Category Archives: Reasons to Travel

Children Are Everybody’s Business With The Turks

IMG_0855Turkey has the “it takes a village” mentality when it comes to children, even in the metropolis of Istanbul. Turks trust each other with their children and they expect us, as visitors to their country, to trust them with our children as well. Everybody notices children and jumps to help with them, cuddle them or soothe them during a tough moment.

Turks simply love children and have created a culture where it’s fine to express that.  The most common form of attention is the cheek-pinching. I’m surprised Grace doesn’t have bruised cheeks from the number of pinches but she has endured it with surprising, well, grace. A maitre’d standing outside his restaurant as we passed noticed her face was dirty and summoned a waiter to bring him a cloth to scrub it clean. As we boarded a public bus heavy-laden with bags and a stroller a kind young woman scooped up Grace, held her on her lap and sang songs to her as if she were her own. On a scenic boat trip up the Bosphorus where Grace quickly became bored, a young man who spoke no English picked her up and read her one of her picture books. She’s been given many pieces of candy from strangers, led awayIMG_0254 by a security guard museum to show her off to his friends, had shopkeepers adjust her clothing and received all kinds of free food in restaurants from thoughtful waitstaff.

Such lavish attention from strangers is disarming for us Americans, so accustomed to adults in keeping their distance from children unless they are 1) related to them 2) know them well or 3) have some kind of malintent.   At first we (Grace included) were a bit taken aback by the attention total strangers would shower on our tiny two-year old. Once we realized the approach was universal and well-meaning though, we relaxed and, as long as Grace still felt comfortable, we tried to be as well.   As we head home after two weeks in Turkey we’ll have to readjust to strangers remaining just that, while trying to maintain that caring attitude towards other children ourselves.

Kids Make You Slow Down

My typical pre-trip pace is frantic. I make lists, I wake up in the middle of the night, I nag my husband to do his tasks. This whole process starts long before the trip so by the time departure day arrives, there actually isn’t that much to do. I just like to get going as early as possible!

Adding a child to the mix has forced me to slow down. Recently we were set to leave for a week-long camping trip. That day Grace decided to take a longer nap than usual. The car was packed, the errands were run, the mail was on hold but Grace was still napping. I found myself with NOTHING to do. My first thought was panic – we need to GO!  But then I realized no, we don’t. There was no plane to catch. We still had plenty of time to get to our campsite before dark. I could start my vacation at home and just relax. What a concept.

Now I just feel thankful to Grace for that longer nap and those few peaceful moments. They remind me of yet another reason we travel with our child. Because she teaches us so many important life lessons, without even meaning to.

One Reason We Travel: The Kindness of Strangers

Without exception, in our travel experience locals are generally kind and helpful to us travelers. Having a child along seems to only augment locals’ desire to help disoriented foreigners as well as their desire to provide you with helpful child-rearing information.

Take a recent foray into an Argentine supermercado as an example. I was looking for plain, unsweetened, yogurt for Grace. It seemed like a very basic staple, especially in the large Western-style grocery store where I was shopping. To my dismay I faced a refrigerator case full of countless packaged yogurts, all of which boasted interesting fruity (and highly sugared) flavors. No supermarket staff was in sight so I turned to the other lone shopper in that aisle, a smartly dressed woman in her mid-40s, and in my most helpless tone struck up the following conversation. Bear in mind the entire conversation took place in two levels of Spanish – poorly (me) and fluently rapid-fire (smartly dressed woman). I have taken the liberty of translating my Spanish as if it were perfect and her Spanish as I understood it, not necessarily as she actually said it.

Me: Excuse me, I am looking for plain yogurt for my baby. Do you know where I can find that?

Woman: Oh of course, let’s see it must be here somewhere. (Proceeds to wander up and down refrigerated case peering carefully at each variety. She finally pulls one down and hands it to me). This one is good for babies.

Me: (After reading container) Oh I see, but this one contains sugar. Do you know if I can find one without sugar or without flavoring? Plain yogurt?

Woman: Oh but your baby needs sugar. She will like this flavor. (some kind of mixed fruit) Babies love this flavor.

Me: (Placing tutti-frutti, high-fructose corn syrup-laden yogurt in cart) Thank you, I will try it. But do you know if there is also any yogurt that is plain?

Woman: (Not at all flustered by my persistence) Yes, I think so. (Wanders again up and down the entire refrigerated case, finally pulling down a small carton which she hands to me). This one is plain. But I don’t think your baby will like it. Babies like sweet yogurt.

Me: (Trying to be as diplomatic as possible in bad Spanish) Thank you. We’ll try both of them.

The kind but insistent woman and I parted ways and I left the grocery store with a carton each of tutti-frutti yogurt and plain yogurt. To my delight Grace preferred the plain yogurt. It’s nice to be right but it’s even nicer to have a warm encounter with a kind stranger.

Have you had a positive encounter with strangers while traveling with your children? Share it with us here!