Greece and Turkey: What’s the Difference? (a totally ego- and ethno-centric view)

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This is the first blog post after a long break.  Many things happened.  But, finally, the blog is back.  Al Milewski wrote the first piece.  And many stories from Greek Islands will follow.

Allen Milewski writes:

Our plan was to spend the summer and fall relaxing in Bodrum, Turkey, but there is nothing like an attempted coup and our kids begging us to leave Turkey to make Greek Island-hopping really attractive. Now that we have completed a five and a half week tour and returned to Bodrum, it is a good time to look back and reflect on what, from my standpoint, is different and not so different about Greece and Turkey.

But first, our itinerary.  Across these weeks we stayed on seven different Islands.  If you include day trip cruises, we visited more than twenty islands.  Among them were Kos, Rodos, Pserimos, Kalimnos, Lindos, Leros, Delos, Samos, Naxos, Paros, Mikonos,  and more.  If you read this list out loud, you will be immediately struck by the opportunity for a great contest that kept Nuray and myself entertained for hours (well, Nuray says I was the only one entertained!).  Imagine visiting Lactos — where many of the Greek cows live?  And, how about Fructos – with its famous strawberries and peaches?  Got the idea?  The island with inhabitants that make ridiculous claims: Preposteros.  The very sad Pathos and , of course everyone has heard of Faymos.  There are endless possibilities here and if you can think of any more, please put them in a Facebook or blog comment.

Map of the Greek Islands, some are very close to Turkey

Map of the Greek Islands, some are very close to Turkey

Of course, even twenty islands is just a sampling of the 6000 total (btw: we had planned to visit one more island, but never quite made it to Almos… OK, I’m done now!) but,  we were struck by the fact that while they all were similar in some ways, each island had its own, unique characteristics.  We found Leros’ food especially good, Ios’ beaches were the best, Kos’ specialized in incredible trees, Delos in archeology, Samos’ hills were beautifully terraced for gardens, Naxos had the warmest people…. All of these can be argued, of course, but we felt uniqueness the more we dug into these wonderful places.

Arriving Delos Island, near Mykonos, entire island is a museum

Arriving Delos Island, near Mykonos, entire island is a museum

But, it is the Turkish-Greek comparison that I’ve taken on the task of describing here.  As for similarities, there are many.  Both coastlines are knock-out gorgeous with craggy, arid rocks, bright blue water, Tamarisk and Olive trees interspersed with occasional areas of greener forests. The beaches are some of the best in the world in both countries- both sandy and rockier versions.  And, friendliness?  I’ve written before about Turkish examples where complete strangers go out of their way to help you or just to make you feel more comfortable.  It is the same in Greece.  We would meet local residents at restaurants, ferry ports, and in buses that would volunteer help at the drop of a hat.

Rugged coastline and beautiful blue waters of Greek Islands interspersed with beautiful beaches

Rugged coastline and beautiful blue waters of Greek Islands interspersed with beautiful beaches

My final similarity might seem odd and may just be me, but I think Turkey and Greece have a language similarity.  Of course, they do not speak similar languages- in fact, they are about as far apart on the linguistic spectrum as they can be.  But, I have observed something about both their languages that strikes me as similar: they both insist on choosing words that are “backwards” from English.  For years, I have made a list of Turkish words that fit this category. For example, the Turkish word for “Good Morning” is “Günaydın”.  You see, it just makes it hard to learn a new language when it requires you to sleepily roll out of bed and start saying, [what sounds like] “Good Night-en”  to everyone you meet.  Why would they make it so hard on English speakers?  I realize that even just this question is objectionably ethnocentric, but the title above warned you..

Regardless of the reasons, Greek language is similar in this respect. For example, in Greek, the word for “yes” is “Ναί” (pronounced like “neh”).  You can imagine the stress you would feel at 1:00 am when, double-checking with the bus driver about whether this is the proper bus to get to your hotel and he responds “Neh”. It takes some getting used to and once you get used to that, you then still have to deal with the word for “no”, which is “όχι” and sounds like “okhi”!

So much for the many similarities.  Some years ago, I was in Greece briefly, and after about five minutes of analysis boldly stated that Greece and Turkey are really the same country- except for pork.  But, boy, was I wrong!  It is now clear to me that there are two other differences that are much more important than dietary, political and even religious ones.

The first is tea.  Tea is the blood that flows through Turks’ veins. Tea is brewed strong and dark in shiny double-pots that are hot all day long.   If you are sad, someone is bound to offer you tea.  If you are tired- “have some tea”. Happy?- tea. Alone? Together?  Buying something at a store? “Sit and have some tea first”.  The Turkish word for breakfast is “kahvaltı”, which means “before coffee” since you would never drink coffee until mid-morning. What DO you drink with breakfast? Tea! Tea in the afternoon, tea at night.

But ask for tea in Greece and they rummage around for the box of Lipton tea bags. They may even ask “hot or cold?” Or, they assume you must mean an herbal tea like some effeminate Chamomile/Mint/Rosehip concoction.  They seem confused about what you intend to do with a cup of tea as if they see no purpose in the drink. We even observed this problem in Kos, where it seems a majority of the visitors are from nearby Turkey.  We saw a sign in one cafe advertising “Turkish Tea”, but when we ordered it, the waiter said it would take too long to brew.  We appreciated their dedication to the right way to make tea, but were astounded that it was treated as a special order.

The other key difference for us was the “wine system”  For years, I have been pleasantly surprised by how amazingly good Turkish wines are. Wine is plentiful and you can buy bottles of excellent wine in many stores and nearly all restaurants. But, the cost of the wine is always high. In fact, many wines are well beyond what I would ever pay for a bottle, and even the cheaper ones take a gouge out of your wallet.  This has partly to do with taxes, but may also just be cultural expectations.  Here, is where Greece excels.  Because, the Greeks have discovered the very wonderful concept of “Barrel Wine” (sometimes called “local wine” or “house wine”).  These are usually local wines that are kept in large containers and doled out in either half-liter or whole-liter quantities- sometimes in a glass pitcher for classier cafes, but often in a slightly battered large metal cup. These are good, tasty wines: maybe not the very highest quality but more than acceptable and the price is a small fraction of the Turkish bottled drink.

Ntohing beats watching a sunset with a half-liter Greek wine, two small glasses for four Euros.

Ntohing beats watching a sunset with a half-liter Greek wine, two small glasses for four Euros.

It is hard to imagine why these two critical customs are so different even just a few miles apart.  After all, Turkey and Greece are so close in places you could throw a stone from one country to the other- which I am sure has already happened many times.  If ever there was a need for international trade innovations, it is in tea and wine.

 

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