1.Τhe wooden spoon – koutala
Greeks weren’t born with a silver spoon, just a koutala whacking their bottoms. Now considered child abuse, most Greek kids have been hit or threatened to be hit with a ‘koutala‘ (wooden spoon). It was the weapon of choice for most Greek mothers, who alternatively may have used the pandofla (slipper) or louri (belt).
2. Mountza and other gestures
A mountza or faskeloma is the most traditional gesture of insult among the Greeks, and far more popular than the middle finger. It involves extending all fingers of one or both hands and presenting the palms in towards the person being insulted. It is often accompanied by the word ‘na’ (here) or par’ ta (‘take these’). The more offensive version requires using both hands to double the gesture, smacking the palm of one hand against the back of another in the intention of the intended recipient, as close as possible to their face to be more threatening. The origin dates back to ancient years when it was used as a curse and is believed to have complemented verbal curses during the Eleusian Mysteries. In the Byzantium, chained criminals would be dragged around town on donkeys facing backwards with cinder on their faces. The open fingers used to wipe the cinder became known as ‘moutza’ from the word ‘moutzoura’ (smear).
The legendary doily was a trademark in every Greek Australian household. Does one even consider themselves Greek Australian if they don’t own at least one doily?
Greece may be lagging behind other EU countries when it comes to implementing recycling programmes, but Greek homes have latched onto the idea for quite some time. In fact, if you’re Greek, chances are you grew up in a household where you never knew what to expected when you opened a tub of margarine, where olive oil is contained in old retsina bottles and where old cans of tomato juice may now be the new abode of plants.
You know you’re Greek when you have a headache and your yiayia automatically thinks someone has given you the mati (evil eye). Here’s how it works. A person may admire something – a beautiful vase, for instance. A secret wish may lurk in their heart for a vase as beautiful as the one owned by their neighbour. As a result of their unseen desire the vase may fall and shatter to smithereens as the result of the evil eye (matiasma). The evil eye brings bad luck and is rooted in negative energy as a result of jealousy, or desire. Eye charms and other talismans deflect evil, however the person may need a ‘xematiasma’, a ritual to get rid of the effects of the evil eye that usually result in migraine headaches. A tablespoon is added to a small bowl of water, and a barely audible incantation (vaskania) is said. This needs to be handed down from one generation to another and is handed down from woman to man and man to woman.
Greeks spit for good luck and to keep the evil eye away. You may spit on someone for a number of superstitious reasons, mainly to keep the devil away or if you hear of misfortune. Luckily, it involves more of a noise (ftou ftou) than actual saliva discharge.
7. Bird’s poop and spilled coffee
In Greece, there’s a superstition that if a bird poops on you or your property, it may bring you luck and riches. It may have something with the odds of it happening than it has anything to do with the properties found in the poop. Spilled coffee is also believed to bring people luck.
English phrases have slowly crept into the Greek language, especially among migrant communities who have created a hybrid language. Words like ‘caro’ (car), ‘roofi’ (roof), etc are understood by all.
Introducing Anglo-Saxons to the various varieties of greens we generically define as ‘horta’, and watching them squirm, is as genuine and hallowed a Greek-Australian rite of passage as coercing an Anglo-Saxon new member of the family to eat bamies (okra).
Greeks grow up with this word. It’s a reflex word you say when someone drops something, bumps into someone or automatically gets swept away by the joy of music. When surprised, you say ‘opa!’, or you can say it when you break plates. In many ways, ‘opa’ is a go-to word.