Through the good times and the bad, Greeks keep on smashing plates

In amidst economic misery, one classic Greek tradition appears to be bouncing back (or not exactly): smashing plates.
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‘Opa! Souvlaki! Plate smashing!’ This is the sort of response often elicited by Greeks abroad when we inform others of our heritage. But aside from all three commonly being associated with modern day hellenism, there is something else that unites them: they are all recession proof.

The word ‘opa’ is free, untranslatable, and Greeks will always say it as it can be used to convey any emotion from giddy happiness, to violent rage. The souvlaki business is also doing just fine in the crisis years as more cash strapped Greeks opt for the cheap street food on their nights out. And plate smashing…. well that’s a bit harder to explain.

But according to reporting by the printed edition of the Eleftheros Tipos newspaper, the custom is staging a comeback even in the face of economic misery. Or perhaps because of it. Who knows? We’ve never really been able to fully explain the practice anyway.

According to the newspaper, sales of the plaster plates specially designed to be smashed in displays of rambunctious merriment have risen by two thirds since 2009 even while the rest of the Greek economy slides further into depression. In the midst of the crisis, against all odds, a uniquely Greek industry is coming back from the brink of oblivion.

A brief history of broken crockery
The origins of the practice of deliberately smashing plates is shrouded by the mists of time, but it has long been associated with the Greek notion of ‘kefi’ or high spirits at celebrations, particularly weddings. One theory is that it was originally done to ward off bad-luck, whereas another is that it is simply a display of abundance and devil-may-care joy. Life is short! Who cares about the plates!? Smash them! Judging by the vim often displayed by foreigners getting in on the porcelain shattering action, this enthusiasm can be infectious.

Plates being smashed at a wedding

Although the practice was banned in nightclubs in 1969 by the military junta on grounds of health and safety (it’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye or their democratically elected government), surreptitious plate smashing continued. However it was in the 1980s when the practice really had its heyday. Then, the Greeks, riding high under the new era ushered in by Andreas Papandreou’s PASOK government and the country’s 1981 entry into the EU, flocked to the bouzoukia nightclubs with money to burn and plates to smash. Things were looking up.

Plate smashing at a bouzouki club as depicted in a Greek film

There were 53 manufacturers of plaster plates in the northern city of Thessaloniki in those heady times. However it was not to last forever. The beginning of the end came in 1994 with the passage of a law restricting the opening hours of the bouzoukia nightclubs. And every Greek knows that the best time for plate smashing is after 3.00 am.

Trends also started to change. As the years passed Greece became even more european (with real european money!) and younger generations started preferring more western type bars and nightclubs over the high balkan kitsch of the bouzoukia clubs. Plates here were strictly for eating. All but one manufacturer of plaster plates in the north of Greece shut for good.

As the crisis began to rear its ugly head, the owner of that factory, Kostas Gentzos, figured his business’s days were also numbered. As a last ditch attempt to stay afloat he decided to advertise on the internet. What followed was a rare crisis miracle.

As he told the newspaper, “I thought that with the economic crisis plate smashing had been definitively relegated to history. How wrong I was! The telephone started ringing non-stop. They were asking for plates not just at bouzouki clubs but also at cafes, restaurants and nightclubs. There was even interest from abroad.”

In 2009 he sold 300,000 plaster plates whereas this year he expects to sell over half a million. Each one costs €0.18 not including VAT. And today Greeks aren’t just smashing plates according to Gentzos, but sinks, bathroom tiles, basins and anything else that can be smashed.

This time however the zest for life is edged with something else. “The Greek has a lot of anger and rage inside him that needs a release,” Mr Gentzos explained.

And so even today, while unemployment ticks upward, and GDP downward, the plates continue to hit the floor. OPA.
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