Keep Calm & Eat Souvlaki

Siga Siga: 9 Ideas for Slowing Down (Greece-Inspired)

There are so many things to love about Greece. The thousands of islands. The feta. The wandering cats. The language. But what I love most is the rhythm of life. The bursts of energy during the day are followed by afternoon breaks and punctuated with late, looooong dinners. Even though siestas are becoming rarer in certain parts of the country especially in tourist-driven areas, after every trip to Greece I find myself wondering: how can I live more like this?

My Greek relatives are some of the hardest working people I know, but they also seem to know the value of balance. It’s not so much something they “do” but rather the way they approach life with passion and purpose; steadiness and certainty. It makes me want to not rush when I don’t need to rush and find joy in moments that are so often overlooked amid the many things on a to-do list.

So over the past few months, I’ve made a challenge to actually slow down through tangible actions inspired by my Greek relatives. And while my life hasn’t changed dramatically, it has made every day feel a bit less like the one before it.

In the spirit of slowing down, here are 9 Greek-inspired ways to embrace a little “pause” in your routine. As they say, Siga Siga (slowly slowly).

1. Prioritize socializing, preferably with coffee

Socializing with friends at a cafe (a Kafeteria or Kafeneio) is a huge part of the Greek way of life. There’s a real sense of community in gathering at a place outside of the home for a drink, for a chat, for a moment of connection. (Check out this blog for a more in-depth look at coffee culture in Greece.)

My Thio (uncle) talks about grabbing a coffee with his friends as if it’s an important work meeting or a medical appointment. He takes it so seriously, which is why he continues to prioritize it.

Coffee break in Paros
Stopping for a kafe freddo and bira in Paros

Channeling my uncle, I’ve now set a Sunday routine of getting coffee with my best friend. Sometimes we meet for three hours, other times only 45 minutes. Either way, it has really helped to distinguish my weeks and keep us close with a “standing” meeting as our anchor.

2. Play games

If you go to a Kafeneio in Greece, there’s a very good chance you’ll see people (usually older men) playing cards. Once I stopped at a kafeneio in Naxos after I missed my ferry, and I watched four men playing cards for nearly three hours. And I think they said about 20 words to each other. They were simply enjoying each other’s company. Ever since, I’ve kept a deck of cards in my bag when hanging out with friends. They have made so many outings longer, more fun, and more intentional.

3. Walk more

Walking trail in Hydra
Walking trail on Hydra Island

Maybe it’s my perspective as a tourist, but I find many parts of Greece to be very walkable. One of my favorite islands is Hydra Island, a car-free haven (with the exception of trash trucks and medical vehicles). When I visited with my husband we stayed about a mile and a half outside of the main “downtown” area and walked this gorgeous trail to dinner every night. It was magical and has since inspired us to walk to dinner more often instead of driving every time. Although the streets of Los Angeles are less peaceful than the trails on Hydra, it’s still lovely.

4. Spend quality time with family

Oikoyenia, family, is core to Greek culture. I see how family-oriented Greece is in so many ways but especially by the way people refer to where they’re from by where their parents are from, their grandparents are from, and even where their great grandparents are from. It’s so special and speaks to what’s important to them.

5. Embrace meraki

Meraki is the idea of doing something with your whole self, whether that’s painting, setting a table, cooking, dancing, or talking. It’s not about going fast or being perfect, but rather giving something or someone your complete undivided attention.

Stairs in Naxos

For me, Meraki looks like reading and putting my phone away, walking my dog as if it’s the only thing I have to do all day, or eating dinner with my husband and listening intently to his every word. Subtle yet significant shifts to these everyday activities have really impacted my life in positive ways.

6. Dance!

One of my favorite moments on my last trip to Greece was on a late-night walk back to our hotel. We were stumbling home with a few drinks in our system and it was almost 1 a.m. Out of nowhere, music was blasting from someone’s patio and there was a beautiful group of people dancing, including paida (children). They looked like they were having the time of their lives.

Why not have more dance parties in your kitchen, backyard, local restaurants, friends’ houses, anywhere, and everywhere?

7. Eat longer meals

Dinner in Naxos

After visiting Europe, I think most would agree that it’s jarring to come back to the U.S. and get the bill after 45 minutes. In fact, in our post-pandemic world, now hosts often tell us that we have a 90-minute limit on a table before we even sit down. I get it. Reservations are booked. People need to sit. Tips are to be made. But there’s something so soul-filling about enjoying a long meal with friends, tacking on a dessert you didn’t have room for an hour earlier, and extending the experience with a cappuccino. Dinners like these have become some of my all-time favorite memories. The slower the better.

8. Cook lengthy recipes

Greek recipes are often extremely lengthy and intricate. Spanakopita, dolmades, and pastitsio are the first dishes that come to mind. Sometimes I feel intimidated to make these recipes and get overwhelmed by the ingredients list. But when I do, I feel very fulfilled and satisfied, like I did something authentically good for myself and my family.

9. Learn something new

Bookstore in Santorini
Atlantis Books in Santorini

There is so much appreciation for the arts in Greece. The love for archeology, painting, writing and history is felt in the way people communicate and share ideas. Our waiter in Naxos once told us she works during the tourist season (May to September) non-stop, and then she spends the other seasons traveling, reading, writing poetry and learning.

While my work doesn’t have this schedule and probably never will, it was a reminder to supplement work with other creative outlets for a more well-rounded life — including writing this little post right now!

Read more: How learning Greek has strengthened my marriage.

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