In many countries it’s common to be invited for a cup of coffee or tea as a way of extending hospitality. I hadn’t fully understood the implications of this gesture until a recent speaking tour in Turkey.
I’d just given a 90-minute speech to 200+ members of the Eskisehir Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber president, Harun Karacan, a charming, successful businessman who spoke no English, invited me and my local host and friend, Tamer, to his office for coffee. His invitation was followed by this Turkish saying which his aide-de-camp, Arda, translated for me:
In other words, Arda explained, when we share a cup of coffee, we develop a relationship that can last for many decades.
I nodded showing my understanding.
There was only one problem.
I don’t drink coffee. Nor tea.
I was in a prickly situation. I whispered to Tamer, “I don’t drink coffee, but I’m guessing it would be rude to refuse a cup. So do you think I should just take a sip and pretend to drink it? I don’t want to offend Mr. President.”
Tamer nodded that I should just take a sip.
Mr. President, his entourage, Arda, Tamer and I arranged ourselves around his mammoth table. His attendants scurried in with coffee, along with individual silver candy dishes of nuts and Turkish delight (small cubes of chopped dates and nuts flavored with rosewater, dusted with sugar). We munched and chatted, with Arda at my side translating Mr. President’s banter and my quips in return.
We discussed some of my presentation’s key points and how Mr. President would implement them. Next time, we negotiated, he would provide a larger venue so the 200 more members who wanted to attend wouldn’t be turned away.
Soon an aide handed Mr. President a small box. With some commentary, he presented it to me. It held a necklace, earrings and ring set with stone quarried only in Eskiehir. I thanked the president for his kindness. Earlier he’d given me a bag containing a plaque, another stone pendant, Turkish candy, and a sliver candy dish like the one before me now.
I could see now the impact of the Turkish saying. A cup of coffee does indeed make it possible for a long-lasting relationship. Our bond grew as the coffee in the cup shrank.
Lesson learned: Never refuse a cup of coffee again. You never know what kind of relationship can be forged between sips.