There are times when living as a foreigner among Turkish people is really enjoyable. Like when they stop you in the street, shake your hand, and ask you to sit down for a cup of tea. Or when they bend down to greet your children with a kiss and a pinch on the cheek. Or when they give you something for free just because they are delighted that you stopped by their shop. Or when they invite you into their home for dinner and show you the true meaning of the word “hospitality.”
Sometimes that sort of warmth is contagious. Sometimes it demands a response.
Take the other day, for example. As usual, I walked into a coffee shop for my morning cup of coffee. One of the regular morning baristas greeted me at the door before I could even enter the store, a piping hot cup of coffee in his hand. “Good morning,” he said with a smile as he handed me the cup of coffee. “This is for you. Complimentary.” “For me?” I asked with a puzzled look on my face. “Yes. A gift. From us,” he insisted. I peered into the store through the glass door to see the morning manager smiling at me from behind the counter. “Thank you very much,” I said with a bit of surprise in my voice. “This is wonderful.” I shook the barista’s hand, waved at the manager in appreciation, and went on my way, a cup of coffee in my hand and a skip in my step.
On another recent day, a friend unexpectedly paid for my lunch. At a cafeteria I’ve started to frequent, I was recently surprised to learn that the owner will no longer let me pay for a meal. The other day at our neighborhood bazaar, a friendly fruit vendor gave each of my children a free apple just because he was happy to see them. One evening, a businessman in our neighborhood stopped me on the street to help me with a problem I’d shared a few days earlier. And a few days ago, a car even stopped for me as I was attempting to cross the street in a crosswalk! (I realize this one sounds strange, but this sort of thing is rare here.)
As I’ve received this kind of warmth during the cold, rainy month of December, I’ve found that I really have no choice but to respond in kind. Opening my umbrella for an older woman walking in the cold rain, buying afternoon tea for a few friends gathered at a café, and giving up my seat on a crowded bus to an older gentleman are a few opportunities I’ve recently had to contribute to the collective kindness of the Turkish culture. Warmth, apparently, can be contagious.
Of course, not every day in Turkey is rosy, and not every person we come across seems warm. But, generally, the warmth shown to us by the people of Bursa is definitely something to write home about, and it’s something we’ve come to appreciate about living here.