The word “oxi” (ochi) simply means “no” but it represents something Greeks are most proud of. That’s because oxi is bigger than the word itself. “Oxi,” actually more like “OXI!” was Greece’s Prime Minister’s, Ioannis Metaxas response to Mussolini when given an ultimatum to either allow the Italian army free passage through sites in Greece or war would be declared on Greece. On October 28, 1940, a little over one hour later to Metaxas’ response, Greece had entered World War II. It was an act of defiance and courage. That action rallied the entire Greek nation and “Oxi Day” became an official day of commemoration every October 28th since 1942. Visit Greece on October 28th and you’ll see Greeks filling the streets for parades and celebrations of that historic day. Blue and white flags are raised proudly from the hands of pappoudes kai yiayiades (grandparents) that remember the day of defiance. Wide-eyed Greek youth get their first taste of Greek pride. “OXI! OXI! OXI!” is shouted throughout the day—a powerful word indeed.
Now that we’ve had our history lesson for today, here’s a lesson on survival. I wouldn’t recommend even thinking about saying the word oxi when you visit any Greeks’ home. Do that and you’re sure to start a war right then and there. That’s because as much as Greeks love the meaning Metaxas gave them for the word oxi, when you step inside a Greek home you can only say one word: yes!
When you’re offered food in a Greek home the answer is always yes. “I’m not hungry” is not an answer, even if you aren’t hungry. It’s yes. “Would you like some lamb chops,” your yiayia might ask you. Yes. “Would you like a bowl of magiritsa,” that you might be offered around Easter time. Don’t hesitate—say yes. Even if you’re itching to say no because you’re full and you want to avoid a big Greek fanny, you have to say yes or you’re sure to offend the host. So what do you do? You can’t hide from visiting your Greek friends forever. There’s no getting around the inevitable; you are going to eat at a Greek home. Lots of times. But, there are some things you can do to prevent overeating.
For example, you’ve been invited to dinner in a Greek home, and upon entering and before you’ve even taken three steps, you’re already being offered paximadia (biscotti), feta and olives, and of course something to drink. Now, just because you’ve been offered something doesn’t mean you have to pull a Christopher Sarantakos (better known as magician Criss Angel) and perform a magic trick to make the food disappear. You’re not a magician—you’re a guest at what is about to be a big fat Greek dinner. So your first trick right now is to simply take some feta and olives and one paximadi. Especially take the olives, because while they may be higher in fat, they are hard to eat by the mouthful. You nibble them, and doing this will buy you precious time.
Because, as you know, Greeks don’t do much of anything on time, and dinner will be served late. Nibble, nibble, nibble, while those delicious Greek scents tickle your nostrils. When the first plates of dinner arrive, it may come in the form of mezes (appetizers). Just like your tactic when you first walked in the house, only put one of each meze on your plate. You’ll thank me later. The best is yet to come. There may be a meze that doesn’t appeal to your hungry eyes or is loaded with unfriendly carbs and the host has noticed your plate is lacking this dish and is now asking you if you’d like some. Remember, “yes” is your best friend in a Greek home. Even if you try just a small bite, it’s better than saying oxi. Now that you’ve tried every meze on the table, you’ve earned the main course.
Soon the mezes are swapped out for large dishes of meats, plates of pasta, loaves of bread, and greens. By now, you shouldn’t be as hungry as you were when you walked in the door. But food is still being served and oxi is not among the dishes on the table. Even as you begin to feel full, there are still many options on the table you can nibble on in small portions. To help that fanny out: fill up with the proteins and greens before the bread and pasta. If you can avoid them—great. But if your host insists, remember to load on proteins and greens first and eat your carbs in smaller portions. The biggest trick to eating at a Greek house is making sure your host knows you’ve had a little bit of everything. Just remember the desserts are coming, they always do, and they are certainly something you’ll never want to say oxi to.
You can survive a Greek meal without having to say “oxi”. You’ll never offend a Greek if you simply try a little bit of what they offer you. And remember; if you happen to be eating at a Greek home on October 28th leave the “oxi’s” at the parades, and bring all the “nai’s” to the table.