very low; public disorder is rare, and public drunkenness is generally frowned upon. Visitors should rest assured that this is an extremely safe and friendly destination, but it is always advisable for foreign tourists to exercise basic precautionary measures just as they would at home. There has recently been a spike in theft at least a perceived one, which some locals will not hesitate to blame on the influx of immigrants. Organized criminal activity exists in Greek metropolitan cities as well as in Crete but poses no risk to tourists.

The places where the visitor is most likely to encounter crime and theft are probably the handful of overcrowded, and overheated, tourist resorts thronged with younger foreigners attracted by cheap flights, cheap rooms, and cheap booze. The more notorious of such places include Faliraki in Rhodes calmed down since a new tough mayor was elected, Kavos in Corfu, Malia currently the "hottest" such destination on Crete, and Ios though this last is said to have quieted down a bit recently. Most visitors to these places return home unmolested, but there have been increasing reports from them of theft, public indecency, sexual assault, and alcohol-fueled violence; both the perpetrators and victims are usually young foreigners, though sometimes locals are involved. Authorities have stepped up police presence in such areas to crack down on these activities. Still, visitors to these places would do well to avoid anything that looks like trouble, especially late at night, and to remember that their own overindulgence in alcohol increases their chance of attracting trouble themselves.

Greece is a relatively safe destination for the traveller: the vast majority of people you interact with will be honest and helpful, however there is absolute carnage on the roads. The detailed information below is intended to forewarn travelers of risks which they have a small, though not zero, chance of encountering.

rude gestures

To "swear" at someone using their hands, Greeks put out their entire hand, palm open, five fingers extended out, like signalling someone to stop. This is called "mountza". Sometimes they will do this by saying "na" here or they will do this with both palms to emphasize and will say "na, malaka" here, jerk when the offense is more serious. It is basically telling someone to screw off or that they did something totally ridiculous. "Mountza" is known to come from a gesture used in the Byzantine era, where the guilty person were applied with ash on his/her face by the judge's hand to be ridiculed. Be careful when refusing something in Greece: when refusing the offer of a drink, it's best to put your palm over your glass or any other refusing gesture that limits the showing of the palm. The ubiquitous middle finger salute will also be understood.

There is some regional variation on the use of the 'okay' sign thumb and index finger in a circle, the 3 other fingers up, as is signalling to a waiter by miming signing a receipt.

internet

Internet access is widely available.In big cities coffee houses usually provide free internet if you ask the waiter for the password.

Mobile Internet : WIND GR offers a cheap €15.00 SIM Card that is DATA ONLY no number but with a generous 6 GB data limit. Carry your passport to the nearest WIND outlet to buy a SIM. Activation is instant.

talk

Greek is the national and official language and is the native tongue of the vast majority of the population, but the English speaking visitor will encounter no significant language problem. English is the most widely studied and understood foreign language in Greece, followed by French, Italian, and German. Basic knowledge of English can be expected from almost all personnel in the tourism industry and public transport services, as well as most Greeks under the age of 40. However, learning a few Greek terms, such as "hello" and "thank you" will be warmly received.

The Latin and Cyrillic alphabets were derived from the Greek alphabet and about half of Greek letters look like their Latin counterparts, especially capitals letters, and most Greek letters resemble their Cyrillic counterparts. With a bit of study it's not too hard to decipher written names, and common terms such as "hotel", "cafeteria", etc. And you'll find that place names on road signs throughout the country are often transliterated into Latin letters some signs, especially on the newer roads, are even outright translated into English. Basically, the closest to Athens and borders you are, the most likely you'll find a Latin transcription on signs. Some letters could also be tricky, as they are identical in shape to another Latin letter with another value, such as "Η" and "Ρ", which stand respectively for "I/E" and "R".

smoking

Greeks smoke tremendously, and they see cigarettes as a birthright. While smoking is technically prohibited by law in all public places like restaurants and cafeterias by September 2010, however some establishments and most Greeks just ignore this, but nevertheless it is best to follow the smoking ban.

Remember that Greece is subject to frequent forest fires during the dry summer season, so definitely avoid smoking in forested areas!

telephone

The cheapest way to call someone abroad – and this is really cheap – is to use a pre-paid calling card and call from a land line anywhere also from your hotel room. Pre-paid calling cards are sold in many shops and kiosks. The calling card is not much more than a phone number and a pin code, which you dial prior to dialing the usual phone number. If you want to call internationally , ask for an international calling card. For one euro you can call for about 45 minutes, so buy a card in the cheapest value which is about 3 euros. Calling someone for half an hour is cheaper than sending one email from an internet café. Cards expire usually 90 days after first use.You can also use this pre-paid calling card at public phone boxes, which are widely available.

respect

Greeks rate politeness with a person's behaviour and not their words. Furthermore, there is an air of informality; everybody is treated like a cousin. They use their hands to gesture a lot. Have fun with this. Sometimes over-emphasizing politeness in spoken language will only make the person dealing with you think you are pretentious. It's nice to learn basic words like "thank you" Ευχαριστώ: ef-khah-rees-TOH or "please" Παρακαλώ: pah-rah-kah-LOH.

