How to make friends in Istanbul who will water you with tea.
I’m a tough kid, but I’m also a tiny Asian girl traveling alone for the first time.
So before arriving at the airport and having a short and salty, “Wah-I’m-all-alone-and-my-boyfriend’s-jacket-will-stop-smelling-like-him-in-two-days-I-don’t-know-how-to-say-toilet-in-Turkish-What-if-underneath-my-college-coolness-I’m-actually-just-a-middle-aged-Korean-fanny-packed-visored-squabbly-tourist-lady-when-I-go-abroad-What-if-a-minaret-falls-on-top-of-me-and-crushes-me-What-if-I’m-as-allergic-to-Turkey” cry, I prepared for several imaginative “worst case scenarios.”
What I didn’t prepare for was the absolutely heartwarming, disarming generosity and hospitality of Turkish people. Just smiling, looking eager, and answering questions about where I was from, what I was doing in Istanbul, and how I found the spicy beef köfte led to a quick friendship with an ex-English journalism major and current restaurant owner. What followed involved multiple glasses of tea and conversations about culture differences, North and South Korea, Turkey and Syria, yoga, getting married young, and countless other topics. When I reluctantly forced myself to get up (as best I could, my bladder was screaming from all the tea), he insisted I return the next day for a short, personal tour around the area. I took him up on the offer, and it turned into a several-hour meandering walkabout through the best parts of his neighbourhood, which involved countless more cups of tea, coffee, Turkish desserts, and stories you could never hear from a travel book (even one as intrepid as Let’s Go). I met so many kind gentlemen–because in these parts, everyone knows everyone–had so many “Oh, my old friend lives here/owns this cafe/runs this church” fast-pass moments, and got *so much free food. *I’d thought this sort of thing only happened in movies like *Eat, Pray, Love. *Turns out this happens in *Real Life, *too!
At the end of the day, my friend stopped me from profusely thanking him by saying, “There are men like me everywhere. You are a guest. It is Turkish tradition.”
The most important thing: Appear to be (and also be) smart, alert, eager, unabashed when called for, abashed when called for, humble, open to learn, and clearly interested in things that usual tourists aren’t. Make yourself an interesting, open person! That, my friends, is the best way to experience such warm friendliness from strangers on the road.