My Polish cultural shock in Greece

Flags of Greece and Poland for the Polish cultural shock

As a Polish volunteer I have not experienced a cultural shock yet. I also didn’t have different expectations about Greece or Thessaloniki after seeing Paphos the same year. I thought that my short experience in Cyprus, Paphos would be similar to living in Thessaloniki. Cyprus and Greece are pretty close to each other so I thought that there won’t be too many differences and I was deeply surprised by what I have seen and experienced in Greece so far.

Little to no safety culture and respecting the traffic lights 

There are a number of things that shocked me when I arrived in Thessaloniki in early September, one of them being that Greeks do not respect the traffic laws and often ignore the lights. It is pretty normal for Greeks to cross the street while the lights are red or when it is not allowed. In Poland you would easily get a fine for this and people would look down upon you. People in general do not care that much about safety while driving as well and I have seen bus drivers getting in arguments and almost getting into fistfights with other drivers or reckless, young pedestrians. It can get wild in the street sometimes. 

Greeks almost do not drink tea at all

What really shocked me is that Greeks do not drink tea at all, really! They do drink it only when it is cold or when they are sick, so almost exclusively in winter. As a Polish person, I cannot imagine not enjoying tea at least once a day, it is our ritual to drink it a lot and various types as well. In fact, Greeks prefer to drink coffee much more and several popular types were invented in Greece such as frappe and freddo espresso. Which is very surprising considering the Greek history and that you can purchase here the famous Greek mountain tea. You can also read more about the Polish and Greek Tea culture differences here.

The garbage and litter is everywhere (dust too)

During my short stay in Paphos I realised that there is litter and garbage left outside of our hotel which disappointed me a bit with Cyprus. But this was nothing in comparison with what I have seen in Greece. For some reason, there is so much litter and garbage, especially around the garbage containers, parking lots, narrow streets and such. This does not help that people in here do not care about not littering in general, I have seen people throwing out their used bus tickets inside the bus like it is nothing, multiple times. I have never seen anything like that in Poland except in the most abandoned villages and towns. Here in Thessaloniki there is also a problem with dust and dirt as well which can get tiresome too. For Polish people such situation is unacceptable and is definitely one of the most negative parts of the cultural shock.

There is an abundance of homeless cats and dogs

While in Cyprus, Paphos, I remember seeing some cats in the city but not many. On the contrary, Thessaloniki has a lot of homeless animals, cats and dogs in particular. You can go to almost any area and see at least one wandering or laying on the ground animal. If you go to the Aristoteles square you can see many dogs laying on the pavements or grass and sunning. I have not seen them acting aggressive and most of the Greeks act friendly towards them. Some of them even feed them on a regular basis which is why on certain spots on streets you can see bowls with water and dry food, especially for cats.

In Greece you do not see anti-communist sentiments 

Probably the most shocking thing to a Polish person is seeing neutral or pro-stances for communism, anti-capitalism, anarchism, socialism, progressivism or other adjacent ideologies. In Thessaloniki you can see many posters for communist actions, political parties, graffiti and such. Same can be seen with anarchism, veganism, progressivism as well. Hell, I have gone to restaurants and bars that were dedicated communist revolutionaries such as Che Guevara or Fidel Castro which is surprising to me. Most of the people I have seen that run those places would have been at least “re-educated” by the same people they admire considering the history. Hell, I even got to see a Greek anarcho-communist commune in Thessaloniki! Besides that, I also have seen plenty of anti-capitalist slogans mixed with veganism as well. So far I have not seen anti-communism sentiments instead of anti-fascism sentiments which are plenty. One of the possible explanations is that there were many Greek patriots who fought during WWII against the Axis and they were communist as well and many of these patriots are remembered fondly by the modern Greeks.

Greeks are heavy smokers and smoke everywhere

One of the things that I completely forgot about in Poland was people smoking cigarettes. As a person who does not smoke I can comfortably walk the pavement without feeling the cigarette smoke or smokers leaving a smoke trail right in front of me. Or in other situations. That’s not possible in Greece though. There were many situations where people smoked in bars, outside of restaurants, on pavements or even on a beach. Hell, most of the volunteers I met during the project smoke and leave a lot of cigarette dust in the trash bin and occupy our balcony. 


The Greek pastry came off as very surprising part of my Polish cultural shock. I never thought that there is such a variety of pastry baked in Greece and that it is that tasty. It is not just the regular bread or sweet pastry, almost every bakery offers a variety of pastries that will captivate your tastes and sight as well. With feta, spinach, cheese, salami, eggs and other fillings. If you plan on sightseeing Greece you should also try to eat their pastry as well.

The effect of sun on my well-being during the project

Living in Greece made me realise just how little sun there is in Poland during the winter season, early spring and late autumn. During that time in Poland there is little to no chance of seeing sunny weather when the flat clouds cover the entire sky and it keeps raining. Not to mention that the day lasts far shorter. In Poland it is common for many Poles to experience seasonal depression and dullness because we do not get the right amount of sun during those seasons. In Greece on the other hand, with some rare exceptions, there is an abundance of sun due to its location and climate. It is such a stark contrast between Poland and Greece that made me realise how much I always miss sunny weather during winter.

Conclusion on Polish Cultural shock

Grece is truly a beautiful and weird country at the same time. You can go to the Halkidiki beaches, sightsee, have fun and eat some bougatsa. But in the past 5 months I have been surprised more than enough to believe that Greece holds more surprises than I can imagine. There is a lot that Greeks and Poles can learn from each other’s cultures.

You can also read my article about Polish and Greek Cultures as well here.

-------------------------------------------------------------- SHARING IS CARING! --------------------------------------------------------------


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