Guide to SKOPJE

Are you talking to me?


Perceptions of “Greek” I met across the neighbors’ fences


You can’t draw definite conclusions about how people you meet casually in another country see you as a representative of your own country. But if their comments follow a certain pattern you can spot at least some traits. They can be so surprising.

Part 1.  Sofia Lauren and the best Greek dish in Skopje

First time I had to cross the Gevgelija border Yugoslavia was united. The border police checked my visa (issued in Athens), told me that Greek basketball is not as good as the Yugoslavian and left. When the border meant entering a new country, I thought everybody would identify me with bilateral politics that were in a serious crisis. Especially the new border police and the new process of issuing a visa on the very border (scary!)

But the police read my passport data and asked: “Sofia?” Yes. Second question: “Sofia Lauren?” Unfortunately, no. They smile. No further questions, visa issued, off they go! It was not coincidental. This same question was repeated almost every time I’d cross this border ever since!


Reaching the city of Skopje, I realized politics was not the main topic they were interested in. Generally, they would immediately comment with some things they like (or missed) about Greece. But here’s the catch: I couldn’t understand what they were talking about. Some examples:

a)      The comment:

(In Greece we visit) “Paralia!!!!” and get “Loukoumades on the beach by a passing salesman”

Paralia means beach in Greek, so where exactly are you people going? Loukoumades (traditional fried dumplings with honey), even though very popular in the summertime, I’ve never seen sold on the beach, any beach. You get them only at a stall (must be deep-fried and instantly sold, piping hot).


What they really meant:

Katerini, the city in the Greek region of Macedonia has a seaside resort called Paralia Katerinis (Athenians like me have no idea about it). But these guys know everything and want to ask even more. A lot of people have been to more mainstream seaside places that are close to the border, such as the Halkidiki peninsula, Thasos island and Leptokarya town. Equally unusual to Athenians (maybe I should visit one day after all!). By Loukoumades they actually meant the same word we also use for donuts (the American type)…Did anybody mention there’s a name problem all the time?!

b)      The comment:

“Vero” where they can get “Melitzano”

Vero means “original” (in colloquial Greek) and melitzano sounds like baby talk for “eggplant” (melitzana). I imagined there is a Greek restaurant that is very original and they like some eggplant dish, unknown to me.

What they really meant:

Veropoulos, a rather boring supermarket chain from Athens sells ready-made melitzanosalata (baked eggplant spread), a very common Mediterranean meze. They explained about a Veropoulos outlet that opened in the centre of Skopje in the ‘90’s and became very popular.


c)       The comment:

“Ne ne ne neeee!” nodding their head as if saying “yes” and laughing. Ne really means “yes” in my language, so what’s so funny?

What they really meant:

And of course Ne means “no”. To make things worse, it is pronounced identically to the Greek “Yes”. (Note: in Turkish the same word means “What?”). Obviously I had a lot of problems answering my cell phone.

To agree with them I should be careful to be sober (after a lot of beers you tend to reply in your own language!).


They just know everything peculiar. A Greek person really needs to provide information about:

The Eurovision song contest. They know about the latest Greek entries and, most curiously, remember older ones (e.g. the cult “Solfege Lesson”, 1977)

Gyros!!! Wow! (the Greek version of döner kebap, with fatty pork)

Eating fresh sea shells (actually still alive): they think it is a crime against humanity


As for the stereotype of Greek behavior…I am afraid they have the same one we have for ourselves, especially when the civil service is concerned.

They summarized it, from their experience, in one excellent Greek word: Avrio! = [Come back again] Tomorrow!

Part 2. The religious consumerist who eats sea food

Contrary to ex-Yugoslavian countries where people have been used to visiting Greece for holidays, the Turks only recently started visiting us in the same mass-tourism, package deal sort of way as the Greeks have done in Turkey for years. So their experience has been largely one-sided, as hosts.

Of course these thoughts occurred to me later. That is, after I had been stormed by questions such as:

Why aren’t you going to see the thousand churches?

Do you want to see the shrine for the Virgin Mary and St. John?

This is the monastery….this is the other monastery…

Haven’t you visited the Patriarchate?

The holy water fountain of this church is sacred!

OK, it is partly religious sightseeing but…if we want to be really honest, our stereotypical tourists in Turkey would target a) shopping b) eating – and not necessarily in this order.

So naturally by now, sellers at touristic places spontaneously know what the Greek consumer is after and other locals are aware of that as well. Everybody expects this behavior!

This bag is a genuine imitation!

Maria! Maria!!! Leather items!

They make nice carpets here….they sell nice carpets there…

So what did you buy at the Grand Bazaar?

This place used to be a han [ottoman era motel], now you can find nice antiques

On the other hand Turks appear not to understand that Greeks are crazy about Turkish food, the (very very famous) kebaps, mezes and all the pastries. Turkish raki goes with Turkish mezes and that’s the way it is. Why is it that very often you need to explain that they shouldn’t worry about non-issues such as:

Why do we think our baklava is better than theirs?

Why do we think ouzo is better than Turkish raki?


Virtual distance creates some strange images that belong to the Greek past, not the present. So a Greek person might be asked about:

Giorgos Dalaras (known as a performer of bouzouki music, but sort of out of fashion for years)

Breaking dishes while dancing (a practice banned in Greece for a long time)

The great sea-food eaters who avoid meat (the traditional diet, abandoned in modern urbanized contexts)

Apart from that, there is a lot of difficulty in pronouncing Greek names. E.g. my very simple name should be pronounced just like Sofia Lauren’s (the example is accidental!) but everybody calls me SOfia, as in the capital of Bulgaria. Maybe that’s why the common way to attract Greek customers is “Maria!” and “Bacanak!” (shared word, i.e. sort of family relation by marriage!)?


Thankfully, nowadays more and more people have some experience from visiting places in Greece. I had imagined they would comment on all the sights of Ottoman-era interest but again, I was mistaken:

The Meteora Monasteries!

Village feasts on Virgin Mary’s Day!

Bouzouki music tavernas!

Octopus! Wow!


There is one thing that they find totally awkward but it is 100% valid, at all times and for ever and ever:

Greeks have iced coffee in big glasses for breakfast!


To conclude, though I think it is more than obvious…There is no other way to find out if there is an element of truth in every stereotype: get to know the people better. It’s only a fence away!

Sophia Nikolaou