( written March 2003)

“Thing”* said I.

He had a puzzled face, not frustrated as I would be if things were reversed. He rooted around and pulled a package out and showed it to me.

“No, ‘thing’, more like, well I don’t know the word for it, but, like ‘thing’, really different from this, more like, uh, ‘thing'”.

Off he goes scurrying through his shop, poking, prodding and otherwise trying to discover what this foreigner’s “thing” was. The shelves go from floor to ceiling and are artfully, artistically and attractively stacked with the various products on offer. There is not an empty space or void space to be seen.

Another package is offered – again it is not the right “thing”.  I gesture with my hands, but I am not sure how to convey the meaning of “thing” through hand, arm and facial gestures. I try. He watches intently. Is there a glimmer of understanding? Has his powers of interpreting been up to the challenge of my feeble gesturing? Off he flies, feverishly searching through the mountain of products and at last he returns with a package.

“Hummm, well”, says I, “it is like… more long, uh, that is to say, wide, er, I mean more with, kind of, protrudy, square in a round sort of way ‘thing'”.

While he digs around in the back, out of sight, I ponder the reality that although I speak Turkish and have preached for years, often I can be stumbled up by a simple, single word that describes an item, that may be common as grass or as rare as a diamond here in Turkey. It is not a word that I have ever needed before – but now I need the item being described. My dictionary, my great big, multi-kilo dictionary, my two volume, ‘I have all the words you may want’ dictionary is on the long list to be brought to Turkey – it is far too heavy and bulky to make it on the short list.

This was in the day before mobile devices, connected to the Internet and affording virtually continual access to an electronic dictionary.

The quest continues.

Time ticks on as we labour to mutually discover my “thing”. The result, after much machination, gestures, word games and dogged perseverance, the meaning of “thing” is determined, discovered, resolved, identified! Great!

But he doesn’t have it.

And then a typical Turkish gesture. Now he knows what “thing” is, he knows where it is. He does not give directions, he excuses himself, departs the shop, flies to wherever this source of “thing” is hidden, collects the item and returns to us. We are now the proud owners of
“thing”. And after all the hassle and trouble and inconvenience with which we have graced his shop – he offers us tea.

Tea the staple commodity of Turkish social interaction. A cheap, common beverage that is enjoyed by all and drunk in great, copious amounts in homes, tea shops, shops and virtually anywhere that Turks are found.

Our new ‘friend’ in the shop has offered us tea. I accept – though now I must refrain from the two cubes of sugar that normally are added to this demitasse of delicious dark brown liquid. T must refuse the actual tea itself- it is the highway to a migraine for her. The shop keeper then offers Apple tea, ‘Ilhamur’ Tea (Linden) or ‘Ada’ tea (Sage). She opts for Ada tea. We share the tea together and have a nice chat with our friend before taking our leave to continue the business of the day.

You might be tempted to think that the purchase we made that day was significant or large – but quite the contrary it was minor and insignificant – but Turkish hospitality is not linked to the magnitude of the purchase.


* “thing” is a translation of a very versatile word in Turkish “şey” the first letter being s with a hook under it (ş) giving it the sound ‘sh’, so you pronounce it “shey”. It means “thing” among other things and is also used as a vocalised pause and as a substitute for something that you do not know. It is not strictly speaking a word of Turkish origin and in the early years of the Republic, when the language was being cleaned of the foreign words it was suggested to remove “şey” from the language. But, in the course of the debate, one person asserted that at the resurrection, all Turks would sit up in their graves and the first word they would utter at that moment would be “şey” it was decided to leave the word in the language. I am glad they

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