And so the host passed around the bottle… wait a minute, this is a family newspaper so let me rephrase it: upon the guests leaving his home the host approached each visitor and poured a little bit of Eau de Cologne into everyone’s hands palms.
It is a cherished tradition common to Turkish households but not restricted to private use at all. We encounter it in restaurants, on-board airplanes or whilst traveling overland by coach to name only a few such external environments. New arrivals to this fascinating country may be surprised at first yet will soon embrace its charms and practicality.
Until recently it basically had a refreshing factor above anything else. You would buy a reasonably sized container of Eau de Cologne – or ‘kolonya’ as it is called over here – in a specialized shop or supermarket and then fill it into a smaller glass bottle once at home; this adds style to the occasion. As our Turkish friends and neighbors are a very socially active folk you can imagine that acquiring ‘kolonya’ is more than just an annually recurring one-off purchase.
Kolonya is made out of three ingredients: ethyl alcohol which accounts for around 80 per cent of the mixture plus water and most definitely fragrance. There are so many different types available these days although some argue that either rose or lemon scent, respectively, are the real traditionalists.
Already present and widely used in the late Ottoman Empire it really made its way into Turkish homes not before the onset of the new Republic founded in 1923. But all had started further west in the German city of Cologne. Until this very day it is not uncommon for German women to carry a small bottle of ‘4711’ with them although one would in all likelihood (and in all modesty and admiration) see it more often with ladies of a certain age than with aspiring teenagers. 4711 Cologne Water – as it was originally referred to -had been produced from the early 1800’s onwards and as they say the rest is history.
In case you wish to read more about how Eau de Cologne became a brand name in Turkey, too, albeit in its own linguistic version why not look up ‘A Brief History of Kolonya, Turkey’s Fragrance’ published by theculturetrip.com.
Onto the fateful year 2020
You will have noticed whenever paying a visit to a Turkish neighbor that street shoes are deposited either outside the apartment door or straight after entering the place. It literally keeps the dirt and dust away and is extremely practical. One other nation springs to mind at once where this is common, too: Japan.
Yet as no one wants your feet to get cold although heating in Turkish flats is of the highest standards as is everything else your host will offer you a pair of slippers. They may not be a perfect fit as your host may wear a comfortable size 40 and you are a proud 45 so to speak but nevertheless they do the trick.
And back to the introductory paragraph most definitely upon departing and perhaps even upon arrival the magic bottle of Kolonya will make its highly appreciated rounds.
Then early in the past year 2020 global catastrophe struck and the world was faced by a pandemic. People everywhere had to come to terms with that personal hygiene could perhaps become a virus killer or at least it’s deterrent within ones’ own four walls. Easier in some countries than in others one might observe yet here in Turkey at least the advanced formulas for everyday hygiene had already been in place and in place for centuries.
NPR.org in its analysis from 19 March 2020 brought this issue to the attention of a wider international audience. ‘In Turkey, Coronavirus Spurs a Surge in Cologne Sales’ very nicely summed it all up: Eau de Cologne is not only a fragrance but has extremely vital disinfectant properties inherent in it as well. It does indeed produce key anti-bacterial effects.
It is a very good add-on to our daily exercise of regularly cleansing our hands with warm water and lots of soap and not just when we return from the outdoors. It helps to refresh ourselves whilst taking care of at least some of the bacteria found on or beside us. It can even be used to disinfect our grocery store packaging materials although some experts would argue special disinfectant sprays are more recommendable.
Many families would place a bottle of hand-disinfectant next to their entrance as well as an Eau de Cologne – dispenser. It all boils down to how we touch what and what we touch first upon stepping into home. Other families I know of would carry a stronger disinfectant spray in a small mini-bottle with them whilst using Eau de Cologne more regularly to keep away the initial threat of bacteria and thus the virus often transmitted via aerosols or on touched surfaces and materials.
Please let me make this point crystal clear: your friendly columnist is no medical expert and only retells what one can witness in public or private. If you need expert advice please obtain it.
What this February article is all about instead is to introduce newcomers to a number of cherished Turkish (hygiene) traditions whilst reminding long-time residents of another fantastic part and parcel of local life which we may at times overlook and neglect as its importance and place in daily routine is taken for granted.
Enjoy the month of February whether you are near or afar and may the good times return speedily.