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ΚΕΦΙ: a Greek word that can't be translated

Greek-French artist Alexis Arabia is introducing the rest of the world to the concept of κέφι

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21 September 2017

For a non-Greek person, the word κέφι (kefi) is hard to translate as there is no direct English equivalent, with most dictionaries generally describing it as the spirit of joy and an overpowering emotion filled with passion and enthusiasm.

For Greeks though, κέφι encompasses a whole overwhelming soul and body experience that's expressed through laughing, dancing and singing; it's the connection with other people and a way to deal with pain and hardships whilst achieving a carefree moment of ultimate happiness.

For many Greeks or those who have had the opportunity to find themselves in Greece, κέφι is even linked to the custom of smashing plates at a Greek ταβέρνα on a warm summer night.

After all, who doesn't remember the 1964 British-Greek comedy-drama film adaptation of Nikos Kazantzakis' novel 'Zorba the Greek', produced and directed by Cypriot Michalis Cacoyiannis starring Anthony Quinn as the title character, in which a middle aged Greek with a real lust for life, disturbs the joyless existence of an aimless English writer who visits the Greek island of Crete and experiences how the Greeks deal with pain, loss, failure and hardship whilst he discovers the earthy pleasures this small country has to offer.

"You've got everything, except one thing; madness," says Zorba to his English friend in one of the movie scenes.

"A man needs a little madness. Every day cut the rope and be free."

Although hard to define, κέφι takes many forms, but is usually associated with the expression of positive emotion and is thought out to be the secret to temper the tribulations of life and the Greeks' own cynical and sceptical nature.

In other words, κέφι is the desire to take the pain away and turn it into joy.

Inspired by his recent trip to Greece, Greek-French comedian Alexis Arabia, whose maternal family originates from Messolonghi, in Western Greece, decided to visit his mother's homeland with a camera on hand and interview people asking them one very simple question.

"What does the word κέφι mean to you?"

"My aim was to introduce and bring the meaning of this unique word to the French people first and hopefully to the rest of the world," says the 26-year-old artist who studied International Commerce but subsequently changed career paths as he was determined to follow his dream and become a comedian.

"There is not enough of a Greek element in France as it is in the U.S.A. and Australia, but through the videos on YouTube and my comedy show, I wanted to literally 'spread the word' so that everyone can feel joyful and happy and adopt the philosophy of experiencing κέφι in their lives.

The four-minute-long video was shot in Messolonghi and Paris last summer and also features Greek-French journalist and entertainer Nikos Aliagas.

"I loved going around interviewing every-day people about this almost culturally embedded idea of staying positive and euphoric, even during the most challenging and difficult times and I also interviewed Nikos Aliagas who is a true representative of our culture," says Alexis.

"Κέφι is a philosophy; it is a small sparkle that doesn't last eternally but gifts us the true state of happiness even if it's for a moment or a night. It's a feeling we want to share with each other," says Nikos Aliagas on the video.

"Κέφι is the desire to simply prolong your existence, by removing the stress and struggles of everyday life."

Nikos Aliagas (R) with comedian Alexis Arabia (L). Photo: Twitter

Since uploading the video, the overall response has been nothing but positive and Alexis has been inundated with messages from all over the world.

"The feedback on this particular video has been incredible and the comments and shares on social media have been overwhelming. The majority of French people cherish the Greeks. I experience this love on a daily basis through my followers on social media who write messages of support and love for the country," says Alexis revealing that most people watch the video and then find the strength to confide in him about their sorrows and thank him for putting a smile on their faces with his heart-warming four-minute gesture.

"I sincerely hope that the video we have made will make all Greeks feel proud of their heritage and will spread joy to the rest of the world," concludes Alexis.

You can watch the video here:

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