TURKISH COFFEHOUSE, AN APPROPRIATE METAPHOR FOR UNDERSTANDING TURKISH CULTURE

 

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Turkey is a remarkable land of contrasts that joins the continents of Asia and Europe. It has elements of old and new, Islam and Christianity, modern cities and rural villages and mountains and plains. Often referred to as the cradle of civilization, Turkey is filled with archaeological remnants of the ancient Greeks and Romans, along with treaures of the sultans and caliphs of the Ottoman dynasty. Perhaps most interesting of all are the people of Turkey, rich in emotions, traditions and hospitality. The distinction, along with a geographic boundary straddling the two continents of Europe and Asia, makes Turkey unique. Turkish culture today is a marriage of Turkish traditions and Western ideologies. 

According to Professor Martin J. Gannon, who has served as a consultant to a large number of firms, government agencies and labour unions, an appropriate metaphor for understanding Turkish culture is the coffehouse, which is a part of everyday life in Turkey. In his book named ‘Understanding Global Cultures’ he makes metaphorical journeys through 23 nations and identifies generic types of cultures. He includes Turkey to the group of ‘Authority Ranking Cultures’ with Japan, India, Brazil and Poland, whereas he also mentions about the ‘Equality Matching Cultures’ and ‘Market Pricing Cultures’.  

Gannon claims that the Turkish coffehouse represents quite different things from its counterparts in other countries. An emphasis on both Islam and secularity is the first of four characteristics of the coffehouse that mirror Turkish culture. Coffehouses also provide an important forum for recreation, communication, and community integration. Moreover, the customers who frequent coffehouses reflect a male-dominated culture. Finally, the Turkish coffehouse found in villages and towns is modest in comparison to exotic taverns, distinguished pubs, and chic cafes that are found in the larger cities. 

Turkish coffee was first introduced during the Ottoman Empire. In the 15th century, merchants from the Far East traveled along the Silk Road to trade their exotic spices and other wares in European markets. In an effort to encourage trade and offer hospitality, hostels for travelers called caravansaries were built. As they passed through ancient Turkey, the merchants bartered along the way and offered their products in exchange for hospitality. Coffee drinking became also very popular in the palace. Today, Turkish coffee is as popular as ever. 

ISLAM AND SECULARITY

One of Atatürk’s most important reforms was the adoption of a constitution that encouraged secularism. Although an overwhelming number of Turkish citizens are Muslims(about %96), other religions such as Greek Orthodoxy and Judaism are tolerated in Turkish society. During the rule of the Ottoman Empire, religion, as well as culture, was totally integrated with government, and Islamic world power was concentrated in Turkey.  

The distinction between Turkey and the other Islamic nations is noteworthy. Unlike other Islamic countries, Turkey is a secular nation. Governments, schools, and business are operated independent of religious beliefs. Even traditional clothing, such as veils for women and fezzes for men, was abandoned in the shift from Islam to secularity. Consequently, Islam does not affect daily Turkish life as much as it would in an Arab nation. Religious power over Turkish institutions is nonexistent, and this fact reflects a preference for association with other Western cultures. 

In Turkish towns, the two most important places for social gathering, the mosque and the coffeehouse are located in the town square. The coffeehouse is often adjacent to the village mosque and may even provide a small operating fund or rent for the general upkeep of the mosque. 

In addition to rent, many of these coffeehouses occasionally collect donations from patrons to pay for the mosque’s water and cleaning. A visit to the coffeehouse can also be considered a ritual, ironically linked with the daily ritual of prayer. Furthermore, cleanliness is an important related Islamic value, and the owner of a coffeehouse typically squirts a bottle of water on the flor from time to time to keep the dust from rising. 

RECREATION, COMMUNICATION AND COMMUNITY INTEGRATION

The coffeehouse has always been a source of information, especially when illiteracy rates were high. In those days, one person would read the newspaper to an eager audience. Throughout the reign of the Ottoman Empire, defense strategies were discussed and developed there. Coffeehouses had battery-operated radios before they were introduced in homes, and the same was true when television arrived. Today, a patron enjoys camaraderie when viewing a soccer match at the coffeehouse instead of watching it on his television set by himself at home, and this pattern fits the grouporiented lifestyle of the Turks.  

Turkish men go to the modern-day coffeehouse to become part of a group. They feel very comfortable when surronded by friends and family, and they prefer the stability of belonging to an organization to individualism. And, as an old Turkish proverb states, one cup of coffee is worth 40 years of friendship. 

In Turkish culture, involvement and interdependence are the ideal. Turks care about others, and they show their concern by stopping to help perfect strangers. People are important in Turkish culture, and most Turks will sympathize with those who are less fortunate. Above all, Turks pride themselves on hospitality and being helpful to strangers.  

A MALE DOMAIN

A Turkish coffeehouse is a place where men assemble throughout the day and throughout the year. Men from every age gather at the coffeehouse to play backgammon, share gossip, or just enjoy company. Young boys accompany their fathers and play alongside the tables until they reach the age for joining discussions. Old men sit on wooden chairs and sip coffee while reminiscing, offering words of wisdom, and solving the problems of Turkey. 

In recent years, the city coffehouse has decreased in popularity when compared to its counterpart in smaller towns and villages. One can draw a correlation between the prominence of coffehouses and cultural values in cities versus rural areas. In the larger cities of *stanbul, Ankara and Izmir, life is hectic, and people have little time to sit and chat. Yet coffehouses remain popular in rural areas, where Turkish traditions and male roles are strong. 

The popularity of the city coffehouse has declined as a new generation places less emphasis on traditional values and a greater emphasis on earning a living. Within the city, the older citizens tend to be more devout and frequent the coffeehouse more than younger Turks, who often spend their free time on self-improvement. Turkish city dwellers today spend most of their leisure time on other activities, such as cinema, theater, and concerts, as alternatives to the coffeehouse. The coffeehouse remains a cherished institution outside of the cities where lower and middle-class customers enjoy good coffee and good conversation, and city dwellers recognize its historical importance and speak of it fondly even when they do not frequent it. 

A MODEST ENVIRONMENT

Gannon argues that the simplicity of the coffeehouse itself is noteworthy. The furniture is basic and the chairs are uncomfortable. A typical coffeehouse in a small village may consist of one small room, a kitchen, and several small wooden or aluminium tables and chairs. A smoky atmosphere from cigarettes or nargile,the traditional waterpipe, is unmistakable.  

The Turkish people are concerned more with substance than with form. The true draw of the coffeehouse is the opportunity for release and self-indulgence. The release is only temporary, allowing escape from the stress or monotony of the moment, and the indulgence reflects the element of Turkish culture that says, ‘experience life’.  

Turkish coffee is always made in a special way; first the grains are ground into a fine powder. Next, water and sugar are blended with the powder, and, finally, the mixture is boiled over a flame. The three possible versions of Turkish coffee are sade, orta, and *ekerli, which mean ‘no sugar’, ‘some sugar’, and ‘more sugar’, respectively. At the coffeehouse, the waiter will call out the orders to the kitchen so that fresh pots can be made .

 

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