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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18 thoughts on “Philotimo, a Greek secret worth knowing!”

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

    1. Thank you! And it’s true what you’re saying, within we’re all the same in search for inner peace, love and happiness. The ways to achieve it are just different depending on who we are and where we come from!

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

  4. 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

    1. You’re very welcome and we’re happy you’ve enjoyed reading it! Traveling is really about the people we meet along the way. We think that makes the journey interesting and meaningful!

  5. 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 to think of as well – but I’m getting closer and really, really hope I’ll lead my perfect life as well one day soon! For you I’m happy that you are in the middle of it now 🙂 Martina

    1. Thank you for your beautiful and kind words Martina, this means a lot to me! Let me be honest, although I try hard every day, my life isn’t always that perfect either 🙂 I sometimes strive so much towards perfection that it causes a lot of stress on me and those around me. I’ve experienced it not even that long ago. I think it doesn’t matter where you are or what you do, the path we’re following right now is the perfect one, the one that will lead us to more happiness and beauty and the people who are right now with us are helping us with this too in their own way.
      And… does it actually exists, a ‘perfect’ life? What does it mean? I have to keep reminding myself too 🙂
      Thank you so much for your openness and sharing this with me! I wish you lots of strength and especially joy in finding and walking your path and realizing your dreams Martina! I’m happy I have met you! Lots of love, Cynthia

      1. Finally I found time to write back to you, Cynthia! Thanks for your nice words – I’m also happy I met you! Reading about your adventures makes me want to follow my own dreams even more. I put myself last for quite some time now – but I realize more and more that it doesn’t make me happy in the long run. There’s a lot going on in my mind at the moment – I’m trying to work out how we – as a family – can lead a life that makes all of us happy in the long run. (As you know, we are taking a year off soon – but I already know that I don’t want to go back to my regular life after that). But you are right – we just have to follow our path and the answer will hopefully be somewhere on our way. I guess I have to work on becoming more patient and less perfectionist – and let things just happen, then everything will be OK in the end 😉 Lots of love, Martina

        1. I love what you say at the end: let things just happen! But… what I also learned is that we need to take steps in the direction we want, set a clear intention and then things will happen 🙂 A lot of people just sit around and wait for something and they wait for a very long time 🙂 I can’t wait to follow your journey!! When I started traveling 5 years ago, I knew I also could not go back to a regular life style anymore. Do you and Bert have certain skills to use for online work? We’re now looking into possibilities to teach online (we’ll share what we’ll try out and what works). There is also a big demand for German teachers!
          And I’m happy you realize that putting yourself last doesn’t work. It’s so important (and absolutely not selfish) to make your own happiness also a priority! When you’re happy, everybody around you feels that and will benefit from it too. If I can help you with anything, please let me know!! Lots of love, Cynthia

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