Every afternoon, at about 2 o’clock, I climb into my three-year-old’s bed. The room is dark and cool. The sounds from her noise machine drown out the noises of our neighborhood. I lay on my back and Julia climbs up on top of me, her little face nestled into my chest as part of her naptime ritual. Laying together, I often feel myself drifting off to sleep, a sensation I force myself to shrug off.
Instead of enjoying a rest with my baby at the point in the day when I, too, have run out of steam, I kiss her sweet cheeks, tuck her in, and head downstairs to begin my own adult ritual: espresso + business. This is also the time of day when I curse American culture—so driven, so focused, so ambitious—and wish we could take a cue from the Greeks and slow down a bit.
Greece has been in the news for all the wrong reasons recently: economic crisis, bailouts, and now a refugee crises. But there’s a reason people across Europe choose Greece as their vacation destination, and it’s not just the picturesque beaches. It’s the pace of life, too.
Here are a few things Americans would be wise to steal from Greek culture:
1. The Siesta
Did you know that even today, even in some cities, Greeks pause in the middle of business hours for a few hours of rest, called mesimeri? From about 3 to 5 pm, stores shut down and people return home to eat lunch and enjoy some quiet time.
You had an errand to run? Too bad. Go home, hop into bed, and relax. Besides, you’re going to need to be bright-eyed for #2 on the list.
2. Late Dinner
This weekend, I was sick with a cold. I took a nap on Sunday afternoon from 3 to 5 pm. Sounds luxurious, right? Well, it wasn’t so luxurious when I was still wide awake at 11. Too bad I couldn’t have been doing something other than panicking about not being asleep…
Herein lies another benefit of the Greek schedule: late dinners. You’ve had your nap, you’ve finished your workday. Now, it’s time to play a bit.
If you’ve ever traveled to Greece, you’ve probably noticed restaurants are PACKED at 9 or 10 o’clock even on weeknights, the time when their American counterparts are shutting down for the day. Even young children somehow adapt to the schedule and participate in the late-night fun! Greeks love to congregate at restaurants, especially in the summertime, for meals that start late and end even later, which brings me to #3.
3. Long Meals
Greeks take their food very seriously. They spend hours in the kitchen preparing it, and they spend hours around the table enjoying it. Sarah and I have had so many conversations about how Americans are too business-like about eating—eating at their desk, eating in their cars, eating standing up—but Greeks treasure their food. Meals are slow, food is savored, conversations are shared.
I know wishing for more relaxed mealtimes has a lot to do with my stage of life, with two little one who cause me to leave the dinner table no less than a dozen times each night, but nothing sounds more enticing to me than sitting at a beachside table with my husband and two well-behaved children, snacking on Greek delicacies for a couple of hours—only possible because of #4.
4. The “Cafeteria”
Is Panera your favorite place ever? Come on, who doesn’t love Panera?? Order your food at the counter, find a table, and stay as long as you like without a waiter constantly coming to “check on you.”
Sure, Panera boasts fresh ingredients and wholesome menu items, but I’m convinced the source of the company’s success is their European cafeteria model. Even at restaurants with proper table service in Greece, your waiter really won’t approach your table after your food arrives unless you call them over. They’ll let you sit there for hours without sending management over to tell you they “need the table,” and this makes for a culture of eating out at a reasonable cost and a leisurely pace.
Order coffee with a friend and stay for a while. And if you’re waiting for your check, don’t. It ain’t coming until you flag down your waiter and request it.
When I was younger and we used to visit family in Greece, I didn’t have a good sense of what was “normal” or “unusual” about the culture. Sure, I noticed small things were different, like the way the milk tasted or how strangers would greet me with a double-kiss. But I don’t notice how different people’s lives really were.
As as adult, I can see so many elements of Greek culture that I wish I could copy and paste right over here in the good old US of A. So, who’s with me? Siesta time??