Host Family Dinner, Or: Blurred Lines of Hospitality

Mustafa Bey picked me up in the white mini van again on Friday. This time, his daughters did not join him on the ride. He asked me what kind of Turkish music I like. My response, arabesque, did not please him, and he told me I should listen to traditional saz music instead. I nodded in agreement, unable to form a sentence in defense of Orhan Gencebay.

Near the family’s apartment, shepherds have gathered hundreds of sheep in preparation for Kurban Bayramı, a Muslim religious holiday that honors Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son. Even five stories above the ground, we could hear the hubbub of the farmers and their animals.

Earlier that afternoon, I walked to the market to buy a gift in preparation for my visit. A string of dried figs – kuru incir – something sweet, but not boxed baklava. I presented the gift, finally feeling like I figured out the process (I’m usually a terribly awkward gift-giver). Mustafa Bey accepted the bag, but then told me I shouldn’t bring gifts anymore. “The student life is a poor one,” he said, probably a reference to a proverb. Mustafa Bey then handed me a plastic bag, inside of which was the biggest dictionary I’ve ever seen. I’m not even sure it’s a dictionary, technically. A book of sentences; when I look up unfamiliar words, I have to look up at least five new words I don’t understand in the definition. But, I love the dictionary and I’m grateful for the gift.

I spent most of the evening talking with Mustafa and Zehra’s daughters. They are really smart girls; they asked good questions and helped me to translate words when needed. They are curious about the differences between life in Turkey and life in the United States. What sorts of fruit do Turks enjoy that Americans don’t? How much do teachers earn in the United States? Is it expensive to live in the U.S.? I told them about my work with Muftah, where I write about Eastern Europe, and we talked about the term “Eastern Europe” even means. I’m amazed I was able to handle the conversation in Turkish, but the girls’ offering of words and better ways to phrase my responses made it possible.

Dinner felt much more casual than two weeks ago. There wasn’t much fanfare; slices of bread were put directly on the table; I wasn’t force-fed until I thought I would explode. One of the twins argued with her father, raising her voice, something I thought would be met with “There’s a guest at the table!” But, neither Mustafa nor Zehra scolded their daughter for getting upset in front of a guest. I was glad; that would have been awkward for me, but I was also glad because it signaled that I’ve moved at least a little bit past the “guest” stage. After dinner, I was given tea and left alone with the three daughters – a contrast to last week’s long conversation with the adults. It was nice to not be doted on; it didn’t match the intense hospitality I’d been met with the week before, but I felt welcome and at home in a different, more intimate way.

fat dictionary


One thought on “Host Family Dinner, Or: Blurred Lines of Hospitality

  1. Iulia Alexandra Oprea says:

    Speaking with natives is the best way to learn a language! But that book…is WooW! Can you please provide me the title and author? I’m learning Turkish on my own and your book seems to be very useful.
    Greetings from a turcoholic!:)

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