Philotimo, a Greek secret worth knowing!

Greece is a stunning country with kind, beautiful people and a fascinating history. The ancient Greeks left us with a huge heritage, things you probably never knew were invented by them: the automatic doors, cement, central heating, coin money, maps, plumbing, sinks, showers, the wheelbarrow, the alarm clock,… Without them we wouldn’t be what we are now and certainly wouldn’t have what we have today (well, on an early Monday morning you maybe wish they never invented the alarm clock …)!


The Greek language and specifically Greek mythology and science has had a tremendous influence on the English language. In our everyday lives we use the root of Greek words and definitions all the time. Here are a few examples: basic, eccentric, erotic, bibliography, doctor, symbol, logic, telephone, biology, cosmos, clothing, kilo, psycho, therapy,…


But there is one Greek word that isn’t integrated in our language. A word we should integrate not only in our vocabulary but also in our hearts. A word that can bring meaning into all our lives:



It’s hard to translate or even to describe in one word what philotimo means. It’s a Greek word without a proper definition. The word comes from the Greek root words “filos”, meaning friend, and “timi”, meaning honor. The meaning of philotimo extends far beyond the words friend and honor. It encompasses the concepts of pride in self, pride in family, pride in community and doing the right thing. It’s a behavior and you have to experience it to really understand it. Philotimo gives a meaning to life that stretches beyond ourselves. It’s an awareness in the heart that motivates the good deeds that a person does.


Philotimo, a Greek secret worthing knowing - Journal of Nomads


Nowadays people rarely do things for others without expecting something of equal or greater value in return. The Greek who value philotimo will always help others without asking for anything. They are also very welcoming to foreigners. Due to their economical crisis, the Greek don’t have much but share what they have with those in need, they will help each other and create a community. They are one of the most helpful and compassionate nations towards the refugees.


Every single person we’ve met in Greece was so helpful and kind to us. One night we were stranded on the side of a highway. It was already getting dark but we couldn’t camp nearby. The side of the highway was highly fenced to prevent bears from crossing the road. One truck driver stopped for us. He didn’t speak a word of English but he was so happy to help us. He took us to his end destination where he unloaded the truck and invited us for a drink and dinner in a local pub. You have to know that the people in Greece have to work very hard for very little money. We felt awkward of letting him pay the bill. He kept declining our money, all he wanted was to have a good time in our company. The same thing happened in Meteora. We met Hercules and his wife Eleny through a mutual friend. They were happy to give us a room and share meals with us in exchange for our company. And we can’t forget to mention Illyas, a teacher by day and philosopher by night, who welcomed us in his home at 11 pm with a nice fire burning in the fireplace and a big bottle of red wine. It definitely warmed us up! Illyas was such a nice man, happy to share his philosophy about how the most important thing in life is the people and the importance of caring for each other.


Philotimo - Journal of Nomads

At the home of Hercules and Eleny


Another beautiful example to illustrate philotimo can be found during World War II. Mayor Karrer and bishop Chrysostomos of the island Zakynthos were ordered by a Nazi commander to give him a list with the names of the Jews among them. Any Greek that was hiding a Jew, would be executed. Instead of preparing this list, the mayor and bishop sent the Jews in the mountains to hide. They returned the commander a list with two names: their own. They said it was entire list of the Jewish community in Zakynthos. They saved the lives of 275, knowing they could be executed themselves. They acted with philotimo.

Mayor Karrer and bishop Chrysostomos

Mayor Karrer  and Bishop Chrysostomos


It’s sad that the Greek are given a bad image in the media because of the economical crisis. Tourists are staying away because they are afraid. We should not always believe what the media tells us to believe. The world looks different when we explore it ourselves. If not, we would never have met many warm and loving people here in Greece and learned about philotimo! It’s such a beautiful way of being. Imagine if we all would act with philotimo. We would be aware that our behavior is not only a reflection of ourselves but also a reflection of our family, our community and our country. Imagine that we would take pride in everything we do simply because we take the time and effort to do it. We would help others simply because they need help. We would do the right thing because we have a duty to do the right thing. And even though it’s sometimes hard to know what is right or wrong, we would know it in our hearts.


Philotimo, a word that has not a defined meaning but can bring meaning into our lives.

Do you have “philotimo”?


Philotimo - A Greek Secret worth knowing - Journal of Nomads

Meet some of the people who showed us the meaning of philotimo:

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Writer, travel photographer, Panasonic Lumix Ambassador and co-founder of Journal of Nomads

I have Belgian roots but the world has been my home for the past 8 years. I'm an artist at heart and often get lost in my thoughts. I like to create some-thing out of no-thing and once I feel inspired, I'm unstoppable. I love telling stories and taking photos, showing the beauty and extraordinary of the world around me. Oh, and I love making the impossible elegantly probable. Once you realize that you're a creator and the world is your playfield, there's no limit to what can be done!

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Julie ElphickVyjay RaoHeatheracajunincalisamselim Recent comment authors
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Julie Elphick
Julie Elphick

Hi and thank you for your lovely writings.
We have two Gazettes…which we provide monthly to the people of Corfu and Lefkada.
Would you be interested in writing something for us.

Vyjay Rao

Deep down people are the same everywhere, each race and each country has its share of good and bad. Greece is a fascinating country with a rich history and culture. Loved your post, so touching.


I really love this #travelstory! It helps reassure me about human kindness. It’s stories like these that should be on the news everyday.


One of our favorite parts about traveling is meeting genuine and loving people. Thank you for sharing.


Always lovely to meet such people during travels, we have had similar experiences in Italy recently and in so many other parts of the world as well, I loved my travels in Greece as well, stayed with a wonderful family..thanks for sharing your stories of all the wonderful people you have encountered


This is beautiful, thanks for sharing. I have definitely experienced a type of philotimo in Central America as well, people there don’t have much but are always happy to share.


Your articles are so beautifully written and very wise, Cynthia! I love how you write about the meaning of life! I’m thinking a lot about how I could make my life to be exactly what I want and probably need it to be to be really happy (and having time for and sharing things with other people definitely is an important part of it which is not easy in a life full of work, stress and daily routines). Following my way is not as easy for me as I’d like it to be because I have a few other people… Read more »