“Would you like some tea?”
After wandering the intricate maze of Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar and a bit of haggling, I had finally secured my long sought-after lamp (special Turkish-speaking English teacher price!) when the shop owner asked S.C. and I if we would like some tea. I saw that S.C. was on the verge of saying, “No,” so I hastily jumped in with an enthusiastic “Yes!” Çay with a shopkeeper is a not-to-be-missed part of the Grand Bazaar experience.
Soon our elma çay (apple tea) appeared out of nowhere and we got to talking with our new shopkeeper friend. Or, I did, as S.C. politely sipped her tea. He asked the usual questions — How do I like Afyon? (It’s nice, I like my job, but Istanbul is tabii ki an infinitely better city.) How much do you get paid? What is your rent? (Shocker – I get paid much less than an English teacher in Istanbul. My rent is also significantly less.) Where is my friend from? (She’s from India, she’s studying in Copenhagen right now, we’re friends from university – two truths and a half-lie.) Where am I from? (Chicago.)
At this, his whole face lit up. Ah do you know Rockford, Illinois?!
Uh, yeah. What a strange place for a Turk to know.
Turns out his wife is from Rockford. Before I knew it, his cell phone was in my hand and his wife was on the other end of the line. We chatted for a few minutes, both tacitly acknowledging the weirdness, but essential Turkishness of this moment. I hung up and, over the course of the next forty-five minutes was told the following at least half a dozen times each —
I’ll give you my wife’s number. You call her if you have any problems.
You want to teach English next year? Call my wife. She knows the director of the English department at Marmaris University.
Next time you come to Istanbul, call my wife. You can stay with us.
Are you looking for pashminas? They’re too expensive in the Grand Bazaar. You want one? I have a friend. His shop is not too far from here.
When I asked where his shop was, he did not whip out a map or start rattling off directions. No, he stood up, grabbed two umbrellas, and charged out into the pouring rain, to show us the way. We sloshed through the flooded, winding cobblestone streets around the Grand Bazaar until we reached his friend’s warm, dry, brightly-lit shop at the end of a narrow alleyway. At this point, how could I say no to a scarf?
Before we parted ways, we got very explicit directions for getting out of the Grand Bazaar and to the tram with minimal time spent in the downpour (I don’t want you to catch colds.). And once more for good measure — Call my wife if you need anything in Istanbul. You can stay with us next time you come to Istanbul.
S.C. asked me if we were in a dream. No, no we were not. We were just experiencing Turkish hospitality at its best.