Being a vegetarian in Istanbul is quite the challenge, but it can be done. This however, is not the topic of today’s post. I want to talk about bar/café culture here.
In Holland, or most North-Western European countries, if I go to a place to eat a sandwich where I’ve never been before, the next time I come back they won’t even remember I was there before. Small towns or villages are (generally) an exception to this rule, but in this 15 million population metropolis called Istanbul, you are remembered and valued.
The first time I went around the corner here to get a sandwich, I tried to get a vegetarian one. I got a sandwich with some cheese. I liked their attitude though (it was very hospitable and accommodating) and told my friend about it and took him there. When I came back I could see in their eyes that they were happy I not only came back a second time, but also brought another new customer to the place. My vegetarian sandwich now contained cheese and tomato.
Today I went there again and I heard the one guy say in Turkish to the other something along the lines of “look, he’s back again”. It’s nice to be noticed and it’s great to see how much Turkish business owners value returning customers. This time I got the same sandwich but with cucumber and salad. Next time maybe some fries? Another example.
In Istanbul there are many places to have some tea with friends, smoke some nargile (hookah/seisha), and play some games (mostly backgammon). Last week I already spoke about going to a nargile traditional waterpipe place in Taksim with some friends. We decided to go there again and I think we’ll be having weekly meet-ups at this place once we’re all spread out over town at different universities. Well, so far we already have weekly meet-ups
Anyway, we sat down, drank some tea, ordered a banana flavour nargile which had milk instead of water in it and started playing backgammon. After one game, we put back the board and brought out Balance, probably known as Jenga to most Westerners. We played a few games, but the concentration and energy that goes into this game is magnetic and we soon had the attention of the staff. We invited them to come play and had a lot of fun with them. Great!
It’s important here to form a bond with people. Not just for the free tea, nargile, or having many friends, but for the simple fact that the customer / staff relationship is rather different from in Holland. In one way you are treated with more respect and more formality, in the other way more personal. Maybe because of the more personal touch there is more respect between staff and customer. People don’t just see each other as their roles (there are exceptions of course) or as numbers, but as actual people and treat you as such.
Except for in Turkey’s mobile phone network provider Türkcell’s shops where they treat you like someone who doesn’t mind having to “come back tomorrow” for seven days per week to avoid getting cut off from the network. Big thumbs down to Türkcell and how their staff treats foreigners. (Just wanted to vent)
Like to read more about Turkey, Istanbul and my experiences in the region? Subscribe by RSS or click here for email updates.