Some People Just Don’t Know How to Treat Strangers

There are 2 advices from my parents that I grew up with: “You can be whatever you want to be as long as it’s not a politician,” and “Don’t get in a car with people you don’t know.” The first one is easy to follow. The latter… well, let’s just say that however wise the advice is, it’s been proven to be really hard to follow in my life.

The last time this happened was when 2 strangers, a man and a woman, approached me in their car in Cappadocia, Turkey. In broken English, the man said “We’re going to visit (I didn’t catch the words), would you like to come with us?”

It sounds like it could be a beginning of a bad thriller movie, right?

I was standing on the side of the road after my disastrous attempt at hiking in Cappadocia. My Japanese surgeon hiking companion has left me and I was trying to decide if I should walk to my hostel in Goreme, a 3 mile hike in a hot sun, or wait for a dolmus to come. This was when I noticed the car carrying the couple pull up.

I hesitated for half of a second while I thought of Ted Bundy and Edmund Kemper while my parents’ voice echoed in my head, “Don’t get in a car with people you don’t know.”

Well, it could be the heat although I’d like to think it’s my gut instinct that made me say ‘Why not?’

I jumped in the car and introduced myself to the couple, Sezgin and Nadeem.

Between Sezgin’s broken English and Google Translate, I learned that Nadeem was 3 months pregnant and Sezgin worked for the military. Later on I would’ve guessed his military background from how he ordered me around, “Jill, drink this!” “Jill, take a picture of these stairs!” “Jill, eat more!”

Sezgin and Nadeem lived in the Black Sea region and were in Cappadocia on a vacation. Before they met me, they’ve heard about two Japanese girls who were attacked just a few days ago while hiking in Cappadocia, a fact I was unaware of. I guess seeing me alone by the road got them worried.

Fresh squeezed orange juice in Cappadocia!
Fresh squeezed orange juice!

They displayed a kind of hospitality I’d never experienced from a stranger before.

They took me along to visit Derinkuyu and Kaymakli, 2 underground cities in Cappadocia. They bought me food. When they heard that I’d never had Aryan before they stopped at a store to get me some (if there’s one thing I can find fault with Turkish people is that they love this salty yoghurt drink).

We stopped by a view point and picked up some wild grapes – they grow in abundance all throughout Cappadocia.

We stopped by a view point and picked up some wild grapes - they grow in abundance all throughout Cappadocia

The language barrier between us didn’t stop us from having a pleasant afternoon together. I never really learned more about the couple but I could tell from their body language that they were obviously into each other. It made me miss Jack quite a bit.

It astonished me that they easily welcomed me as the third wheel in their vacation, driving me around and feeding me. They didn’t let me pay for anything. Not even my own entrance fee.

During dinner I pleaded to let me pay. They again repeated, “No, you’re our guest.”

Who does this?

Extreme Turkish hospitality, random act of kindness by strangers

After dinner, they dropped me off in front of my hostel leaving me dumbfounded and wondering WHAT JUST HAPPENED? You’re not supposed to pick up a stranger off a street and proceed to take them along on your vacation – who does that?

I wish I could say that I’d do the same thing in their place. Jack and I often host strangers in our home through Couchsurfing and AirBnb, but one can argue that these are not complete strangers. No, it takes a much better person than I am to do what they have done.

You don’t walk away from this kind of experience the same person. Nadeem and Sezgin have motivated me to do more acts of kindness towards others, especially travelers.

With embarrassment I recall the times that I’d ignored tourists poring over maps, obviously lost, on the streets of San Francisco. Next time I’ll do more to help.

I try my best to watch how I behave when I travel because I believe that in a small way I represent my country. This is how stereotypes are born, you see? But I realised that the reverse is also true. As locals (and everybody is a local somewhere) how we treat visitors can impact how our countries and cities are perceived.

Thanks to this random encounter with 2 strangers, I’ll always have a warm fuzzy feeling whenever I talk about Turkey.

Sometimes getting in a car with strangers could be the best thing to do.

Have you ever encountered random act of kindness by strangers during your travels? Or even better, have you ever helped a random traveler in needs?

Valuable Resources

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21 Replies to “Some People Just Don’t Know How to Treat Strangers”

  1. What a wonderful story! We live in Norway these days, blessed to be able to travel widely about half the time. I've never come across kinder, more helpful and generous people than in Turkey. You can find nice people anywhere, but it just seems like it's part of their national identity or something. And yes, being there inspired me to do the same thing you speak of here in Oslo…stop and help lost tourists any time I can. Only problem I've found is that most of the time, they are (at least at first) worried I'm trying to scam them! I'm a guy, so that doesn't help I guess, but it hasn't stopped me yet from trying to help. Be the change you want to see in the world, right? Great story, thanks again!

