It’s all Greek

There are just some days when even the most random experiences form themselves into a surprising patterns without you noticing until afterwards.  And there are words we use regularly that we don’t really think about the real meaning of, or wonder about their origins until something makes us notice.

I had visitors over last weekend, and with only the minimum of discussion in advance of them arriving, we broadly made up the plans for our activities as we went along.

Our conversation about where to go for supper on the evening of their arrival went something like this

‘Do you like fish?’

‘Not really.  I only like fish and chip shop fish.’

‘Well, there’s a good Greek fish and chip shop with a restaurant on the side just along the road.’


‘Yes.  It’s very good.  The people who run it are Greek.  And they have a comically grumpy waiter.’

‘Hmm, not sure. I only like fish in batter.’

‘Forget about it being Greek.  It’s a proper fish and chip shop; lots of batter and proper chips.  I only mentioned the Greek thing because if you order salad it comes with feta cheese on it.’

And so we went, and there and the fish in batter went down a treat, as did the feta on the salad.

‘I see what you mean about the Greekness,’ my visitor said, staring around the restaurant knocking her knuckles against the plaster pillars and admiring the murals of sun drenched temple ruins set amid blue sea and under brilliant a sky.  ‘It’s our own little island paradise in North London.’

My breakfast menu usually features toast, fruit and yoghurt, and, on my trips around the supermarket on auto-pilot I always buy the same type of plain yoghurt, (why change a habit I like?) which I recognise by its blue and white packaging, and have long since stopped noticing the verbal description.  Turns out, it’s ‘Greek-style’; presumably the hyphenation and the ‘style’ cover the fact that it’s never been to Greece.

The little bit of planning we had done had involved going to Tate Britain followed by a stroll along the South Bank of the river and lunch.  I had promised that there were plenty of restaurant options along the way; and had mentioned The Real Greek.

It transpired that my guests had assumed I had made up a name because I couldn’t remember the real one.  I, on the other hand, had not made the connection between the fish and chip shop on Saturday night and the mezze and souvlaki chain for Sunday lunch.  Only as we approached the restaurant did the penny drop for each of us.

‘Is everything you do Greek?’ my visitor asked.

No.  Definitely not.

But, and now I’m sure you’re already ahead of me, on Monday when we were wandering around Soho, we went up Dean St, and then down Greek St before settling to watch the world go by in Soho Square.

I admit it.  I’ve never before wondered how the street got its name.  So I looked it up.  Inevitably stories vary, but the one I’m going to tell any future visitors who ask is that in the 18th century it was the site of a Greek Orthodox Church, which is no longer there, replaced by pubs, restaurants and St Barnabas House, still a refuge for homeless women.

At least for the moment, I’m paying more attention to the naming of things……

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