Greek Kindness

A plate of loukoumades

Sharon Blomfield

At Christmas, the season of giving just past, my thoughts quite naturally turned to my Greek friends, both those on the island of Sifnos and those in the rest of the country and far beyond. Many travellers to that country have said that there’s something special about Greeks and the hospitality they offer, and count me in agreement on that.

At the heart of the matter, I believe, is the concept of philoxenia, the obligation in the Greek culture to treat strangers as honoured guests. This obligation is so ancient that its origins are thought to lie in the belief that, you never know, these strangers that you’ve just met could well be gods. Zeus or Hermes, perhaps, disguised as ordinary human travellers. So ingrained is philoxenia in the Greek psyche that, to my mind, it has become who they are. Innately kind, generous beyond belief, and people who live every day by the philosophy that whatever you give away to someone enriches you both.

Travellers to Greece are often astonished by the spontaneous generosity they meet, I once read in a guide book, and astonished I’ve been. I’ve received endless offers of coffee or ouzo. Wine pitchers topped up with a wink. A lime once tucked into my hand by the grocer after I’d paid for my iced teas. A basket of Sifnos eggs to cook for my breakfast the next day. A home-made goat’s cheese. Sweet treats from taverna owners to end many meals – cakes, cookies, or yogurt with fruits. Or as in the photo above, fresh-made loukoumades, drizzled with sesame, cinnamon and warm honey from the hives near the house. On occasion in more than one taverna, a meal that I’m not allowed to pay for  … well, just because. That’s the other thing with Greeks. They express their love with their food.

I have learned so much in the time I’ve been going to Sifnos, and every time that I’m there, I find my reserved Canadian heart pried open a bit farther. That is in fact, I believe, why I feel such a strong compulsion to go back and so often. If I can distill into a few words what its people have taught me, it’s this: in the list of human virtues, it’s kindness that belongs at the top. Kindness to friends and to family, of course, and equal amounts to those whose paths merely brush against ours.

Imagine, I often think and especially these days, a world that lives by philoxenia. Smiles offered freely to strangers passing by, no matter how different they look. A compliment or words of encouragement to someone you’ve just met, someone who, you never know, may need it more than you can imagine right now. An understanding that we’re all humans in this life together and that whenever and whatever we share, we’ll each come away with much more. A world awash in kindness.

The ancient Greeks can teach us still. The modern ones, too.

Sharon Blomfield is Canadian a writer and traveller. She is the author of The Sifnos Chronicles: tales from a greek isle, and she writes a blog about Sifnos. You can find out more about Sharon’s work on her personal website, and you can also follow Sharon on Twitter.

Every winter, I dream of Halki

Anne Cooke


Anne Cooke is a Principal Lecturer in the Department of Applied Psychology at Christ Church Canterbury University. Anne’s webpage. Follow Anne on twitter.

The best vacation of our lives

Howard Wettstein and his wife took a vacation in Greece in 2008, and he has kindly sent me some photos from that trip. He writes, “Here are a few from the best vacation of our lives, in Athens, Milos, and Sifnos, in 2008. The power of Athens, for one who has studied philosophy, goes without saying. But the islands were wondrous. It’s painful even to think about the crises that are affecting Greece and the Greek people at the present time. Here’s hoping that it’s short lived.”

[Click on the images to view as a slide show at larger size.]

Howard Wettstein is Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Riverside. His research interests lie in the areas of philosophy of language and philosophy of religion, and his many publications include the books Has Semantics Rested On a Mistake?, and Other Essays (1991), The Magic Prism: An Essay in the Philosophy of Language (2004), and The Significance of Religious Experience, and Other Essays (2012).

A Greek geek

Photo of Istvan Aranyosi in Rethymno Crete.

Istvan Aranyosi writes:

“As a kid, in the 1980s, I was known to my parents’ entourage as a Greek geek, having read and reread the legends of Mount Olympus, then a bunch of books the local librarian was happy to provide me, all connected to Greek culture and civilization.

“Lately, I have been more connected to Greek culture as part of my teaching and research in philosophy. However, I was most impressed in 2008, during my first visit to Greece, when what I saw was straightforward, outgoing, and freedom-loving people, with good sense of humour and good sense of business. One night in Rethymno, Crete, a sea food restaurant owner spotted me among a large crowd walking by, exclaiming: ‘You are my customer!’ – a couple of days before, I had eaten in his restaurant the best sea food ever since.

“The picture shows me shopping for some saffron in Rethymno.”

István Aranyosi is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Philosophy at Bilkent University, Ankara, Turkey. His research interests lie in the areas of philosophy of mind and metaphysics, and his publications include the books The Peripheral Mind and God, Mind, and Logical Space (both 2013). 

A young philhellene

Theo in sand

Jenny Saul writes: “My son Theo was buried in the sand for the first (and surely not the last!) time in Crete. Theo continues to love Greek culture. For Halloween, he was Odysseus. He decided I should be a siren, and that his Dad should be the pile of bones on which the siren sits. How could we resist?”

Jenny Saul is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Sheffield.

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