A clicking and clacking noise can be heard almost everywhere you go in Greece. Airports, restaurants, stores, and street corners are not exempt from this noise. It’s the sound of worry beads hitting against each other. Greek men are seen flipping their worry beads much more than Greek women. Does this mean men have more worries than women? I don’t think so, it’s probably more that women just don’t have the time to stand around and flick beads!
In Greece worry beads are called komboloi, which means bead collection. According to Wikipedia, “Komboloi is a part of modern Greek culture, used to relieve stress and generally pass the time. It was especially popular up to the end of the 20th century while now it has dropped in popular use. It’s still though considered a traditional trademark of Greek (and especially rembetiki) culture and niche.” Playing with worry beads is a form of therapy and used particularly by those trying to kick the nicotine habit or lose weight, but could also be used by some to deal with travel delays or rising tempers. The beads are also a symbol of national pride and are hung in stores, homes, offices, and cars for decoration.
Worry beads are made from many types of materials, but are most commonly found made of plastic, wood, semi-precious stone, amber, or coral. The only prerequisites seem to be that they are smooth and make noise. There are two types of worry beads. The komboloi resemble rosary or prayer beads, although there is no religious significance. Begleri is a straight and shorter strand with fewer beads. It’s a matter of preference.
My daughter purchased her strand from a little Greek woman in the town of Nauplion. This woman told my daughter that one does not choose his worry beads – the beads choose their owner. It’s similar to the Harry Potter concept where the wand chooses the wizard and not the other way around. Worry beads sounded like the perfect souvenir for a fidgety person like me, so my quest began. Racks and racks of worry beads were surveyed, but none called out my name. Then they found me. A lovely strand of onyx beads, the color of a deep, rich caramel, kept drawing me to it. They felt good as they slipped and slid in and around my fingers, all the while making a pleasant, raindrop-kind of sound.
Different worry bead techniques achieve different sounds for different therapies. The most soothing technique is to pull the beads up to the ends of the strings and release the beads slowly, one by one, so that they make a soothing sound as they fall on to one another. For a more frenetic therapy, worry beads can either be rolled between your palms or rhythmically flicked between your fingers. There is some skill involved in flicking the beads correctly. Numerous shopkeepers and my daughter have tried to teach me the Greek way of flipping the bead strands finger over finger. Mastering this technique is going to require some practice. But hey, no worries! I’m not going to worry over my worry beads!