Saturday, June 01, 2013

An Open Letter to Greek Taverna Owners

Greek cuisine can be some of the tastiest food in the world, and there is nothing now short of the Apocalypse that might stop me from returning again and again to Greece to enjoy it's lovely flavours and the hospitally of the country's wonderful people. However with at least a generation of taverna owners having been in business since the start of the package tour holiday business that have brought us Brits (for better or worse) to your many islands and beautiful mainland resorts, there are a few things that may help you to stay ahead of the competition if you can understand their significance to our British psyche.

1) toilets are not an afterthought. Many Brits will actually come in to your bar or taverna and buy a drink just so they don't feel guilty asking to use the toilet. Hence if they know you have nice toilets there's an extra bit of passing trade to be had here... "I'm busting! Shall we stop at Nikkos' bar?"...." Nah, lets go next door to Spiros's place, he's got locks on the door!"
There's about four basics that the Brit wants to see:- A clean toilet, a toilet roll, a lock for the door and last but not least a toilet seat! The cold porcelain to sit on just doesn't do it for us.

2) Nescafé is a brand name, not a just a label to say there isn't a layer of coffee grinds in the bottom of the cup. To us Brits if you say something is Nescafé then we're expecting a mug of instant coffee, not something that arrives with a foamy head on it that would sit proud on the average pint of Guiness.

3) Look up the meaning of the word special. Everything on the menu cannot be special, served on special plates with a special wine, in special glasses at a special price. Use the word too much and we really do start doubting the sincerity.

4) Tea is a hot drink. Most of us now understand that Greece has a slower pace of life and chill out enough on holiday that we're not bothered that things take a little longer to happen than we are used to in Britain. So a wait until the drinks arrive is fine, but tea takes a little time to brew in hot water, and a geological era to brew in luke warm. So when a cup of tepid water arrives with a tea bag waiting still in it's individual envelope on the saucer having not yet been close to being dampened, you should not be surprised when you hear the same phrase from the over 40's of the UK who with a grimace, chant, "Ooooo, they've no idea about tea over 'ere, do they?"

5) Taverna Greek has certain rules of etiquette. Some of us Brits make a stab at trying to learn the language a little and most that try after about 30 years of practice may achieve a level of competency known as 'Taverna Greek' which to keep us happy needs to be responded to according to certain rules. Firstly, it should not be ignored, even if your only reply is "po po, poli kala!", before you switch back to English and hope we don't befoul your classical language any further with our bumbling attempts. Secondly though, and probably far more importantly, if we've managed to ask for two beers and a saganaki correctly even down to pronoun gender and plurality, this does not indicate we are in any way fluent, and so launching into a full speed interrogation in your native tongue asking "how we learnt it?", "did we go to night class?", "How long have we lived here?", and "What do we think of the latest political scandal?", will only result in a look of utter confusion and mutterings of, "shall we just get egg and chips tomorrow at Zorba's where that welsh lass works?"
So humour us, don't ignore us, and certainly don't baffle us with the language, and we'll be back to assault your ears another night over a 'special' Mousaka.

Then again all these things together with menus full of 'Rost Lamp', 'Fried Squits' and 'beef steaks' that end up being burgers, are probably part of the charm of what makes Greece such a wonderful, friendly and rich culture for me, that brings me back time and time again. Would I want any of it to change? Probably not. As the man from Shirley Valentine said, "Greece would be alright....if it were more like Spain!" Well, no it certainly would not, and if you want your ideal home toilets, egg and chips, no risk of gritty coffee, and a perfect cuppa, then bog off back to the Costas and leave Greece for me.