One of the first aspects of the Cyprus culture experienced by foreigners to Cyprus is the warm welcome. Cypriots are known worldwide for the genuine and sincere hospitality and friendliness. The words ‘Kalosorisate’ (Welcome!) and ‘Kopiaste’ (Come join us!) are frequently called to locals and foreigners alike.
The kompoloi, or string of beads, is a familiar sight in the hands of many Greek and Cypriot men. The word komboloi incorporates the word kombos, meaning the knot. The fascination and magic derived from these knots running through ones fingers may well have come from the thoughts conjured up from playing with the string of beads, which are always made with an uneven number of beads. The kompoloi is said to be more than just a means of passing time, it reflects a way of life. The beads can be bought in many weights, sizes, colours, and materials and can make a nice cost effective gift, or a very expensive one.
The Evil Eye
Some Cypriots believe that someone can catch the evil eye, or ‘matiasma’, from someone else’s jealous compliment or envy. After a person has caught the evil eye, they usually feel bad physically and psychologically. To avoid the matiasma, those who believe in it will often wear a charm; a little blue marble glass with an eye painted on it or a blue bracelet. Blue is believed to be the colour that wards off evil eye; however, it is also believed that people with blue eyes are the givers of the matiasma.
Birthdays are not such a celebrated event in Cyprus as they are in the UK; however Name Days are very much celebrated. Children are typically named after the Patron Saint of their region, with the eldest son often being named after his paternal grandfather, and the eldest daughter after her paternal grandmother. Because of this tradition, you will often find cousins with the same name. The Name Day is the feast day of the saint after which a child was named. Some Saint’s Name Days actually get celebrated more than one time per year. The tradition is for a party to be thrown on the person’s Name Day. A barbeque and buffet at the house is usually prepared and there is lots of singing, dancing and drinking. Invites are not usually given to join the celebrations of a Name Day – friends, family and neighbours are just expected to visit. Some may only stay a short time, as they will have other friends or family with the same name to visit. It is customary to take a small gift to the person celebrating their name day; usually this would be flowers or a small plant. Each Greek Orthodox Church is also named after a saint, therefore there are also community celebrations for its Name Day, known as ‘Panigiria’, which include food, fireworks, and fairs. On the eve of the saint’s day, villagers and street-vendors may gather in the grounds of the patron saints church to sell local delicacies.
Culture and social behaviour
Cypriots are typically more formal with their elders than other nationalities. People older than you are typically referred to as Kyrie (Mr) or Kyria (Mrs), followed by their first name.
Being on time may be a virtue, but it is not one well-practiced in Cyprus. Being 30-45 minutes late to a social engagement is not considered unacceptable. It is actually expected.
Overall, Cypriots are extremely hospitable. It is considered polite to accept at least a little of what is being offered to you even if you do not want it. This applies most often to food and drink.
Cypriots speak more loudly and with more hand and facial gestures than western Europeans. A friendly discussion may look like an argument to the outsider.
Among friends (male-female, female-female), a kiss on each cheek is a common greeting; otherwise a handshake will do. Men do not typically kiss, unless they are old friends. Young female friends will sometimes hold hands.
Cypriots are quite trendy when it comes to clothing. Styles are similar to the US or Europe, but probably a bit dressier. Even for the younger generations, a typical going-out outfit definitely would not involve shorts and sandals.
Binge drinking is not part of Cypriot culture, and losing control in public is not viewed as desirable.
Tavli used to be the preserve of only men who could always be seen playing the game and sipping coffee in their local Greek Kafenion.
Times have changed and many women now enjoy playing tavli with friends in local cafes, especially in the cities and towns. However, in villages a kafenion is still looked upon as the gathering place for men where they can play card games and enjoy a hearty meal which is normally on the menu of the day.
In fact the food is often very good and cheap and tourists are always made to feel welcome. Soft drinks and those such as ouzo, brandy and beer are accompanied by the traditional meze and nuts and crisps and Greek coffee is always on offer.
Festivals are an important part of everyday life and deeply associated to religion and every day food.
There are many local festivals and towns such as Paphos, Limassol, Larnaca and Nicosia are renowned for their exciting festivals and well worth a visiting.
Traditional festivals such as Carnival, Kataklysmos (Festival of the Flood), ‘Anthestiria’ (the Spring Flower festival) and the ‘Panigiri’ (saint’s name day) are celebrated all over Cyprus.