e’ve all been there. You’re on holiday, making a bit of a mess of a cultural misunderstanding, apologising profusely and trying in vain to remove the foot from our mouth. Especially in Cyprus, where the differences with Greece are slight but key, it’s important to make sure we’re not all living up to the regular stereotype of the English abroad. So, instead of just repeating the same thing in English but louder and slower, it might be time to pick up a little of the local customs and endear yourself to the people of Cyprus. Who knows, there might be a few smiles and even a couple of free drinks in it if you’re extra nice!
Now, to start off with the basics, Greek and Cypriot Greek are not different languages. Cypriot Greek is considered to be a dialect of the Greek language, much like Irish or Scottish English are considered to be dialects of Standard English. There are certain differences in vocabulary and grammar that can be put down to Cyprus’ distance from the rest of the Greek world and the influence of the various cultures and empires that have occupied Cyprus. Don’t be surprised if you hear the occasional “mashallah” or “inshallah”, as the island was under the Muslim Ottoman Empire for around 300 years. Similarly, the half-century Cyprus spent as part of the British Empire can be seen in many loan words and the use of “Greeklish” at times. A Greek might think of Cypriot Greek as very old-fashioned, almost medieval with lots of phrases and words that a modern Greek would never use. Imagine visiting a place where everyone speaks like they’re from the 1800s, and they occasionally throw in some Arabic or some English, well that’s Cyprus for a Greek. It has also become common online for Cypriots to use the Latin alphabet instead of the Greek one. So, if you see Latin letters in an order you definitely don’t recognise, don’t worry, you’re not going insane, it’s just Cypriot Greek.
The differences between Greece and Cyprus go beyond just language, there are several cultural differences that separate them. First of all, Cypriots drive on the left. A very important difference to keep in mind while travelling, and another leftover from the British Empire times. The Cypriots also tend to have a classic island mentality, just like the British. They’re known to be less talkative and much more straightforward, especially in comparison to the stereotype of the “regular hot-headed Mediterranean”. The food has some Italian influence, so don’t be surprised to see some Cypriot-style ravioli or cannelloni in the restaurants. Most Cypriots will be much happier to speak English than Greeks, as the island spent half of the 20th century under the British, and English continues to be taught in most schools.
Cypriots tend to run on “Mediterranean” time, so don’t stress out if you’re running a little late because it’s very much expected. During the summer don’t be surprised if some businesses close after lunch for a few hours. This is the Cypriot version of a siesta, but most shops, restaurants and tourist attractions should stay open. It’s also important to be careful when talking about politics and the military. Just take the “no politics at the dinner table” rule and apply it to everything else. When you meet new people, they might reach in for a kiss on the cheek. Don’t panic, don’t cry, this is normal! The regular number of kisses in Cyprus is two (one kiss on each cheek), so don’t overdo it. On the money side, it’s usually best to leave a tip for your waiter, as not doing so in some restaurants can be seen as rude. For taxis, the drivers do sometimes leave the meter off and charge what they feel is right. If this doesn’t suit you feel free to ask them to turn the meter on before starting, rather than haggling after the drive. Most importantly, just be polite. Cypriots are people too, and a kind word and a smile can go a long way in endearing yourself to the locals and helping to break down the stereotype of the loud and rude travelling Briton.