Guest blogger and summer intern, Bethany, gives her first impressions upon her arrival to Turkey.
Anytime I travel, I have to adopt the mindset that a new culture is not bad or worse than mine, it is just different. This mindset allows me to approach new experiences with the open and eager mind of a learner. Exploring Turkey and getting to know its beautiful people as a learner has given me the opportunity to experience beautiful and different cultural practices and norms. Here are some of the things I have been able to learn about Turkey that I love.
I always enjoy starting with food and Turkey does not disappoint! I like to approach travel with not only an open mind but an open stomach willing to try anything. While this adventurous spirit is not possessed by all, I think there is a delicious Turkish food waiting to be tried by people at any level of adventure. From sweet flakey baklava to delicious fresh bread and tasty grilled meat, Turkey is abounding in fresh local foods and traditional delicacies.
Local Turkish Delicacies: Yoresel
One thing that I enjoy is the fact that every one of the eighty one Turkish provinces has a unique food it is known for. There is always something new to try. Part of the fun and beauty in this is that when visiting a new city or province, the people are eager and proud to share their unique food. Turks are always willing to share their hospitality, and their local delicacy is shared with pride. Whether it is a type of specialty meat, cheese, or unique twist on a traditional dessert, each province's food reflects the history, traditions, and people of that region. You can learn about a province's history with Russian occupation or agricultural industry just by trying their food!
Fresh food and dedicated shops
Everything in Turkey is fresh. This is something that astonished me when first coming to Turkey. There is a market for every type of food and it is all so fresh. In fact, it is hard to find bread or fruit that will last more than a few days. Every neighborhood has at least one market and oftentimes, there is a street with butchers, produce markets, stores dedicated to dairy products, and dry goods markets. Turks visit these stores once a day to purchase what they will need for that day. The freshness of good simple ingredients is reflected in the clean freshness of Turkish food. Fresh produce, fresh bread, and local dairy and meat are the norm in Turkey. Coming from a western country where fresh organic produce and local dairy and meat is so expensive, I was surprised to learn that this is often the only option. Turkey is dedicated to fresh local produce, meat, and dairy which is reflected in the delicious food. Enjoying the local foods and getting to know the local customs and history it represents is a true joy.
Turks themselves have been a delight to get to know. Upon arrival, I was surprised to learn how friendly Turks are. It is common to greet everyone you come across with a "how are you?" or "good afternoon". There is a greeting and well wishes for every situation and I am not joking! If you come across someone working, you can use a special Turkish greeting to wish them easy work. When receiving food, there is a phrase used to wish health to the hands of the one who prepared it. There are levels of respect built into the language which means there is literally a greeting or well wish for everyone in any situation.
Greetings are exchanged quite frequently with anyone who crosses your path. In addition to this, there is usually a series of questions that follows to inquire about your family, work, and health. It is not rude at all for Turks to ask about where your family is from, your marital status, or your job. As a foreigner, I have been asked all kinds of questions about my job, school, family, origins, and marital status. In my home culture, we often make assumptions about people without asking questions. I was surprised then to come here and learn that the normal is to just ask those questions in order to get to know a person. The friendly quriosity of Turkey is refreshing. I enjoy all of the phrases and greetings that serve as easy conversation starters. Getting to know the people of Turkey is actually easy and enjoyable. Any attempt to use Turkish and local greetings is often encouraged by the locals. In my short experience here, I have been encouraged to use local greetings in connecting with people. Weather or not I can perfect Turkish though does not hinder the friendly hospitality of Turks.
Hospitable and Respectful Cultural Norms
In learning and observing any culture, there are outer layers of practices and norms that have to be learned and observed in order to dive deeper and learn the depth of a culture. On the surface, there are practices, traditions, and behaviors that can be observed and under the surface are beliefs, symbols, and histories that influence what is easily observed. This is true of any culture and it takes time to observe and learn what is easily seen and then dive deeper below the surface of a culture. Any good traveler should travel with an open heart and mind while observing cultures, knowing there are many many layers below the surface influencing what is observed. My time in Turkey has been limited, so I have only observed surface level cultural norms. There is an exciting journey before me of learning Turkish culture and diving one level deeper at a time.
Turkey is a beautiful nation with even more beautiful people. They are friendly, kind, patriotic, and centered on their family. Great respect is shown for elders and the children are loved. Turks, in my experience, will treat travelers with kindness. Families take care of one another here and children are loved by all. There is so much to Turkey and I am just scratching the surface.
Be a Learner
On your next trip, weather it is to Turkey or somewhere else, I encourage you to approach travel as an exciting opportunity to get to know a people and their way of life. Feel free to adopt my travel motto of "its not bad, it's just different" when the smiling old woman proudly presents a dish of home made sheep stomach and rice. Keep this mindset of a cultural learner when visiting local markets, grilling delicious meat with locals, riding in a taxi while learning about the local 500 year old castle, and greeting a shop owner who has a hundred questions about you, your family, and life in America.
Traveling is one of life's greatest joys because it is an opportunity to get to know people and their way of life while discovering that we are maybe not so different as people. There are differences in every culture, but we all have the same basic human needs and wants. Traveling is a joyful and exciting process of learning from the world and peeling back one layer of culture at a time in getting to know people and all they have to offer.