Turkish Tea house

Inside a Man’s World: The Turkish Tea House (PHOTOS)

Turkish Tea house

By Anna Frisk

“Come in,” said two Turkish men.

Admittedly, I didn’t understand the burble of their native Turkish, but the universal gesture of summons they made with their hands fluidly communicated the verbal invitation in my mother tongue: welcome.

Turkish Tea house

The men were seated on a sidewalk, in plastic chairs at the height of my knees. Before I could accept and sit, I was presented with a saucer and a tulip-shaped glass of black tea. As I squatted down to reach their level, seemingly hovering above the ground, a new Turk appeared to want to usher me off. Apparently, I needed to meet the rest of the gang. The presence of a foreign female was an exception that demanded attention.

Turkish Tea house

Around the corner, in a non-descript glass-paned building was a gathering of men. Only men. In the swirl of backgammon, card games, and gossip, not a single female could be spotted. There was no kitchen, only a teamaker’s cubicle, a framed photo of Atatürk (Turkey’s uniter and the symbol of the Republic), and the thronging men.

Turkish Tea house

Turkish Tea house

Before I could actually enter, the self-appointed leader rushed over and told me in unexpected English, “Come meet the teacher.”

Surrounded by a pile of scattered game tiles, “the teacher” pushed a chair toward me. Sit. When their attention could be diverted from the game, they asked. Alman? Rus? I knew these words from their repetition, like a record, in Turkey. It was part of the introductory script that flowed from every native’s lips  and satisfied some of their inherent curiosity. German? Russian? My blonde hair hinted thus, always making the real answer a constant surprise: American. With the growing crowd of circling men, the answer was accepted with a smile and a grunt of affirmation. “America, good. Obama, good.”

“Turkey, good?” they asked, as the traveler’s script mandated.

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  1. Interesting glimpse inside a Turkish teahouse. I think such community spaces for men are part of many cultures, and have been there since the Greek civilization. In India, in West Bengal, we have ‘addas’ (literally translated as ‘hangout places’) which are simply teashops serving chai and fried snacks. Bengali men, known for being thinkers and armchair philosophers, used to gather in the evenings or mornings and debate about issues sipping their chai. Women were not ‘barred’ in strict terms, but they were never a part of this all-men gathering. Of course, the segregation happened automatically when women were kept away from all matters of political and social importance.
    Interestingly in Europe, a lounge exclusively meant for females was opened recently. It’s called the Grace Belgravia. But it seems too posh and elitist to actually become an area of social interaction.

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