Turkish Hospitality

When I first arrived in Turkey (during our 10-day orientation in Ankara), I had heard that Turkish people are very hospitable and helpful to foreigners. Over the past six months, I’ve had many cases in which this has been proven true, and wanted to share a couple of my favorites here 🙂

In October I visited Izmir for the weekend with my roommate. We visited during a holiday (Bayram), so everything was closed and the normally lively city seemed pretty abandoned. There was little we could actually do because of Bayram, so we decided to take a day trip out to Selçuk, home to many historical sites (St. John’s Basilica, the Temple of Artemis, and the House of the Virgin Mary). The House of the Virgin Mary is where Mary is believed to lived her final days, built by the Apostle John. The house sits at the top of a mountain, a very long walk and inaccessible by bus. We were thinking about whether or not it would be worth it to a taxi up there when we stumbled across the Jandarma (security and border control). We asked if they knew of any way to get up to the house, and one man said he would call his wife to see if she could take us. When it turned out that she was busy, he proceeded to call about three other friends of his to see if anyone was available to take us! So, before we knew it, this random man drives up and says he can take us up to the house, free of charge! Still confused about why someone would do something so nice, we decided to go.

On the way up the mountain, we stopped a couple of times to take pictures. Here is one of a statue of Mary when we were getting closer to the house:

Statue of the Virgin Mary-Selçuk

The house itself is very small and only took about 15 minutes to see. Taking photos wasn’t permitted inside the house, so I only have a photo from the outside:

House of the Virgin Mary

So while we walked through the house, the man that took us up there just patiently waited. He’d already been there before so he tried to explain what certain things were (in Turkish, which means I could only partially understand, but it was helpful). After we finished exploring the house and the area surrounding it, he drove us back to the bus station to catch a dolmuĹź (mini-bus) back to Izmir. We tried to offer him money but he refused to take anything from us. The ride up the mountain saved us so much time and money, and he was a complete stranger willing to leave his family during a holiday just to take us to see the House of the Virgin Mary. I was so touched by his kindness!

Another of my favorite stories of Turkish hospitality was just earlier this month in Istanbul. I had just  arrived back in Turkey after a break home in the U.S., and I made the long trek from the AtatĂĽrk airport over to the Anatolian side (past Kadıköy). I was staying with my roommate’s cousin, and I was a little earlier than planned, so she hadn’t made it home from work yet. I really couldn’t go anywhere else with all my luggage, so I just sat on the floor just inside the entrance of the building (after another resident let me know once he knew who I was waiting for). I was exhausted from traveling for over 24 hours, so I was really content just sitting there. But after a few minutes two men who lived downstairs with their extended family came by and asked who I was waiting for and if I had her phone number. It was difficult to understand each other with my broken Turkish, so they kept coming back to check on me. They asked me to come sit and wait in their apartment with their family, and first I refused, but I eventually gave in since they insisted. I met the whole family that lived there (at least seven or eight of them, and three generations), and I just sat on their couch and watched the news with them. We tried to talk a little bit (again with my limited Turkish), but mostly I just sat and listened to them talk to each other (and I could understand some things!). Someone would periodically go check upstairs to see if the woman I was waiting for had come, and then brought her down when she did. Like I mentioned before, I was exhausted from traveling and was grateful for a comfortable and warm place to sit, and to have some company. I thought it was so kind of them to look after me. Later I found out one of them is the building manager, so I guess maybe he felt it was his responsibility to look after a guest of one of his residents. In any case, I was touched :).

There are many more examples of Turkish hospitality that I’ve experienced in the last six months; these are just two of my favorites. And I’m sure there are many more to come :).


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