No comments yet

In Turkey, time is relational

Subtitle:  Most cultures view the concept of time radically different than Americans do.  Rhett Burns lives and serves in Turkey with his wife and children.  He shares some important lessons he has learned in a culture that values relationships more highly than time.

*This post is part of a series organized by Rachel Pieh Jones on learning from diversity called What I Learned.  You can read Rachel’s blog at:


Last Saturday my wife, son and I were enjoying lunch atop an old castle that overlooks our city when a friend called.

The day before we had cancelled a planned overnight trip to a village with he, his wife and some other friends.

Lousy weather was to blame.  Apparently, nobody wants to pick oranges in the cold rain.

But Saturday was as clear as the sea was blue, remarkable since the sea in question is the Black Sea.

My wife and I had planned to run some errands, grab lunch and head back to our apartment for some home improvement projects.

We had just ordered menemen, a weekend breakfast dish made from eggs, tomatoes and peppers when my friend called and suggested that we go to the village that day.

When?, I asked.

Now, he replied.

“Sure, why not?” were the next words out of my mouth.

My wife gave me the look.

–The look that says our two-year old son’s nap time is in one hour.

–The look that says he only has one diaper in his diaper bag.

–The look that says we had other plans.

–The look that says there’s no telling what time we’ll get home tonight.

But then she also gave the look that says yeah let’s do this.

Friendship is worth it, we thought.

Since moving to Turkey in 2010 we have learned the value of relational time.

We have learned a new way to be friends, one that is more spur-of-the-moment and less in-bed-on-time.

Below are five principles I’ve learned for making friends in Turkey.

1.  The last minute is the best minute for making plans.

We recently spent a few months back in the U.S., where it sometimes took three months to schedule dinner with friends.

I sit in a library typing right now with plans on settling in with a G.K. Chesterton book tonight after tucking my son into bed.

But I could just as easily end up in the mountains shooting fireworks and a Glock pistol with a buddy or crossing into nearby Georgia by dinnertime.

Anything is just a phone call away and that phone call is never about next week.

It’s about ten minutes from now.

2.  Any minute is a good time for a visit.

While it is certainly a nicety to announce that you want to visit someone, it is not necessary.

Just knock on the door and take your shoes off.

But, remember, it works both ways.

3.  Don’t leave until you’ve eaten the fruit.

Turks have a liturgy for night visits—first dinner then nuts then tea then dessert then fruit.

Once you eat the fruit you are free to leave.

But it may take a while to get to the fruit, which leads to a classic chicken-or-the-egg question: Which came first, the late night visits or the copious consumption of tea?

The answer really doesn’t matter, just the reality that we have chickens and eggs and groggy-eyed Americans sloshed up on tea, tired enough to comically butcher all attempts at speaking Turkish and caffeinated enough to lie in bed unable to fall asleep.
The point is that while I normally prefer to get home early and wind down with reading or a television show before falling asleep at the ripe time of 11:30 p.m., I am often going to be out late with friends.

4.  Slumber parties are for adults, too.

OK, they are not really slumber parties, but it is perfectly normal to stay the night if it will take you a while to get home.

One friend invited us—baby included—over to watch movies one night with the assurance that we could just stay the night.

And we lived in the same city.

Also, when traveling, it is not uncommon for someone to offer you a bed to sleep in to save you from hotel expenses.

We once had a friend offer his uncle’s house—who was conveniently out of town—to our group of ten Americans, an offer that included a breakfast and hawk hunting excursion to the mountains the next morning.

Some of my best friends are those with whom I’ve spent a night in their home.

5.  Constant contact is not just an e-marketing firm with annoying radio advertisements.

It’s also the way to be a friend. I sometimes jokingly say that my Turkish friends hover.

In the U.S. I talk to my friends on the phone when one of us has something to say that needs to be said right then.

Otherwise we are perfectly content to wait until we see each other, whenever that is.

A friend told me the other day that he has talked to a high school buddy on the phone almost every day for the better part of the last decade.

If you go somewhere, you make sure to invite your friends or else you communicate that you are not all that friendly.

Nothing is to be done alone.

Checking in and saying hi—by phone, text, Facebook—should be often, even daily.

What have I learned from living in a different culture the last four years?
My time is not my own.

It never really has been.

Time is a gift from the One who numbers our days.

Like all good gifts, it is meant to be shared with others for their good.

I’ve learned that time is a currency to be valued, invested and spent.

**You can read more of Rhett Burns at his blog:

Post a comment