Written by Andrew Bostock
There is no word in English that conveys the full meaning of this term for a group of friends, but to not have a parea would be deemed deeply unfortunate to the Greek way of life. Perhaps the nearest equivalent would be the regulars in a village pub, but a parea is a closer association than that. It is often a continuance of a bunch of friends that got together at school or university. Sometimes, especially in smaller villages, they are merely banded together by similar age or loose family ties. Occasionally the group gains new members – friends of friends or the partners of original members – but it is much harder, and indeed undesirable, to leave the parea. Even those that move away, to Athens or abroad, remain affiliated members, returning once or twice a year to renew ties and catch up.
The occasional argument or feud within the group is certainly not sufficient cause for its dismemberment. Normally their fellows will contrive a truce and eventual reconciliation between anyone who has had a falling out. At worst warring parties will sit at opposite ends of the table for a few weeks and only converse through intermediaries.
One of the most striking aspects of the parea, especially to British eyes, is the lack of social exclusivity. Members come from all levels of society and one’s success, or lack of it, in life outside the group means nothing to one’s standing within it. This does not mean that income and employment are off the table as topics of discussion, but is part of the wider Greek view that jobs are merely what one does to support life, not the be all and end all of it. This healthy attitude comes partly from a keen awareness of the importance of enjoying the moment, the food and the company, and partly from the varied nature of most people’s work: even a highly paid professional might spend part of the year labouring in the family olive groves.
The central act of the parea is the weekly get-together. This is not compulsory – family commitments certainly take precedence – but fairly regular attendance is expected. The venue, a local taverna or café, and the night, usually on a weekday so as not to clash with other social dates, rarely alter and, once they have become established, do not need to be reaffirmed. This gives the members of a parea a wonderful sense of reassurance and self-confidence. At least once a week you know you can go out and be guaranteed friendly company and conversation. Not a bad way to live.