Greeks generally consider it proper etiquette to let the stranger make the first move. You may find that on entering a cafe or passing a group on the street you feel that you're being ignored, but if you take the initiative by saying hello first, you're likely to find that people suddenly turn friendly.

Greeks take leisure very seriously; it is a work-to-live culture, not live-to-work. Don't take perceived laziness or rudeness harshly. They do it to everyone, locals and tourists alike. Rather than fight it, just go along with it and laugh at the situation. It can be very frustrating at times but also appreciate their "enjoy life" attitude. They do take politics and football very seriously.

Dress codes for churches include covered shoulders for women and knees covered for both sexes. This tends to be lightly enforced during the height of the summer tourist season, simply due to sheer volume! In any case, appropriate clothing is usually available at the entrance of churces and monasteries, especially the ones receiving most tourist traffic. Just pick it up going in and drop it off on the way out.

sensitive topics

Do not say that Greece is part of Eastern Europe; Greece was the only openly pro-Western country in a shore of Communist neighbours, both pro-Soviet and neutral. It is not geographically correct either.

Greeks dislike Greece to be labelled as a Balkan country, due to the negative image of the region, even though as the southernmost tip of the Balkan peninsula, Greece lies inside the Balkans.

As Greece is part of Southern Europe, it is almost exclusively considered and described by Greeks and foreigners alike as a Southern European country anyway.

The Macedonian issue is considered a very sensitive topic: Greeks consider that the name "Macedonia" is stolen from them and used by Tito's partisans in southern Yugoslavia to address the country created after World War II as a new constituent republic within Yugoslavia by Tito. The Greeks refer to it as "FYRoM" or the "Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" when dealing with foreigners and as Skopia The Greek version of the Macedonian capital Skopje among themselves. It's always spectacular to see the most friendly people turning mad by the simple mention of "Macedonian" instead of "FYRoM", so pay attention to that whenever you are in the country.

Also, be very careful when talking about Ancient Greece and the Byzantine Empire, which are the symbols of their national pride and splendor; however, most will say the polar opposite when talking about the military junta of the late 1960s-mid 1970s. Many Greeks-- not just Communists and other left-wing groups-- have suffered severe repression and view its leaders with utter resentment. Many Greeks take pride of their ancient history, since Ancient Greece is a well known civilization to first develop the concept of democracy and western philosophy, as well as its art, architecture, literature, theater and sciences which is regarded as the cradle of European civilization.

Likewise, be polite when asking about their relationship with the Turks, about the Ottoman Turkish rule and the Turkish occupation of the northern part of Cyprus since 1974, as these create passionate, sometimes aggressive, debates, given the past turmoil between the two nations. Relations have improved over recent years though.

natural dangers

More than 250 people are drowned each summer in Greece while swimming, many of them being foreign visitors. Also many more suffered non reversible health issues due to "almost drown" incidents. Greece has the higher number of drowns in Europe. You need to never overestimate your physical strength when swimming. Before your visit search carefully the internet for all the measures you shall take to avoid such situations in the sea or even the pools.

Sun and heat pose risks that summer visitors should take precautions for. Take a good, light sun hat and sunglasses, and drink plenty of water.

In late spring and summer, the government runs public service announcements on television reminding Greeks to wear their sunblock at the beach. The Mediterranean sun tends to get quite strong, and can burn skin that has not been exposed to the sun for a long time. Any excessive daily sun exposure can also cause long-term damage to skin. Sunblock and sunscreen are widely available throughout Greece at supermarkets, grocery stores, pharmacies, and special stores selling beach-related items, though they tend to be expensive, and the higher SPF factor blocks can be hard to find.

During the hottest months, while visiting archaeological sites, wear tank tops, carry umbrellas, and carry water. Daily high temperatures stay at about 95-100°F 35-38°C. The sun is merciless. In recent years Athens has been subject to periodic summer heat waves where the temperature can reach above 100°F 38°C, posing a risk of respiratory problems and heat stroke for some people. Be aware that many islands, especially in the Cyclades, have very little shade to ameliorate the summer heat; if hiking around such islands, including going by foot to distant beaches, it's especially important in hot weather to wear a hat and sunscreen, to take water, and to avoid being caught walking during the hottest part of the day.

Jellyfish periodically infest some beaches and their stings can be severe. The red ones are particularly dangerous. Sea urchins are common along the Greek coast, usually clinging to underwater flat surfaces such as smooth rocks and sea walls. They usually inhabit shallow water so they're easy to see. Care should be taken not to step on them, since their spines can be painful.

It's inadvisable to go hiking cross country in Greece alone: even in popular places, the countryside can be surprisingly deserted, and if you get in trouble while you're out of sight of any houses or roads, it could be a long time before anyone notices you.

