A Travellerspoint blog

How to Make Friends and Alienate Turks

semi-overcast 12 °C

Caffeine gives me insomnia. There I’ve said it. Black tea, chai lattes, espressos, and good ole Nescafe, it makes no difference. The last time I drank Redbull I woke up with borderline depression.

Inevitably, finding a decaffeinated drink in Istanbul is a constant struggle.

Shop for shoes, browse for carpets, sit down for a meal... whatever the occasion, you will be offered çay – usually on the house, in a common and pleasant display of Turkish hospitality. What coca cola is to the people of Guatemala, tea is to the Turks. You may have heard more about Turkish coffee, but here, tea is in fact the number one elixir.

Not that it matters anyway. Both are caffeine packed dang it. Although there exists a herbal alternative in the form of apple tea, for some reason, the majority of places don’t seem to carry it. Thus my quest began in search of a warm harmless decaf beverage.

Sadly, caffeine is not in my Turkish-English dictionary. So in a brilliant display of resourcefulness, I headed to the nearby grocery store and found the coffee aisle. Ha! Amid rows and rows of Nescafe (this appears to be the most popular brand) I found one (one!) single jar with a blue ribbon across the front saying “Kaffeinsiz”. Bingo! I was ready for my first coffee in over a month. Sweet victory!

Opportunity beckoned. Having lost power and internet in one fell swoop, I headed to the cafe on the corner of my street, laptop in hand and a serious latte craving in my belly.

“Bir kahve latte lütfen. Kaffeinsiz. Kaffeinsiz!” I repeat this as I emphatically shake my head from side to side, lifting my eyebrows and looking intently into my waiter’s eyes with a piercing look. Somehow, this gesture makes me feel as though I might telepathically communicate exactly what I want. Magical transcultural understanding.

Unfortunately, I haven’t mastered this technique quite yet. Inevitably, rather than instant comprehension, I receive a quizzical look from my confused waiter (a look I am beginning to recognize expertly).

So I try a different technique. This time, swinging my arms side to side in a scissor manner, I ask for a kahve latte with “No caffeine. NO caffeine!” I combine this new technique with the eyebrow-lift and piercing-look combo, just to be sure.

This time, the quizzical look is followed by a sceptic one. “Kahve with no kahve?” Here we go. For some reason, his question reminds me of the tiresome paradigm about the chicken and the egg. Adding to my exasperation, he asks: “Just milk?”

This time, placing special emphasis on caffe-INE, I repeat my request a couple times to clarify the mixup. When this results in awkward laughter from the waiter and a panicky sideways glance at his compatriots for backup, I have to restrain myself from rolling my eyeballs far inside my head. Is decaf so hard to get in Istanbul? I want coffee, he thinks I want milk. Our wires are cross firing in a serious way.

Finally, probably sensing my desperation, the waiter magically nods his head in apparent understanding. “Ok, ok.” Tamam, tamam.

A few minutes later I receive my long-awaited beverage. Deelish. It may not have caffeine, but really, who needs it? Coffee is just as delicious without the caffeine jolt. In fact, it is so delicious that I order a second one. When in Rome! I am elated and loving life, sipping lattes and writing about Turkey. Life is good.

Until it is midnight and I am still writing about Turkey. Then it is 1. Suddenly, I am not loving life quite so much anymore. In fact, when the clock strikes 3, I am not loving life at all. Fooled I was! Probably thinking I was a crazy white lady (this seems to happen quite a bit) wanting coffee with no coffee, they served me coffee anyway.

Learning from my mistakes (fool me once...fool me twice...what Bush said), I smartly add a new word to my vocabulary: allergic. Thinking this might do the trick, I put it into practice the very next day. Having finished our meal on a lovely terrace in Kadiköy, Leilla, Denis and I are offered the ubiquitous çay. After first confirming that they do not have the apple kind, I gently refuse. Yes, gently. Refusing tea from a Turk is an ethical matter. Outright surprised, our waiter offers me coffee instead. So I pull out my magic weapon. Miming a slit across my throat, I repeat “allergic to caffeine” a couple times in my best Turkish accent. The meaning is clear. So he serves kahve only to Leilla and Denis. Transcultural communication is great!

When the time to leave comes, I gather my coat and bag as our waiter warmly shakes hands with my dining partners. I take time to properly push my chair in as they do so. A good diner is a neat diner! Then I turn to the waiter to thank him and receive my handshake in turn.

It was not to be.

With a disdainful look, hands stuffed in his pockets, and a shake of the head, our waiter mumbles something inaudible and turns way, disappointment emanating from his very being. Though I had high hopes to integrate into Turkish society and ‘disappear’ among the locals, my inability to drink tea or coffee has seemingly made me a permanent foreigner in a distant land. (Mom, I guess this means I’m coming home this fall!)

Sorry Turkey. I love your tea. I love your coffee. Nothing personal. Really.

It’s not you, it’s me.

Posted by erehel 14:17 Archived in Turkey Comments (3)

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