Peter at the tea shop in Sulthanmet, Istanbul

After rain initially interrupted my exploitation of the free WiFi in Sulthanmet park, I later returned to try and find a sheltered spot that wasn’t going to overcharge me for coffee or cake ,but would put me in range to finish what I wanted to do.

There was a little tea shop just off the side of the main strip. While the cafes on the main strip could pass for something on Oxford St (London), Hay St Mall (Perth) or Ronnebygatan (Karlskrona), or any other western city, this place only served tea, and the furniture was the 1 ft high stools that seem to be that standard bearer of working or relaxing men.

I sat at the same tiny square table as Peter, and proceeded to be only half-successful in picking up the WiFi signal, which as any ‘net junkie knows is probably worse than not getting it at all. His English was not so good, but his French and German seemed better than my own – so English it was.

We exchanged very few words, but sitting next to each other enjoying the light rain and requesting cups of tea on each other’s behalf was communication enough. I understood that his work was something to do with hotels, and I think he understood that I was travelling to Iran, then Australia.

As I stood to pay, he shouted me away. It was not the first, but remains one of the most memorable incredibly generous offerings of hospitalilty on behalf of a complete stranger that makes me both crumble with gratitude, and also fierce with anger that popular media in the west continues to portray central asian and middle-eastern cultures with such deliberate inaccuracy.

Anyway, thankyou Peter, thankyou Istanbul

As I write this, what comes to mind is the contrast between an ad for VB (Victoria Bitter beer) – the drink of choice for men with a ‘hard-earned thirst’ in Australia, and the equivalent in Istanbul / Iran being a dainty glass cup of tea. I think that sums up the cultural differences right there….and similarities in that the likely topic of conversation is something to do with the women not present.


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