Don’t let the title mislead you, Turkey has some wonderful food. From chef köfte to baklava, you are not short on delicious things to choose from. My mouth waters at the thought of any upcoming meal but the best part of Turkey isn’t the food, it’s the people. If you come to a country eager for the food but not the people, you are missing the most valuable part of a culture.
A lot of foreigners have misconceptions about what Turkish people will be like. Just before I arrived here, I heard that the Turkish people probably wouldn’t be that hospitable but that truly could not be further from the truth! Let me share a few of the experiences I have had interacting with the Turkish people and hopefully inspire you to interact with them too.
This past week in Kemaliye, we spent significant time with a few Turks as we toured around the city. Something I first noticed was the immediate smiles and laughter their presence brought into the room. Even though there was an obvious language barrier, their personality and charisma made me laugh alongside them.
At one point on our trip I was feeling nauseous, but had no plans to make that feeling known beyond our group. However, as soon as our Turk friend found out, he made every effort to make sure I could be as comfortable as possible. I continually sat in the back of the bus to leave room open but every time, he sought me out and brought me to the front where I could sit most comfortably. More than the action itself, it was the heart that said if there is a way to care for a guest, I will do it.
Something I loved about traveling with SilkRoad Moments was that they allowed us to participate in homestays with local families in Erzurum. The homestays allowed us to be in close contact with Turkish people and really see (and attempt to understand) what Turkish culture is like!
Truly, they were the most welcoming and hospitable people I have had the privilege of visiting. We played board games, were offered enough food to feed a village, listened to music, and laughed. Although my Turkish is limited to about five words, I didn’t feel like an outsider. It could be easy to say this family is an anomaly, but having met the neighborhood while we are at their house, I can say it is likely they are not.
The Turks were so sweet anytime we would interject with a random Turkish word we knew (obviously that applied to the conversation). In America, a lot of times we are frustrated with English that isn’t understandable enough despite an individual's best effort. But not here. They loved that we put in even the smallest effort to learn the language of their heart. If I was committed to learning the language fully, they would be a wonderful encouragement to keep trying even when you make mistakes.
One thing I love about Turkish people is their interactions with one another. From young to old, they are all in the room talking, laughing, and serving one another. They are loud and energetic, obviously enjoying one another’s company.
Something else that is really fun about Turkish culture is that you are offered tea almost anywhere you go. If you walk into a shop or a hair salon (that’s another story), tea is quickly offered for free. There is no rush to get your money and get you out, but instead they are happy to have you linger and chat. Personally, I was not a huge tea drinker before coming to Turkey. But the more you do it just to spend time with people, the more it grows on you! So it is not the tea itself that I love now but the fellowship and time with people I enjoy being with.
Turks love food. For any guest, food is a way to communicate love and hospitality without using a single word. A lot of Turks use food as a way to show what is deep in their heart and culture which is to care, serve, feed. It’s the people that make the food worth eating! Because when a precious older woman asks you to eat more food than you thought you could stomach, you do it because it brings her joy!
Turks are full of warmth and very hospitable. The individualistic mentality that many of us are used to is not a standard practice you’d find here. The “it takes a village mindset” is at the heart of many Turks, and they are eager to help and care for you in any way they can. That is a characteristic that marks Turkey and makes it one of the most wonderful places to visit.
Three things people come to Turkey for are the food, the scenery, and the history. Believe me, all of those things are worth coming for. But they aren’t the heart and soul of a country like Turkey! They don’t show why Turkey is the way that it is and why it has continued to be a wonderful tourism location. Why visit a country for the food if the people are terrible? It wouldn’t always be worth it. That is why getting to know the people is the most vital part of visiting Turkey! They are worth knowing and there is something we can all learn from them that we can hold on to no matter where we return after our trip.
So take my advice and come to Turkey! Try the food, learn about the history, and take as many photos as you can. Do all of those things! But most importantly, befriend a Turk and learn from them, because to really know the country you have to know the people. I can tell you from experience that it is more than worth it.
See you in Turkey!