  2. We are in Turkey now and totally love it. We had very hospitable experiences everywhere in Central Europe too. Like going from Bialowieza to Warsaw when two older ladies helped us find the train station in Hajnowka (one of them actually walked us five blocks out of her way in the rain to point us in the right direction).

    And in Bucharest, Romania we got hassled by the "bus police" (basically jerks who say your ticket is invalid and try to make you pay them $50 lei). At least six strangers on the bus started yelling at the "bus police" without us even asking for help. They got so mad at the guys that the guys got off at the next stop. We had a lovely time in other parts of Romania but didn't really care for Bucharest… until this happened.

    The list goes on and on.

    And yes – when I get back to Portland I am totally stopping for anyone who looks lost! 🙂

  3. Hi Jill,
    I really enjoyed your travel experiences. You seem to have knack for this kind of things, which is great.
    I've sent you an e-mail few days ago asking for some info. It might have gone to spam.
    Have a great time and I hope to hear from you.

  4. Restores your faith in humanity, doesn't it? We hopped in a stranger's car in China once. We were going to see the Great Wall and had just gotten off the bus on the side of the highway. It wasn't clear what we should do next. A lady driving by stopped her car and asked if he needed help. When we told her of our plans to see the Wall, she told us to get in the car and she'd take us. On the way, she called her family to say she would be late coming home and stopped at a convenience store so we could buy bottled water. Then she waited while we spent about an hour on the Wall and took us back to the bus stop. We paid her $20, but still, who does that?
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  5. I have heard that Turks are some of the most hospitable people anywhere. I had similar experiences when I moved to the Czech Republic, and like you, I felt inspired afterwards. It's an amazing feeling to share friendship with strangers, not because you know each other but just because you are both human.
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  6. I will go to turkey the first time in a month and heart a lot about the hospitality in the country. Thanks for giving us so many great details about your travel.

  7. Refreshing to read about such kindness. Middle Easterners are known for their hospitality. While on the Arabian peninsula people would stop and offer me rides somewhat frequently and cab drivers sometimes wouldn't let me pay. People always offer you dates and tea/coffee. It's part of their culture; also, they often want to be sure that you're having a good experience in their country.

  8. That is such a lovely story. People in this world are amazing! We will always remember being a receipient of a random act of kindness when we were in Belfast. We got out at the train station and were clearly looking lost. A man around our age approached us and asked where we were staying and kindly took one of our bags and escorted us all the way to our hotel which was at least a 15 minute walk back from the direction we saw him approach us from. We were a little nervous at first admittedly especially when he grabbed one of our bags but it turned out fine and he will always be remembered to us. It allowed us to start off on a great note in Northern Ireland and simply loved the rest of our time there 🙂
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  9. Hey Jill, I love your post on the Turkish kindness you observed. It is truly amazing how giving some people can be towards total strangers. These are exactly the types of stories that make me want to get out and travel the world. It is not such a scary place like the media makes it out to be. There are so many kind hearted and good people in this world, they just never make for a good news story. Thank you for posting such a wonderful article.

  10. We experienced so many random acts of kindness from strangers while in Turkey. From our restaurant waiter in Cappadocia who refused to let us walk back to our hotel and drove us himself and refused to accept any payment, to the owner of our hotel who spent hours talking with us over homemade bottles of wine. Stories like this remind me of why I love Turkey and Turkish people so much. Their hospitality is incredible and I'm glad that you got to experience it for yourself!
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  11. I am not surprised at all. In Turkey when you move away from the most touristy places (or visit off-season) people are incredibly welcoming. I can see that since my girlfriend is Turkish (and I'm French): whenever we host people, she will push us to clean out the entire flat so that everything is perfectly clean and tidy, cook lots of amazing food, pay for everything. I've learned a lot and am becoming way more generous than I use to be, and actually love the feeling of giving and seeing someone's happiness as a result! But I can also see the flip side in that they actually put a lot of pressure on themselves to be good hosts, because it is culturally expected to do so.

  12. I was very surprised by South Korean hospitality. The elderly is especially kind to strangers and more than willing to help us. My friends were in a subway station when an old man approached them. He wanted to say welcome to Korea, and what happened next was he bought them ice cream! The other time, I was traveling from Seoul to Incheon to go to my university’s dorm (I was in a summer program). In the station an old lady approached me and started talking to me enthusiastically. I didn’t really understand her, but I told her I was going to meet my friends and go there by taxi. She said taxi was expensive,and then she helped carry my heavy suitcase, got on the right bus, got off in front of the university, and she walked me to the gate of the dorm! I couldn’t thank her enough. A day before my departure I met her again around my campus area, and my friends who understand Korean said she prayed for my health & success. I wanted to cry right there in front of her! Such a wonderful person.

    1. What a wonderful story! It makes me feel all warm on the inside and motivates me to do some random acts kindness even more. Thanks for sharing!

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