Turkish Hospitality. How Everyone Is Family

My first experience of living outside of the United States occurred in the fall of 2013. That semester, I moved to Istanbul as an exchange student at Bogazici University. During those first weeks, there were many parts of life that I had to adjust to, like shopping in Turkish grocery stores. But something else foreign to me was the culture of hospitality and friendship that is so prevalent in Turkey.


One of my first experiences looked like this: I was talking with some friends after our chemistry class, and we got ready to say goodbye ("görüşürüz") and head our separate ways. Everyone in the group, including some guys who I had just met, were all kissing each other on the cheeks as they said goodbye, and all of a sudden I was in the mix. This was totally new territory for me; in the US, I only would hug my close friends goodbye, everyone else would just get a wave. I realized that this culture was very different. It was more warm. More friendly. Everyone was instant friends.


As I got more used to Turkish hospitality and how to live as a local, I realized that I loved how the culture was so friendly and warm.

Another situation happened during final exams' time that really hit it home for me. I was sitting in the library, studying in an area where each desk had a short wall around it. It was quiet, no one was talking. We all had our heads in a book or stuck in front of our computer screen. I was getting tired of studying and being alone. All of a sudden, the girl in the box next to me peeked her head around the wall and smiled. 'Do you want some chocolate? ' she asked. I just stared at her for a minute. I didn't know her. We had never met. But she was holding out her chocolate bar, offering me a chunk.

'Thank you so much' I replied — cracking off a square. She smiled and leaned back into her study area. I just stared straight ahead, so amazed at what had just happened. I had seen it happen before in class; in Turkish culture, if you are eating something and there are others around, you gladly offer them some of your food before you eat any of it. Even if you don't know them. Even if you think that you might not have any left by the time you get to eating it. Even if its a granola bar.

Generosity. Whole-hearted generosity. It blew me away. I realized that in the US, we were missing out on this. We are often selfish, thinking, "But what if there isn't enough left for me? I'm the one that brought it! But I realized that we were looking at it backwards. If everyone shares, there is always enough. And it is more important to look out for the best interests of others. Selfless living.


In other areas of life, I continued to experience this generous hospitality. In the way my friends immediately offered for me to spend the night on their couch if I was over late for dinner. The invitations to visit my friends in their home cities and how their families welcomed me with open arms. The time our neighbor brought us a huge bag of cherries during Ramazan. The experience of being allowed to crash a stranger's engagement party and folk dance with the bridal party. My eyes were opened to how much Turkish hospitality can teach us about friendship. About community.

Turks love with their arms wide open. And now I hope to bring that attitude of hospitality with me wherever I go.


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