Thursday, June 3, 2010

A Quick Story

Due to these three weeks of midterms and finals, it is looking conceivable that I will not be able to update this blog much before I leave.  That's a pity, since I have done enough interesting things to justify several more posts.  I am mulling over the possibility of doing some post-hoc blogging upon my return to the states, or at least on the plane.  In the mean time, I have a very short story of why I will miss Turkey.

I am now leaving in about 10 days, which means that I am mostly taking finals and saying goodbye to people.  The prospect of leaving seems easier in the context of the heat and humidity that have suddenly colored all aspects of life in Ankara (and has made the library entirely unbearable) and the fact that I have been spending most days studying for final exams.

This evening, I decided that even my room was too hot to stay in, so I went outside to see if I could find a place to read my textbook.  I found a globe light to the side of my dorm just sort of sticking out of the grass and some plastic chairs nearby.  I dragged the chair over to the light, and sat down to read.  I heard some people nearby but remained focused on reading, hoping they wouldn't mind that I moved the chair and was doing something so un-Turkish as reading outside alone at night.

Eventually I heard some footsteps approach, and saw an old man (probably a janitor) holding a glass plate full of cookies and a large glass of tea.  He asked, "Would you like some tea?"

I said "Thank you," and put my hand to my chest in a practice that is unfortunately ambiguous, but seemingly the only polite way to say "no" in Turkish.  Either the man believed that I had meant "yes" or refused my refusal (the second is very common) because he proceeded to hand me the entire plate/tea combo.  He then took out a bowl of sugar and started scooping sugar into my cup.  When I indicated that I had enough sugar by hastily stirring my tea, the man went away and came back with a chair.  At first I thought that he wanted to talk, but he then put the tray on the extra chair.  I thanked him and he asked if I was a foreigner.  I told him yes, that I was from America.  He seemed pleased by this and went off.

I finished my tea and all seven or so cookies, and found the man to give him his plate, cup and saucer back.  He asked twice if I wanted more, and each time I politely refused, thanking him again for the tea and telling him it was good for studying.  He then introduced me to his wife, who also wanted to know if I was a foreigner.  I thanked them again and went off to study.

The thing is that that wasn't even the first cup of tea someone had given me that day.  Turkish hospitality is so overwhelming that it can make foreigners feel uncomfortable.  In fact, the other person that bought me tea today told me a story of a Korean in Turkey that couldn't understand why the bus would offer him food, drinks and cologne (I find the last pretty disagreeable, as it makes the entire bus smell like pine-sol).  Here, anything less would be considered rude.  I spent months believing that I had to live up to the wonderful treatment I was getting before I realized that everyone's kindness was only a response to my being there and nothing more.  Having been a perpetual guest for the past six months, I can say that will really miss the world's most hospitable nation.

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