This section focuses on best practices and etiquette that may be relevant for dealing with business contacts, such as verbal and non-verbal communication, working hours, dressing code, dining etiquette, etc. Adhering to common business practices when communicating, contributes to understanding the Greek culture, avoiding miscommunication and creating a positive image.
Face to face communication
Greeks prefer face-to face contacts to telephone or written communication and personal relationships are highly valued. Therefore, first impressions are important and can influence your business relationship with your Greek counterpart. In general, physical contact and maintaining eye contact is important; and has been measured as the strongest in Europe. Some important issues to consider when communicating with Greeks are:
Greeks are verbal and oratory. They like having discussions on cultural and historical topics. There are times when these discussions can become emotional and intense, depending on the topic. It is advisable to avoid bringing up issues concerning Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), Cyprus or politics. When speaking, Greeks often interrupt. Don’t be offended since it is just a common aspect of the Greek way of communication.
Non-verbal communication is the way our body speaks through gestures, movements, eye contact, facial expressions, and intonation of voice. Greek people are very expressive in their use of body language to convey messages. Below are some that may be useful to know:
- raising the eyebrow with a slight upward nod of the head means ‘no’, while tilting the head to either side means ‘yes’;
- winking at someone is often simply a friendly gesture;
- avoid an open palm directed at someone’s face, as this is an insult;
- touching is common and is seen as a friendly gesture, so don’t feel offended;
- avoid the OK sign since it is considered obscene.
Greek is the official language spoken by nearly 11 million inhabitants in Greece. English is widely spoken and is taught in schools from the first grade of primary school through to university. The Greek people are very keen on learning foreign languages and it is common to find people who can also speak German, Italian, Spanish, and French. Younger managers are often fluent in English, but the older generation may not know English at all; therefore, it is advised to ask if an interpreter will be needed. Learning a few phrases in Greek would be greatly appreciated by your business counterparts.
Building strong, long-lasting relationships is important for the Greeks. Therefore, personal contacts and networks characterised by trust, loyalty and strong bonds facilitate business operations and are vital for successful business deals. Personal networks may open doors and solve problems that would otherwise be very difficult to resolve.
It is advisable that you get to know your Greek colleagues and clients well, by showing interest in their lifestyle and joining in their social activities.
Being a family-oriented culture, the Greek business community is characterized by small, family-owned companies. Business structures are traditional and generally hierarchical.
Greeks prefer personal contact. Men and women shake hands when meeting one another and maintain direct eye contact. A relatively firm handshake is a must. Good friends embrace and kiss on both cheeks.
In general, Greeks stand close to each other when speaking, about an arm’s length. This distance becomes greater when interacting with strangers and less when interacting with friends and family. It may be considered rude to back away from someone while they are speaking. Physical contact is commonly used to show sympathy and to emphasise the subject. So, touching when conversing, between men and men or women and men, is rather common and should not be misinterpreted.
The use of formal titles Mr. and Mrs. are used when first meeting someone and when addressing someone with respect, particularly the older generation. The use of titles may become less formal with and it is common to address someone by their first name when a personal relationship has had the opportunity to develop.