I had an interesting “çay experience” the other day as I was out for lunch with Burcu, a Turkish friend. After the meal I wanted to have some çay (Turkish for tea), as it is always the case after eating.
While Burcu went for the bathroom, I moved towards a big shiny samovar standing right in the middle of the room. I figured I could just help myself. As soon as I started to pour myself a glass full of tea, one of two young men working in the place and apparently responsible for serving the tea came towards me. He said something, his hands making a gesture as if to say that he could do it for me. I did not understand any of his words since my Turkish is still at basic level. But I assumed he had asked me if he should give me a hand. I shook my head and smiled, carefully transporting my çay to an empty seat. He looked surprised. Maybe he was just wondering how I managed to hold the glass with the hot liquid in it, I told myself, since it was indead quite hot and burning my fingers. I saw the young man return to his co-worker and mumble something. They both smiled. I smiled in return. I had a sip of my tea and found it particularly bitter. So I added another sugar lump.
When Burcu came back from the restroom, the waiter asked her if she wanted any tea as well. Then he asked her something else which made her stare right at my tea. “You’re having pure tea!”, she shouted out. So? I did not really understand. Both Burcu and the waiter started laughing. I then was explained that the tea needs to be diluted with water, depending on how strong you want it to be. That explained the high degree of bitterness of my tea. And also of the ones I had been pouring myself at university the last few days. There were two taps to the samovar: One for the çay and one for the hot water. I had successfully been ignoring that fact before. Well, finally I ended up being served a whole new glass of çay, which looked much lighter than the previous one.
Experiences like this one make you realize that despite globalization and any other possible similarities between cultures, you still end up being a “yabancı” (stranger) as soon as you leave your home country.