Lifeguards are rare at Greek beaches, though most of them where people congregate to swim are locally considered safe. Some beaches have shallow water a long way from the shore; others suddenly shelve steeply. If in doubt about safe swimming conditions, ask locally.

There are no required inoculations for Greece and the water is almost everywhere safe see above under Drink. Look for 'Blue Flags' at beaches for the highest quality water which tend to also have good sand and facilities

drugs

Greece has some of the strictest, and most strictly enforced, drug laws in Europe, and tourists are not exempt. No matter what anyone tells you, it is most definitely not cool to do drugs in Greece, including marijuana. Furthermore, such a behavior is strongly rejected by locals and will almost certainly cause someone call the Police and have you arrested. Note that even a very small quantity is enough to get you in serious trouble as Greek law makes almost no distinction between use, possession, and trafficking. Don't even think of offering even the smallest amount of drug to someone else. Undercover cops abound and once caught you are certain to being prosecuted with charges of drug dealing, leading to several years of imprisonment!

antiquities

Greece also has very strict laws concerning the export of antiquities, which can include not only ancient objects but also coins, icons, folk art, and random pieces of stone from archeological sites. Before buying anything which could conceivably be considered an antiquity, you should become familiar with the current laws regarding what can be taken out of the country. Briefly, all objects made before 1830 are considered antiquities and are protected by the Ministry. Do not ever think to export or buy any piece of archeological value because it will be either be a fake or you will be arrested promptly at the airport for trafficking of goods of archeological value.

traffic

The greatest danger to travellers in Greece is probably in the simple process of crossing the street: traffic can be bad even in smaller towns and horrendous in Athens and other Greek cities, and accident rates are high. Caution should be exercised by pedestrians, even when crossing on a pedestrian crossing. 1400 people are killed on Greek roads each year - a statistic that is one of the highest in the European Union. Most of this is attributed to aggressive driving habits. Drivers often weave between lane to lane of traffic to waste less time. Stay safe.

photography restrictions

It is strictly forbidden to take photos of military installations or other strategic locations. Authorities will take violations quite seriously. Obey signs prohibiting photography. In fact, it would be best not to take photographs of anything of military significance, including Greek navy ships, or of airports or any aircraft, even civilian ones: Greek authorities can be very sensitive about such things. Many museums prohibit photography without a permit; some prohibit only flash or tripod photography, and many ask visitors not to take photos of objects statues, etc. which include people standing by them, as this is considered disrespectful. Officials at museums will rush over to yell at you if they see a camera or even a cell phone in your hand.

sexually transmitted infections

STIs exist in Greece as elsewhere, and travellers who may engage in sexual activity while visiting Greece should remember that even if one is on vacation and one's sexual partner is also a traveler, perhaps from one's own country, neither of these facts suspend the laws of biology. According to recent reports in the Greek and British media, unprotected sex among visitors to Greece, with a consequent rise in STIs and unplanned pregnancies, is especially common at the party resorts favored by younger people, such as Ios, Laganas, Malia, Kavos, and Faliraki. Condoms are available at any pharmacy and at many kiosks.

scams

The most commonly reported major scam against travelers is the Greek version of the old clip joint routine. This is reported primarily from central Athens, but also occasionally from other cities and even the larger island towns. A single male traveler will be approached, usually at night in a neighborhood where there are a lot of bars, by a friendly Greek who will strike up a conversation leading to an invitation to go to "this really cool bar I know" for a drink. Once at the bar, they are joined by a couple of winsome ladies who immediately begin ordering drinks, often champagne, until, at the end of the evening, the mark is presented with an astronomical bill, payment of which is enforced by the sudden appearance of a pair of glowering thugs. The reason this scam works is because most Greeks have a tradition of being friendly to visitors, and almost all Greeks who strike up a conversation with you will have no ulterior motives. But if you're a single male traveler approached by a Greek in the circumstances described above, it's safest to politely but firmly decline any invitations.

health care

Despite a loud call for health care reform from both the voters and the political establishment, the nation's health care system has received very high marks from the World Health Organization WHO, a branch of the UN. However, many citizens prefer private health care for longer-term hospital stays. Depending on the age and nature of a particular hospital or clinic, services range from adequate to excellent. Health care is free and universal for all citizens, as well as for all EU nationals upon presentation of an EHIC card Formerly the E111 form. For non-EU nationals, only emergency care is provided for free.

A network of helicopter ambulances serves the islands, transporting patients who need immediate attention to the nearest island or city with a major hospital.

The country's pharmacies and medications are of top quality, and pharmacists are highly trained experts in their field. Many medications that can only be acquired by prescription in the US and UK can be purchased without a prescription in Greece. When sick with a simple, common illness, a visit to the pharmacist will provide you with the medication you need. If you are looking for a specific medication, be sure to know its generic name, as brand names might be different. Most pharmacies close on Sundays, but a sign will be posted on the door indicating the nearest pharmacies that are open.

Healthcare provision is different to Anglosphere nations in that many specialists are in the community. GPs are replaced by community pathologists. Hotels and tourist agencies can provide advice on where to go if you are ill.