Turkish Culture and Language

Turkish Hospitality

Turks are known for their extreme hospitality. Every guest is treated like royalty. I’ve seen various forms of this with everyone I’ve met here. My first hosts, Mehtap and Fadime, did everything to make me comfortable, including remembering which foods I liked and making them more often. It was difficult explaining to Fadime why I wanted my own apartment. Of course I was happy with her, I said, but I wanted the challenge of setting up house here and living on my own. She then suggested I get an apartment in her building. I explained that I’d lived in a city for the last 20 years, and came here to be near the sea. Fadime accepted these explanations, but when I have dinner at her place I’m still expected to stay the night.

The frequency with which one hears “don’t go home, you can sleep here” accounts for the prevalence of the Turkish sofa-bed known as a cekyat. These are different from the sofabeds of the west, in which a bed frame and mattress emerge from the couch. The cekyat simply flops open and lies flat. The back of the couch becomes one side of the bed, the seating part of the couch is the other side. This makes for a firm, smooth sleeping surface which is quite comfortable as a bed. As a couch, cekyats are a bit too firm for my taste. I miss sinking into the pillow-seats of my old couch.

The first cekyat I slept on was in Nazli’s living room.
I met Nazli during my first month here, when I didn’t speak much Turkish. Nazli speaks no English. Somehow we became and remain friends. We met while waiting for a tram on the outskirts of town. Unlike buses and dolmuses which take cash, the tram requires a ticket which must be purchased before boarding, usually at a kiosk. After unsuccessfully looking for a kiosk I noticed a well-dressed young woman in a headscarf doing the same thing. Figuring that she’s a local and will know what to do (or understand instructions from someone who does) I kept an eye on her. Apparently she was directed to the market on the next block, so I tagged along. “Cok sacma” she said, which was one of the few phrases I knew (“this is ridiculous”) and I agreed.

After securing our tram tickets, we started walking back to the stop but saw the tram leaving. She asked where I was going, and I told her I had a day off from Turkish class and was just exploring. This was the point at which she realized I was a foreigner, and the hospitality instinct took over. She told me to come with her to Kaleici and she would show me the old city. She even paid my bus fare.

Nazli on her balcony.

We walked around Kaleici for a while, stopping at various friends’ and relatives’ places for tea and conversation I didn’t understand. Eventually I told Nazli I was hungry, and she took me to a kofte stand where I had a delicious grilled meatball sandwich. Then we went back to her apartment, conveniently located right across from Hadrian’s Gate. Nazli’s sister stopped by, kissed me hello on both cheeks, and then Nazli made Turkish coffee. After drinking it, Naz.li read the coffee grounds. I’m going to get married! The coffee was very clear, according to Nazli. She couldn’t specify a time frame though.

Hadrian’s Gate

After coffee the three of us went out for an arm-linked stroll and some shopping. Ataturk Caddesi has lots of shops with youthful, western clothing. I watched as Nazli and Ayse tried on mini-dressed over their flowing black pants and long sleeve shirts. They also admired some lingerie but didn’t buy anything. The next stop was Café Salman, where Nazli’s husband works. Mahsun speaks some English, which allowed me to relax a bit after having struggled with Turkish all day.

Ataturk Caddesi

A few days later I went to Nazli’s for dinner. Mahsun came home later (he works 6 days a week, 10 hours a day). It was too late for the tram, so I was taking a taxi home. Of course I was offered the cekyat, but I wasn’t going very far and Fadime was expecting me. Since moving out to Konyaalti though, I’ve spent many a night on their cekyat. I’ve also experienced the hospitality of Nazli’s parents, who never send me home without a bag full of home-grown tomatoes and pide bread baked outside in the stone oven.

The latest family to adopt me belongs to Sami, the gentleman who rescued me from the tidal wave.  Silly American that I am,  I ignored the fact that no one else was lying on the beach and laid out my mat far from the reach of the waves.  I thought.  All of a sudden a giant wave swept over me, taking one of my sandals with it into the sea.  While a waded in to retrieve my sandal, Sami moved the rest of my belongings to dry land.  And then we had tea.

Sami warned me not to trust Turkish men.  He said they lie a lot.  Not him though.  Yeah, yeah, I know the drill, I thought.  But then he did something different:  He called his wife and introduced us.  She invited me to dinner, and I accepted.

Sami lives not far from me, in a small apartment with his wife and young son.  His older son is married to a Russian and lives nearby.  Neighbors were also included at dinner.  One was a single woman, the other came with a daughter Sami’s son’s age.  All the adults were smoking, and no windows were open.  It wasn’t pretty.  I have no objection to smoking, but I believe it should be an outdoor activity.  By the time I got home a few hours later my clothes reeked of smoke.  I undressed and put them in the laundry.

Dinner consisted of manti (Turkish ravioli) with red pepper and yoghurt sauce, potato kofte (eaten inside a lettuce leaf) and backed eggplant with tomato and “fake meat’, whatever that is.  I guess it was some kind of wheat gluten.  There was also a chopped green salad.  It was all very nicely prepared, but it was extremely salty.  After dinner they put 24 on the TV because it was the only thing on in English, and some conversation continued which I could not follow. After tea and the end of the TV program I got up to leave.  They suggested I sleep on their cekyat.  Why?  I live a short walk away?   I was able to escape by explaining that my parents were expecting a Skype call from me.  Sami insisted on walking me home, and asked me what time I woke up.  When I wake up, I should come over for breakfast, he said.  Uh. Okay, if I wake up early I’ll call you.

As it happens, I was really tired and slept very late the next day.  By the time I woke up, Sami had called three times.  I called, and he invited me over.  Some other time, I said.  The next day he again called three times.  What have I gotten myself into?  And why do these strangers expect me to move in?  I guess the concept of a woman living alone by choice is not familiar to them.  I’m sure they think I’m lonely, and of course I know they are trying to be nice.  But really, at what point does aggressive hospitality cross-over into stalking?  I guess it’s all part of getting used to a different culture.  And that’s why I came to Turkey, right?

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