I'll catch them on the leeks

I'll catch them on the leeks

You know he is Greek...


  • When he keeps entering into discussions with people he has just met about their mutual region of origin.

I had some English friends staying with me last year and had invited some Greek friends for dinner. As many of you know, I am half English and half Greek. One of my Greek friends asked “Do you feel more Greek or English?” Before I could reply one of the English friends said “Oh, he’s Greek alright! We go into a shop. In England you see if they have what you want to buy, purchase it or not and leave. When we go to a shop here with Bill there is a ten minute discussion:

“Where are you from?”
“One of my grandmothers is from such and such my grandfather from xyz in Greece and.....”
“Oh my cousin’s  brother in law lives in a village only 10 kilometers from xyz.” Etc

The question “Where are you from?” crops up a little more with me because I speak Greek fluently while having rather English features. However, I think that, because, as a people, we are so shunted round the world by economic necessity and war, there is a desire to assert our common Hellenism with even tenuous Geographical connections of our family roots.

  • When he talks a lot with his hands.

I commented on this when I visited Constantinou Winery and wrote a blog about the tour. I was struck by how expressive the proprietor was with his hands. I was reminded of how many moons ago (I was about eight) I was sitting between my Greek grandmother (Yiayia) and translating for them so that they could converse. I remember how my English grandmother commented that when I turned to speak to her my hands were still, but when I spoke to Yiaia my talking was accompanied by much hand waving. It’s funny how some things stick in one’s mind!

  • When he speaks with picturesque expressions.

One of the things I love in watching Greek TV series is picking up on the quaint expressions that are used in conversation. I think my favourite is:

“Θα τους πιάσω στα πράσα» - “I’ll catch them on the leeks,” said by someone who thought his wife was having an affair and he was going to set a trap to catch the errant couple on the job.

“Μου κοπήκαν τα πόδια» - “My legs got cut off,” said by someone who was dumbfounded to hear a terrible piece of news.

“Υπάρχουν και άλλες πορτοκαλιές που κάνουν πορτοκάλια» - “There are other orange trees that grow oranges”, said by a woman who was tiring of waiting for her chap to make up his mind between her and another woman. It’s a bit like the English “There are plenty of other fish in the sea you know”.

"There are other orange trees that grow oranges, you know."

“Αυτά που λες δεν τα μασάω, » - I don’t chew what you are telling me. This is the picturesque way of saying “I don’t believe you”.  You can also say “Δεν τα τρώω». There was a Greek popular song some years ago which went “Ο Γιώργος είναι πονηρός. Αυτά που λέει μην τα τρως.» The translation is “George is cunning. Don’t eat what he tells you.” I.e. “Don’t believe him”.

When it comes to anger Greeks don’t just get angry. Their “nerves break” – “Μου σπάσαν τα νεύρα.” It is much more intense than having someone get on your nerves. If you are even more angry then you are “έξαλλος” – enraged. We have this notion of nerves breaking in the English phrase, “something snapped inside her”.

I remember, some years ago, the comedian,  Jasper Carrot commenting on the strange habit parents had of asking their children if they wanted a smack. “Yes please,” he mimicked a child sarcastically. “Can I have a smack?” The Greek equivalent expression is even stranger. It is literally “Do you want to eat wood?”  “Θες να φας ξύλο;”

"Do you want to eat wood?"

Food features a lot in Greek colloquial expressions. In talking of a killer bumping someone off, one might say “Τον έφαγε”, he ate him. And someone recounting that they had really insulted someone, one might hear “Τον έφτυσα” – “I spat him out”.