I know a lot has been written and told about Turkish hospitality. I was myself raised in a culture where children are taught to show honor and respect to the guests, and to do their best to (over)feed them and make sure they feel comfortable, welcome, and entertained. But, still Turkish hospitality amazes me over and over again.
Regardless whether you are coming to Turkey as a tourist or with the intention to live here for a while, if you make Turkish friends (which is unbelievably easy) you will be invited to their home. After coming there, don’t expect to leave after an hour or two: they will not let you go, even if you have only stopped by for a cup of coffee or tea. You will get one coffee or tea with lokma, biscuits, and then another coffee or tea, and another one, and then you will get nuts, and sunflower seeds, and fruit, and juice and so on. During this time they will ask you everything about yourself and your family members, including the distant relatives. And then after quite a few hours, you can say: “Yavaş, yavaş gitmem lazım” literally meaning “I need to go, slowly slowly,” which means that you will spend at least another half an hour talking, kissing everybody on the cheek, inviting them to your house, asking them to greet their aunts, uncles, and parents.
Turkish hospitality (misafirperverlik) is especially pronounced in the east of the country, where a family with a modest background will offer a shelter to a stranger and put all the food they have in front of their guests without even asking whether they were hungry at all. A few years back, I travelled with a friend (two girls in mid-20s) via train from Istanbul to Adana. My friend could not speak any Turkish at all, and my knowledge of Turkish language was very basic at the time. However, we spent about hour or two playing with kids occupying the seats in front of ours’. We were singing with them, telling them our names, taught them to count in English and so on. They introduced us to their parents and uncle. Since the train had four hours delay, we arrived to Adana at midnight worrying if we would be able to find a hotel at that late hour. I asked kids’ parents if they could recommend us a hotel, but they immediately insisted on our staying at their house. After unsuccessful attempts to refuse their gracious offer we gave in, and climbed with 7 of them on a mini truck that took us to their house. As they explained us later, they had spent that day picking cherries in Afyon, and they had 5 huge bags filled with the fruit. The family was everything but wealthy: grandparents, parents, 4 kids, and 2 uncles lived in the house with two bedrooms. We ate dinner sitting on the floor, and talked to them until the wee hours: we wrote the names of all our relatives on the paper, they showed us all their family photographs, the grandmother kissed us on the cheek every two minutes, the kids were sitting in our lap all the time, and everybody seemed to be so happy because they hosted two unknown strangers in their house. We had the honor to sleep in the grandparents’ room, which was the only one with a bed. After the breakfast on the next morning, we spent about two hours meeting the entire neighborhood and I spoke to Bayram Abi’s sister over the phone and had to promise her that next time we would go to Afyon. Around midday the entire family followed us to the bus station from where we continued our journey to Antakya, and we had to give them our word we would visit them again.
While you are in Turkey, please keep in mind to be generous towards people surrounding you. Not sharing your food with people around you, especially children, and eating in front of somebody who is not eating implies a lack of sensibility and generosity. Just like the food you should share a drink or a cigarette. And remember to invite your new friends to your home.