How Turkish Hospitality Saved My Life

I had always head references to Turkish hospitality in books and in movies. But I had always just thought it was a tourism slogan that caught on.

However it wasn’t until I visited Turkey as a 16 year old runaway did I realize the truth of this expression. While it’s true that most people just about everywhere are hospitable, there is something to be said about Turkish hospitality. If it weren’t for their compassion, understanding and giving nature, I probably wouldn’t have survived.

I had just escaped the Bulgarian Prison and frantically ran to the border crossing with Turkey. When I arrived, I learned that a visa would cost 20 USD. Fearing that the police would soon catch up with me, I feverishly began asking cars if they could spot me the money. After only one minute, a college age guy offered me 20$ without a single question. He then gave me his phone number so I could contact him if I made it to Istanbul. I got the visa, crossed the border, eluded Bulgarian police and EU/Interpol warrants and was safe. This was just the beginning of countless more acts of kindness to come.

A few days later, I met up with the college-aged guy who gave me the money for the visa. As if he hadn’t already done enough, for two entire days he bought me food and showed me around his city.

Days later I met another guy who after a few minutes gave me his cherished prayer beads as well as 50 Euro’s to travel to the south of Turkey. 50 Euros is no small sum to give to a stranger, especially in Turkey.

Even as I walked the streets, shopkeepers would constantly invite me to share apple tea and hookah with them. They never once tried to sell me anything.

Even the homeless were hospitable. On one cold night, I found myself curled up on the deck of a shipwrecked boat. Two homeless guys appeared from inside the boat and I expected they would tell me off in a drunken Turkish rant. To my dismay, they instead offered me to stay inside.

The most astounding act of hospitality occurred when I was caught by the ticket agent on an east bound train towards Syria. Instead of being yelled at or thrown off, as is standard protocol in Europe, the ticket agent proceeded to give me tea and a sandwich. I couldn’t believe my good fortune and the kindness of the Turkish.

And the list goes on. Needless to say, I never went hungry or cold in Turkey.

Why Are The Turks So Hospitable?

My main theory about why the Turks are so hospitable has to due with the geographic location of Turkey. For Centuries, Turkey has literally been the thorough fair between Europe and Asia. Countless travelers and traders have traversed this country. As a result, the Turks have become used to the weary and under fed traveler. They have become understanding of different cultures. Overall, they are proud of their country and generally want to show everyone a good time.

Although I probably could have survived by implementing some of my dumpster diving techniques, Turkey gave me much needed rest and friendship when my morale was faltering. As a result of all the help I received, the magnificence that is Istanbul, the kebabs, Turkish Sloppy Joes, and potatoes stuffed with corn, beef and sour cream, Turkey remains one of my favorite countries in the world. So if you get a chance, I recommend everyone visit Turkey one day. Though you could  potentially go without money as I did, you will have a lot more fun if you bring a bit of cash.


Let Me Know What You Think!

  1. says

    It’s random acts of kindness and generosity that I think are some of the most powerful travel experiences anyone can have. It’s such a joy to travel in a country where the majority of people are genuinely kind and show generous acts of hospitality. I hope to visit Turkey someday soon!

  2. says

    Great story but I am not surprised! I lived there for a year (and wrote a book about my experiences traveling and teaching – The Yogurt Man Cometh) and I found exactly what you did: incredible kindness and hospitality. I hitchhiked without worry, had shop owners close up to take me personally down the street to find something despite all my protests, was taken care of when I was hopelessly ill. I can’t recommend the place highly enough. I hope to be back there again this spring to visit old friends and likely make new ones.

  3. says

    Awesome story that just emphasizes the universal truth that most people are genuinely good at heart. If everyone spent a little bit more time tramping around the world for a little bit, I bet there would much less animosity and war between nations.

    Keep up the good work! Safe Travels!

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