When I was learning Greek as a child, I was taught that there were three words that one could use as a greeting, or parting wish, at different times of the day: Καλημἐρα – kalimera – good morning, Καλησπἐρα – kalispera – good evening, and Καληνὐχτα – kalinichta – good night. That was it. Those three things.
As the years have passed, however, more “good” greetings and “good” wishes have been added to the Greek lexicon.
Now you have to understand that in Greek, notwithstanding a few variations, the standard seasons greetings all begin with “good”, for example, Καλὀ Πἀσχα – Kalo Pascha – Good Easter, Καλἀ Χριστοὐγεννα – Kala Christougenna – Good Christmas, Καλἠ Πρωτοχρονιἀ – Kali Protohronia – Good New Year.
But alongside these and the standard greetings I learnt as a child, there has been a steady increase in other wishes, so that you now regularly also hear:
– Καλὀ πρωϊ – kalo proee – good morning (this is different to the good morning above which is a greeting, whereas Kalo proee is said when you’re heading off and the morning is still ahead of you)
– Καλὀ μεσημἐρι – kalo mesimeri – good lunchtime (which is the period from about 2pm-5pm and takes in the siesta)
– Καλὀ απὀγεμα – kalo apogema – good afternoon (the period between about 5-9pm; different to Kalispera in the same way Kalimera and Kalo proee differ)
– Καλὀ βρἀδυ – kalo vradi – literally “good night time” but used in the sense of good evening (the period between 9 and whenever you go to bed)
– Καλὀ Σαββατοκὐριακο – kalo sabbatokiriako – good weekend
– Καλἠ εβδομἀδα – kali evdomada – good week
– Καλὀ μἠνα – kalo mina – good month
– Καλἠ χρονιἀ – kali chronia – good year
– Καλἐς γιορτἐς – kalles yiortes – literally “good holidays” used in the American sense of “seasons greetings” for either Easter or Christmas
– Καλἐς διακοπἐς – good diakopes – good holidays, in the Australian sense of good vacation
Then about seven or eight years ago I became aware of even more “good” wishes that had been added:
– Καλὀ ξημἐρωμα – good ximeroma – good day break (said the night before, either instead of or with Kalo Vradi and/or Kalinichta)
– Καλἠ ξεκοὐραση – kali xekourasi – good rest (usually said before the siesta)
Don’t you think that’s a lot of wishes? I mean, in comparison to what we say in English? And yet, on this trip I heard a new “good” wish which seems to have emerged between now and my last trip to Greece in January 2013.
People now say, Καλἠ συνἐχια – kali sinehia – good continuation.
You hear it everywhere: you’re at a shop, the teller puts through your things and wishes you a good continuation – i.e. of your shopping. Or you wish them a good continuation – of their working day. You’re travelling on a long haul coach or train, the conductor checks your ticket and then wishes you a good continuation – of your travels. Basically whenever you’re in the middle of something, any person you interact with can wish you a good continuation – of whatever it is you’re doing.
I often joke with a Greek-Australian friend who lives in Greece about all the “good” wishes that people pass on in Greece. Where will it end? we wonder. What will they come up with next?
My friend called me when I was at the first “OXI” rally about a week ago (that is, a rally supporting a ‘no’ vote in the Greek referendum held on 5 July). I told her that one of the speakers at the rally had just announced the long list of artists who would be performing at the rally concert. At the end she signed off by saying, Καλἠ συναυλἰα, καλὀ ΟΧΙ και καλἠ συνἐχια – Kali sinavlia, kalo OHI kai kali sinehia – Good concert, good ‘NO’ and good continuation.
“Did she really say “Good ‘NO’?” she asked incredulously, and we both laughed.
The next night I told the same story to another Greek-Australian friend who has lived in Greece since his teens. He also saw the funny side. As I ended the call I wished him, Καλἠ τηλεὀρασι – Kali tileorasi – good television!
I truly am amazed – sometimes hilariously so – at the way the Greek people are constantly finding new ways to wish each other well.
But how much does it say about the spirit of a people that has been going through so much hardship in the last five to eight years that they continue to find the positivity required to give these upbeat good wishes to each other?
It’s like people know that together they can give each other strength to carry on, in spite of what life is throwing at them. Every “good” wish implies that the person saying it to you cares for your wellbeing. They want life to be good for you. So they keep coming up with new and innovative ways of giving each other that strength and support.
The truth is, notwithstanding all my laughter, I actually find something profoundly beautiful and admirable in that.