I did it again. I broke a cardinal rule of Turkish hospitality: “Never, ever suggest to a guest that it’s time to leave.” How embarrassing. After 10 years here, I still break the rules, and it leaves me feeling like an Inept, Insensitive Foreigner.
Stand up my Husband or Kick my Guest out?
During our breakfast I was torn. Should I skip the prayer meeting to stay with my guests? That’s what any Turk would do. My husband, however, would expect me to make the prayer meeting a priority.
In the end, I let her know I had to go. I wondered if she connected the fact that she’d been an hour late with our time together being cut short. I doubted it. I made a mental note to allow 5 or 6 hours in my schedule when I want to invite her over: one hour for her to be late and four hours for our visit.
Classic Turkish Moment
(How I learned to cook for a crowd even when expecting two guests.)
My blunder with Zühal reminded me of one of my Classic Turkish Moments, during a two year stint in Istanbul 20 years ago: It was 8 o’clock, and my 7 o’clock dinner guests, Nesrin and her mother, hadn’t arrived. I stirred the spaghetti sauce, tossed the salad one more time and called to see what had happened.
“Taner just got home,” Nesrin said. “He has to take a shower, so we’ll be late.”
“All right, I said. “See you in a little while then.” But inside my mind was spinning. Taner? Why would Taner come? I’d invited Nesrin and her mother. As I hung up the phone, a light dawned. Nesrin had invited her brother and his family as well.
I made a mental adjustment. Okay, instead of 2 guests, we’ll have 5. I can do that. I opened the fridge, scouted for more ingredients and realized there was no way to make more spaghetti sauce. I got out more salad fixings, found an extra bag of pasta, and put more water on to boil.
They arrived at 9:15, 2 hours and fifteen minutes late. Nine people came through the door taking off their shoes as my roommate and I kissed and welcomed each one. Nesrin not only brought her brother and his family, but also her aunt, uncle and cousin. Now the dinner that I had cooked for two guests was looking very small indeed. As 10 of us gathered around the small dish of spaghetti sauce at the table, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
This happened 20 years ago, but things haven’t changed.
I still meet with surprises and sometimes feel like I don’t quite measure up. Do things like this ever happen to you where you live? How do you handle it? All I can do is accept that fact that I’ll probably never be the perfect Turkish hostess! I’ll write more on that next week.