Turkish Hospitality: A Non-Muslim’s Discovery

Travel Writing
By Amy Lysen
Freelance Writer- The US

Turkish one
As soon as I met the people of Istanbul I immediately felt at home.

Different language, different religion, different sights, smells and tastes! Nothing could be more opposite to my small hometown near Seattle.  Turkey was nothing that I expected or I could have ever imagined; but as soon as I met the people of Istanbul I immediately felt at home.

I had an interesting entrance into Istanbul.  It could have been the worst hitchhiking experience, but it turned out to be my best.  I had caught a lift with a Turkish truck driver from the Romanian-Bulgarian border a day and a half earlier and while we didn’t share a common language, he showed me amazing hospitality and gave me instant respect, which I later found to be the case with every Turkish person I met in my six weeks as a guest in their country.

When my lift dropped me off in the middle of a residential area in the outskirts of Istanbul, some kind men took it upon themselves to help me get to the center.  They took me to their English-speaking friend. He attentively listened to my story: how I came to be there with no Turkish Lira, no nearby ATM, no knowledge of the Turkish language, and no idea what part of Istanbul I was in- or if I even really was in Istanbul.

The kind man could have pointed in any direction and told me to get on a bus or ask someone else.  Instead, he made me tea, then coffee, and a sandwich, and invited me to sit down, relax and be his guest for a while.  After about an hour, he wrote direction for me, flagged down a minibus, told the driver my situation, paid him and gave me 10 Lira. He told me it would be plenty to get me where I needed to be and further, but he thought it was better to give me too much rather than too little, just in case something went wrong.  He then hopped out and waved goodbye before I had time to properly thank him.  I looked in the rear window as he ran back into his shop with a smile on his face.

I was stunned by the amazing compassion he had for me, a woman he had just met and would probably never see again.  His utter selflessness and care for others brought me peace and happiness the rest of my time in Turkey.  It was a wonderful introduction to Turkish hospitality and a great representation of my time there.

While staying with various friends in Istanbul, some Turkish, some not, I was able to see this hospitality in different forms.  One morning, a Turkish friend’s mother was cooking a breakfast feast for me and even though she didn’t understand English and I didn’t speak Turkish, she was happy to understand I enjoyed the food.

One afternoon, I was helped by a Turkish man in a coffee shop to connect my computer to the internet which was followed by a long conversation about my travels and how I liked Turkey.  Many times, I was offered tea by shop owners whether or not I was buying something from them.

I was lucky to meet people who cared about me and never expected anything back.  Their warmth and compassion welcomed me, a total stranger.  I was just one of thousands of tourists passing through, but they made me feel like it was their personal duty to take care of me.

The Turkish have perfected the art of hospitality in so many ways.  They give a lot to their visitors and even though they don’t expect anything in return. I hope they are rewarded for their good acts.

The History of “Hospitality”

The word ‘hospitality’ comes from the Latin ‘hospes’, meaning a stranger, guest, sojourner, visitor or foreigner.  The ancient Greek idea of hospitality meant taking care of the guest, protecting them from harm and guiding them safely to their next destination.

To ancient Greeks and Romans, hospitality was a divine right. No matter how little a host had, it was given to any visitor.

In India, there is a saying ‘Athidhi Devo Bhava’ or ‘Guest is God.’;  by showing graciousness to guests at home and in everyday life, the host will be rewarded with abundance.

In the parable of the Good Samaritan helping a stranger on the side of the road, we are taught to have love for our neighbors, even those we have not met yet.  When Abraham unknowingly cares for a group of angels, thinking they are travelers, he is gifted by the news they bring that his wife, Sarah, is pregnant.

Showing hospitality to strangers is the same as welcoming God in our lives.  In this way of respecting the divine in each other, we are giving something to a person without expecting anything back.

Contemporary hospitality usually involves proper etiquette, showing respect, providing for the guest’s needs, treating them as equals, and ensuring their comfort during their stay.  It tends to revolve around the goal of beginning a friendship with the strangers we show hospitality.

We are trying to get something out of the hospitality we give.  There are many people who are hospitable to their family and friends or to people they wish to have a personal connection with, but if they don’t have any desire for friendship with someone, they are not treated the same.  At some point in history, we have strayed from the idea of giving without expecting anything in return and have thus become somewhat selfish in our hospitality.  That hospitality is still good, but not as pure as it was.

Pay It Forward

The Turkish have perfected the art of hospitality in so many ways.  They give a lot to their visitors and even though they don’t expect anything in return, I hope they are rewarded for their good acts.  Never once did I feel like I owed anyone for the hospitality they gave me.  Their selflessness has encouraged me to act as hospitable as I can to people in my everyday life.

What better way to welcome someone into your country, culture or home than to show them compassion.  Whether it’s leading them through the public transportation of your city, showing a sincere interest in them or serving a wonderful homemade meal, it can only make their life better.

It doesn’t have to stop at visitors- hospitality can be shown to people in your own community.  Helping someone with their bags at the market, picking up a motorist stuck on the side of the road or giving a homeless person something to eat is just as effective.

Hospitality within your community can help make your culture more welcoming and hospitable to future visitors.

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