If you have ever come to Greece as a tourist, you have certainly been confronted with the hospitality of the Greeks and their warm way of making contact with people quickly (which happens more frequently in rural parts of the country than for example in Athens).

But what does it look like if you stay longer in the country as a stranger and want to have long-term contact or friendship with locals? To answer this question, since this article is about language, I will first discuss a linguistical aspect of the topic.

When I move to a different culture and language, I am always interested in expressions that do not exist in my mother tongue, because they express a cultural peculiarity of the speakers that is probably not present in my language.

In Greek there is such an everyday expression in connection with friendship: η παρέα “the parea”.

“Parea” is a loanword from Ladino (Judeo-Spanish) and originally means “couple” or as an adjective “similar, equal”.

The term can be translated from Greek into English in very different ways depending on the situation, which I will show by means of small examples:

-Let’s go “parea“. – together

-The radio presenter says: “It’s nice that you keep “parea” with me in the next two hours. – company

-I went out with my “parea” last night. – circle of friends

According to the Greek Wiktionary, “parea” means the following:

1. friendly contact, group of friends

2. the relationship between friends who meet frequently, friendly get-together

3. something that accompanies and entertains us (methaphorically).

“Parea” is therefore both a concrete term – namely a group of people – and an abstract one that describes the feeling between the people in this group. In most cases Greeks don’t refer to “my friends”, but “my parea” when they talk about the people they’re spending time with.

So how difficult or easy is it for a stranger to get into such a “parea”? In my case it was usually quite simple. For example, you talk to the person sitting next to you at university and he/she introduces you to his/her “parea” in person when you meet them. If they like you, you will also be invited to join their activities from now on. Usually you go to the cinema, to a café or a tavern together – therefore cosy activities. The topics of conversation are often rather superficial: the latest gossip, past activities or sports. The meetings in a “parea” are usually very humorous – although the humor of many Greeks is something to get used to. One likes to tease each other and sometimes even crosses the boundaries into serious insult.

But how do you make a friendship out of a “parea”? Although we have our circles of friends too in Switzerland, we also do many things only in twos, which is less common here in Greece. This sometimes goes as far as misunderstandings or even disputes can arise in certain “pareas”, when individual members do something with each other without informing all members of the group, when in principle everyone would have had time.

In my perception, this can be a problem for building deeper friendships. Especially since many Greeks are also suspicious if one behaves too personally and openly in a group regarding their feelings. Greeks, it seems to me, appreciate the “parea” for the sake of society and fun, and not so much for an exchange on profound topics.

It is therefore easy to get in touch with Greeks, go out with them regularly and have fun. In order to get beyond fun and small talk, it takes more time than I am used to from Switzerland (if at all possible). But once you have gained the valuable trust of a native beyond sympathy, nothing stands in the way of becoming a “philos” (i.e. a friend) beyond the “parea” with whom you can share your deepest thoughts and awkward stories.

Severin Küenzi

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