Turkish Hospitality, a Welcome Change

by Emily Johnson / Mar 01, 2011 / 1 comments

The Turkish Mediterranean in February is a diabolical change from the harsh winters I am accustomed to in Central Europe. Hence why I moved here. But the world of an 'off season' Mediterranean city has so much more character and interest than in the hot summer months when it thrives as a tourist mecca. 

There is nothing quite like the peace and serenity of a Turkish coastal down in the winter. You can really appreciate the sincerity of a place when the tourist shops are shut down for the season, and the majority of a towns inhabitants are the locals, relaxed in their Mediterranean-style daily comforts. The winter months bring very few tourists to these post-card-perfect towns, so if a 'real' Turkish Mediterranean experience is what you seek, best to come then.

This winter has been exceptionally mild, with temperatures often climbing into the 20's(C). The breezes blow just when you need them and the sun shines, reflecting luminescent on the strikingly blue waters that seem to flow on for eternity. Prices are cheaper; for everything from pensions to beer, and the locals exude a hospitality and charm I have yet to experience anywhere thus far.

Currently living in Antalya, I have recently taken a quick trip to Kaş (about 4 hours by bus up the western coast), in order to catch an early morning ferry to Megisti (Kastellorizo), a very small Greek island off the coast of Turkey. Ah yes, the all too familiar expatriate visa run. And let me tell you, there are definitely worse places to have to do a visa run than to a Greek island. Accustomed to going to Ukraine or Serbia for a fresh 90 dayre-up, I am used to unfriendly border guards and cold, blank stares of indifference as I try my best to charm and woo them into submission, never knowing if they will grant me that much desired stamp back into my 'home' county. But here in the Mediterranean, it's a totally different scenario, as with most things I am slowly coming to realize. One of the most remarkable things about Turkey is their renowned sense of hospitality. Yet when tourists swarm and the tourist industry is in full swing, this sense of sincerity which abounds in the off-season seems to be tragically lacking. But when the working facades come off, this is when the Turks really shine.

Many instances come to mind – the most recent being here in this small seaside town of Kaş, where, still not so accustomed to the friendliness of the Turks – I had 'booked' a pension online the night before – knowing full well that most of the summer pensions my friends, who were use to making this trip stayed at, would be closed. Arriving at the front door, I rang, once, twice... no answer. A few minutes later, I heard a voice from out in the street, “He is closed, family emergency, come with me, I know a place where you can stay”. “Come with me”? Normally my guard would have gone up instantly and I would have hit the pavement in the other direction, thanking the man for his offer, but I would be finding my own way. But remembering where I was, I accepted and jumped on the back of his motorbike. He took me about a block away to the most lovely pension, with a terrace overlooking the sea and all of Kaȿ. I was the only guest and was greeted with a kindness that made me feel instantly at ease and at home. The next day, on the ferry, I was met with more of the same kind faces and demeanors, welcoming me on-board, taking my passport (which normally ALWAYS has me on-edge), offering me wine, laughter and a most pleasant visa-obtaining experience.

In Antalya, it is much the same. From the fruit and veggie stand workers who look at me in confusion as I go to pay for a single apple or leek, smile and insist I take it for free, to the old man who owns the the shop below my apartment who bestows on me gifts of trees, home-cooked meals and fresh fruit. Who does that?! Only in Turkey. The people and establishments I have come to frequent always greet me with charm and conversation, whether in broken Turkish or broken English, these chats are a much welcome change from the staunchly closed-off exchanges I was met with for three years in Poland. Only having lived here for three months, I have already been accepted and incorporated instead of being cast-off and instantly labeled as an outsider, and for that, I am eternally grateful.



Emily Johnson is the Living in Turkey Editor for Wandering Educators. 

Comments (1)

  • Jefff Cudwoth

    13 years 3 months ago

    Your insight on your experiences in Turkey was very interesting. I have wanted to visit, but my wife was reluctant due to the strict adherence to the Muslim religion. However, your posting has offered a diffrent perspective, one that is extremely open and friendly, and an opportunity to visit a diverse culture.

    Thank you for the insight and perspective. 

    Jeff Cudworth, M.S.

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