As a lifetime restaurateur I see gratuity based employees avoid religion and politics when talking with customers. Mr. Erdal was a brilliant history student working a summer job as a tourist guide in his native Turkey. Was Erdal burdened by such obsequious tip grubbing customs?
Not in the slightest!
He had to be aware that his chauvinist nationalism was in conflict with our chauvinistic nationalism, but he courageously pressed ahead through the two week tour from Istanbul to Cappadocia. It was a heroic demonstration of principals over the sensitivities of the tour group. He boasted how little he cared what others thought of him. Heroic- yes, but financially stupid. Eighty percent of his income came from tips at the end of the tour.
Erdal was a wiry, thin bundle of nationalistic opinions. He was also among the best informed guides I’ve met. He was an expert on ancient Turkish history with all its Hittite, Greek, Roman, Mongol, French, and German invaders. He his chest swelled when he boasted of the Turkish Empire, circa 1300 to 1900.
“We ruled the civilized earth, stretching from Athens, to Buda Pest; from Bagdad to Cairo and on to Casablanca, Morocco.” he told us. Erdal was honest to a fault and spoke not a disingenuous word in the weeks we spent together. Unfortunately his passion was politics. We repeatedly learned of the loss of his countrymen resulting from the U.S. Army support of the Syrian Kurds. All conversations of contemporary international events found their way back to the suffering of Turks at the hands of American protected Kurds.
So began a difficult tour with 12 argumentative Americans and one young Turkish chauvinist.
Erdal attempted to take us firmly in hand and instruct us on the treasures of his ancient homeland. Unfortunately, we were set to teach him just how cantankerous elderly American tourist can be. We did not start the trip as confrontational U.S.A. nationalists but somehow it just came out in us.
Erdal met his match with our most senior member, Mable, 83. When you label a person as insouciance, it suggests happy, carefree. Mable was so carefree she lost all track of where she was, what she was talking about or where she was going. Mable would disrupt Erdal’s train of thought asking about nonsensical subjects:
“What was the Ottoman policy on animal rights? Did they take care of kittens?”
I fear Mable wasn’t insouciant, just loopy. Her family must have found it cheaper to put her in tour groups than to pay for the nursing home. Half the time we spent examining ancient ruins and half spent searching for Mable. Erdal, a scholar, could not deal with Mable. He did not suffer fools or “loopies” gladly.
Blissfully the tour finally end and Erdal escaped back to his more comfortable academic life: Surely more preferable to being locked up with irritable foreign geezers.
Erdal comes back to me because during my career in the restaurant industry, we happily suffer fools and even kitty loving customers. We would constantly smile at every word they said. Were we hypocritical? Absolutely! We had bills to pay. But was it wrong? That’s more thorny inquiry.
In Erdal’s case, his offensive principals were so humorless and insulting that it’s hard for us to even think of him objectively. What is clear is that a smile and a joke in his monologue would have preserved his tips and opinions as well. That was not the proud, principled, penniless Erdal.
Similarly today, U.S. and Turkish diplomats are trying to smooth over a confrontational rift between their respective, proud Heads of State. I can empathize with those diplomats. They are struggling to make accommodations and find a consensus with their proud, principled, loopy bosses. A thankless if not impossible job.