Ellie, a student in Denise Waters’ 4th grade class at Norman Rockwell Elementary, asks, “What are the culture differences?”

Ellie this is a broad question. Entire books have been written about this subject, so I will just deal with one small part of it: kindness to strangers.

When I walk up to a gas station and ask if I can camp on their lawn, they say, “Of course.” Not, “Our insurance won’t allow it,” or, “Let me check with the boss.” They say, “Of course.”

When I camp out in a mosque’s garden, people I don’t even know bring me huge platters of food, even if I tell them I’ve already eaten.

When I’m out walking and people drive by, they honk at me, just to see if I’m okay. If I pause on the side of the road to answer a phone call, truckers stop to ask me if I’m okay.

When I ask people why this kindness to strangers is so important, they often look at me as if I’m crazy for asking such an obvious question. “Because,” they say, “a stranger is a gift from God.”

Because we have a similar concept in the US, we think we understand it. “Oh yeah sure,” we say, “we have hospitality too. Maybe not like that, but we have it too.” But I don’t think we can understand just how important it is to these people unless we experience it first-hand.

I’m not saying everyone in Turkey is nice. There are bad people here, too, just like there are everywhere. But the culture places a huge premium on kindness to strangers.