I have the desire to tell you about this particular aspect of Turkish life, which we could call “the time to live” or “keyif”. Often, I have encountered this way of life in the regions of southern Italy and other areas of southern Europe. I must admit that sadly, it seemed to me to be relegated particularly to older people. This is precisely the difference with us Turks. In Turkey, the keyif is not just for the elderly. In fact, it is a way of life that is still very widespread among the entire Turkish population.
Keyif is art of living
The Keyif is precisely an art of living, which requires each of us to dedicate time to relax during the hectic day. Keyif means taking the time to do something calmly. It doesn’t mean neglecting your work or your commitments. It means knowing how to relax in some key moment of the day.
Are you drinking tea? Don’t drink it too quickly and run away. We Turks, we would say “keyifine bak” (literally keep an eye on your “relax”, that is, relax!). Are you having breakfast with friends? It is a moment of keyif, that is, taking the time to eat calmly, chatting with the people around you.
I remember that in the summer, at the end of the day, we would go downstairs with dried fruit (in my case sunflower seeds), water, fruit juice and tea, and the best moment of the evening would begin! Some neighbours also came down, created the right atmosphere and talked, sipped tea and chatted, this is simply the keyif. So it’s not just about the elderly, it’s about everyone. As taking the time to do simple things allows you to enjoy the moment. It is a real philosophy.
My aunts and my cousins, after a long working day, would come to their house to cool off, and then run downstairs to below our house, where we were waiting for them to spend time together. My brothers played tavla with their cousins, I talked to my cousins while eating dried fruit. Or we listened to the music which came to us from some Turkish music shopkeeper in the neighbourhood.
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The keyf in Istanbul
Given the hectic life of Istanbul, it would seem, at first glance, that the city is not very compatible with the concept of keyif. Nothing could be more wrong. The keyif is inside each of us, and even in a city like Istanbul, where millions of people run daily, we will always see many people sipping tea while chatting with friends, people sitting to quietly read the newspaper, people on the terrace having breakfast, elderly people fishing from the Galata Bridge.
After a hard day’s work, many young people smoke hookahs, so they also have a keyif moment. At some point in the day, any Turk will stop for his keyif moment.
The keyf is ease and philosophy
So we can say that the keyif is a mix of ease and philosophy of life. Often faced with a difficulty, instead of complaining and sighing, in Turkey the Turkish spirit immediately leads to a search for a solution (sometimes even not optimal or effective, but this allows us not to stop in front of an obstacle).
The keyif allows you to make the day and therefore everyday, more pleasant and light-hearted. Consequently, a whole spirit orbits around the concept, that is to try to simplify and improve as much as possible the obstacles or problems that will inevitably arise.
An example? If you go into a clothing store and buy beautiful trousers, but they will have to be shortened. Don’t panic, the shopkeeper will take the hem for you and send it to the nearest tailor to help you.
While the tailor shortens or tightens your trousers in a few minutes, the shopkeeper will offer you a tea, coffee or other, and will tell you “keyifinize bakin”. Probably (indeed almost certainly) he will not have earned anything for the retouching of the trousers but, he will have taken the time to drink a tea and have given a great show of hospitality. This simple gesture has become a pleasant little moment in the day.
The keyif is at the basis of Turkish culture
The keyif is therefore the basis of Turkish culture. It is a way of living and thinking. All Turks are born aware of the concept of keyif. From birth we hear “keyifine bak” (have fun… relax) or “keyifin yerindemi” (more or less, are you relaxing? Are you enjoying the moment?). Our activities also require a certain calm, drinking tea, smoking a hookah or starting a Turkish breakfast are certainly not activities that can be done in a few seconds.
It is true that all those who discover Turkey and the Turks are surprised by the keyif, because they understand how important it is to take the time to do things, even the simplest. Not always is running good for your health and mind.