Turkey 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 away 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.