If you know me at all, even one passing conversation in the grocery store, you will know one very important aspect of my life: I studied abroad last summer. I will find a way to worm this little detail about me into any conversation, even if you find it annoying. It’s something I’m most proud of and an experience that has changed my life.
Obviously, thanks to this wonderful experience through Semester at Sea, I have tons of stories. Literally, tons. A ton is what… 1000 lbs? I have a thousand pounds worth of stories. Here’s just one for you today:
Towards the end of July, I spent 5 days in Istanbul, Turkey. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect in this city, but I was excited to find out. I had heard about Istanbul years ago and put it on my travel bucket list; now I was finally able to check it off!
On our first day in Istanbul, my friends Krissy, Ali, and I set off to explore the city. We wandered around a bit before breaking down and buying a map to find the Hagia Sofia and Blue Mosque–two attractions we were told to visit by several different experts on our ship. On our way, we stumbled across a beautiful park. After visiting major cities for the past month and a half, we weren’t used to seeing so much grass! We took endless pictures, played on the swing set tucked back behind a path, counted several busts of Attaturk (he was everywhere), and posed for pictures on a bridge crossing a tiny pond.
Soon, we grew tired and hungry. We found a quaint little cafe right outside of the park, so we wandered inside. It was completely empty except a couple waiters. Awkward. It was about 10:30 in the morning… perhaps it wasn’t open yet? Then one of the waiters spotted us and, a little too excitedly, waved us to a table. That was confusing… there was a bar displaying many different pastries and drinks with a cash register on the end. Surely that’s where we were to order? After a few more awkward moments of sitting, we decided to just go for it and order a couple plates of baklava and apple tea (best meal you will ever find in Turkey!). After a lot of pointing and attempted Turkish words, we finally ordered and returned to our seats. A few minutes later, the same friendly waiter brought us our plates of baklava. We offered, “Sağol“, but the waiter oviously wasn’t leaving.
To our surprise, the waiter–knowing very little English, mind you–started cutting up our baklava for us. As this was our first day in Turkey, we figured maybe it was a custom of Turkish servers to cut up the guests’ food… until he started feeding it to us. Starting with Krissy, the waiter came up behind each of us, one hand on our shoulder, the other hand holding a fork with a bite of baklava in its prongs and he proceeded to feed us the baklava!!! After each bite, he would set down the fork, grab a napkin, and wipe the crumbs from our faces!! We watched each other being fed by this Turkish stranger, stifling bouts of laughter but he could tell we weren’t used to this sort of treatment.
After feeding us our first bites of baklava, the waiter left so we could feed the rest to ourselves. We could not stop laughing, wondering if this was a Turkish tradition or if we stumbled into the wrong cafe.
A few minutes later, our waiter friend returned with free Turkish Delight for us to try… or rather, for him to make us try. Looking back, he may have just wanted to see if we would let him feed us again because that’s exactly what he did. After he fed Ali her piece and was wiping her face with a napkin, we all swear he tried to blow her nose.
Shortly after our friend fed us Turkish delight, we paid and left as quickly as we could, waiting to burst from laughter as soon as we rounded the corner. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed harder in my life!
After talking to a few other friends and eating at a couple more restaurants, we realized that it was not a Turkish custom to cut up guests’ food and feed them their first bite. If any waiter tries that, he knows you’re American and will go along with anything because you’re trying to experience the culture firsthand. I guess we did experience a certain aspect of Turkish culture… they can be tricksters.