Here in Istanbul, the locals have a nice little habit of calling everyone “my friend,” sometimes to the point where it may seem completely inauthentic.
Walking down Istiklal street past restaurant after bar after restaurant, taking a right on some smaller street and passing restaurant after club after restaurant, until I’m at my final destination in the middle of the labyrinth, I get tagged by man after man trying to get me to give their establishment my patronage for an hour or two. At first it was flattering—everybody wanted me! However, as the semester went along I started to get annoyed by the constant coos for my friends’ and my money and time. Yet for some reason, we still continued to promenade the streets as if we were at a park, to sit and wait for a friend 10 feet away from a club blasting music with doormen eagerly waiting our entry (over time we’ve slowly started to pick out better spots to stand idly).
I’ve started to come back around though, to the point of having warm feelings for these men who are so unashamedly calling out our names in such an entertaining manner. At this mahalle called Ortaköy, you can buy these stuffed baked potatoes called kumpir that I mentioned in a previous post, and you can also get ice-cream, fruit and Nutella covered waffles. There is line of maybe 6 or so of these little huts that all compete for your service, but the ways that they try to get people’s attention is the most hilarious thing I’ve ever witnessed. They often call out celebrity names to win the favor of tourists. For example, they’d say, “Hey beautiful, hey, you! Angelina Jolie! Beautiful!” Or they’d say, “Hey handsome! My friend, Brad Pitt! Beautiful!” (yes, those were two very commonly used names!).
It honestly is so embarrassing and yet so fun, but then you have to decide who to “offend” by not going to their place. According to a Turkish friend, they’re all owned by the same people, and the competition is really just more for the fun of it. I really thought that was a great example of society in Istanbul: There’s just so much competition wherever you go, yet people will serve you dessert from the stand across the street, even if the only thing you had at their establishment was two cups of tea. It’s not so much about the profit here—sure, money is important, but it’s not about money and only money.
On another note, I also recently learned that Turks helped America fight during the Korean war, and it’s actually quite a known thing in this country. Many Turks have told me, “Turks and Koreans are friends, Koreans are good people.” And they’re really quite kind figuring out I’m Korean (well, half at least!). So, to any Koreans out there who don’t know this, you’re always welcome in Turkey, and you’ll find even greater hospitality than they already display to many foreigners.
There is a word in Turkish, which is honestly one of the hardest words in my opinion, but it’s “misafirperverlik.” That word is a very important part of Turkish culture, and I honestly think it shines through in a lot of situations. The couch surfing community here is quite pro-active and very welcoming of travelers from abroad with events and weekly meet ups. Unfortunately I didn’t make it to any of their Wednesday meet-ups, but I sure felt welcome if I had the chance. Turks can easily get angry on the street, especially in the car, and they may seem inauthentic when they call you Angelina Jolie all the time, but in the end they really are quite a nice people, and really do want to meet knew people and be friends.
Just don’t try too much sarcasm with them; it doesn’t seem to translate all too well.