Of the estimated 736,000 population of Cyprus, you’ll hear a mix of Turkish, Greek, and English on the island. Cyprus was, after all, a former British colony from 1878 until 1960, which means many Cypriots also speak English. However, while you can get by with a mix of English and hand gestures (in some instances) you’re willingness to say even a few words in Turkish or Greek will go a long way with the locals and you’ll find you’ll get treated like an honorable xenos (“foreigner traveler”) rather than just another “ touristas” (or tourist).
Now, let me just say that Greek and Turkish are not easy languages to learn phonetically so even if you just give it your best effort, the locals will appreciate your efforts.
1. Salutations can go a long way—whether it’s the formal “Hello” or “γεια σας” (pronounced ya sas) or more familiar “Hi” or “γεια σου” (pronounced ya soo) in Greek; or “merhaba” (Hello) in Turkish.
2. When entering a shop or ordering a coffee you will always get extra special attention or sugar if you make an effort to ask “Tee kahnis” or “How are you?”. The same goes for the Turkish side of the island where you would use “Nasuhl-sunuz?”
3. Of course even if you know some broken Greek or Turkish, you may have to resort back to English to actually get what you came for. So after a few brief pleasantries, you can ask, “Milate anglika” or “Do you speak English?” on the Greek side of the country.
4. To introduce yourself on the Turkish side of the country say, “ben (insert your name)’im” or “I am (your name)”. To inquire after a stranger’s name say, “Adu-nuz ne?”
5. Using your P’s and Q’s on both sides of the country will earn you some bonus points when it comes to service. So say, “parakalo” (please) and “efkharisto” (thank you) on the Greek side and “lutfen” (please) and “teshek-kur edirim” (thank you) on the Turkish side.
6. Even though we’ve already established that exact time is relative in Cyprus, you can still ask the time by inquiring, “Ti ora ine?” to Greek speakers.
7. Interrupting someone, particularly an elder, is never seen as polite, especially on the Turkish side of Cyprus. To smooth an inquiry, start by saying, “affedersiniz” or “pardon me”.
8. Shopping will be a lot easier if you know how to ask for what an item costs. For instance, asking “Posso kane?” or “How much is this?” if tags are not evident on merchandise.
9. As previously mentioned, a polite exchange with your hotel clerk, waiter, café manager, or cab driver may get you better treatment in a country that is big on formality.
10. On the Greek side of the country, bid good day by saying, “kaleemeerah!” (good morning), “kaleespeerah!” (good afternoon), and “kaleenihkta!” (Good night). While on the northern Turkish side, you can bid good day with the following—“gunaydun” (good morning), “iyi akshamlar” (good evening), and “iyi gejeler” (good night).