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Personal Essays | 4 Lessons My Grandma Taught Me

by Maria Tagtalidou

There is a special kind of magic happening over two cups of hot Greek coffee (or Turkish, depending on where you live.) You can only make it yourself; no machine, no talking. Come to think of it, it’s a kind of meditation for the coffee lover – you need to be careful not to spill it, so you must be present and calm.

My yiayia (Greek for “grandma”) is a Greek coffee pro. She loves making coffee, drinking it, ‘reading’ the cup (Greek Yiayia Magic 101.) Most of all, however, she loves coffee talks. You know; the kind of things we women share over a cup of our favorite coffee. Over the years, the two of us have shared many cups of Greek coffee and an equal amount of advice. Here are 4 lessons my grandma taught me that I’d like to share with you.

1. Just do it

My grandma’s favorite thing to say is: “You went to the sea but you did not swim?” Figuratively, of course. Every time I said I wanted to do or buy something, or made an effort with no results, she would casually throw this phrase into our conversation. What she means, is that if you want something, either get it or forget it. Don’t go halfway. In other words: “Do, or do not. There is no try.” Was my grandma quoting Yoda or was Yoda quoting my grandma? I guess we’ll never know.

2. Get your education

My grandma loves bringing up personal examples when she’s making her point. When we drink coffee together, she often narrates stories from the German occupation in the 1940’s. Back then, she was a young girl living in her village with her mother. They didn’t have running water in the house, so every day she had to go to the drinking fountain at the square. One day, she was singing to herself and laughing. A German soldier saw her and raised his gun, but another villager saw them and talked the soldier down in perfect German. My grandma never forgot the importance of education, even if it’s not a matter of life or death. I remember when I graduated from university and went to see her in the village. She cried so much! She also cooked a huge feast, but that’s what grandmas do.

3. Eat what’s eating you

I don’t mean eat everything, although food is the most important element to yiayia. Sure, let’s drink coffee, but let me offer you cookies, coffee biscuits and some sweets I made from orange skin (yes, that’s a thing.) Every time I had something eating me up, she would cook my favorite meal with love. She would talk to me, listen to me, and most importantly, be there for me. Food is a mood-changer for us. You don’t have to actually eat. Whenever I’ve felt sad or down, I cook dinner or make coffee for my family and friends. Their faces and their thanks lighten my heart and make me feel so much better. Offering a piece of yourself to your loved ones is always a good idea. Offer it with kindness.

4. Find your person

Wait, it’s not what you think. My yiayia – and every Greek grandma out there – want one thing from you, girl; get married! She always says, find a good person to keep you financially safe and to love you and you’ll be happy. But then, it hit me: instead of finding the person my grandma passionately wants for me, I should become that person. Be someone that makes you feel loved and safe. Be someone that is financially independent. Be your person. Don’t get me wrong; I’d love to marry one day and have children, but I am a firm believer that we should be our own soul mates more than anyone else.

My grandma was the person I was closest to in my life. I owe her a big part of who I am today: a strong, independent woman with her own job, her own personality, and her own amazing Greek coffee skills. Thank you, yiayia!


Maria Tagtalidou was born in Greece. She studied English Language and Literature at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. Being a restless soul, she moved to the UK despite her traditional Greek family’s disapproval. She got her Master’s degree in Forensic Linguistics and dedicated herself to informing people about the new science that no one in her country seemed to know about. Currently, she is a Teacher of English as a Foreign Language and delivers seminars about Forensic Linguistics. Her life passions include painting, photography, music, writing and learning foreign languages. She is a proud momma of two dogs, Piglet and Anthony, and a goldfish called Sushi. You’ll find her reading books under the shade of a café’s umbrella in the summer.

You can find Maria on her blog, on Facebook, or on Gravatar.

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