Tag Archives: Turkish

Fortune Telling From a Cup of Turkish Coffee

When my friend first read my fortune out of a cooled cup of Turkish coffee, I was told that he saw angels, tigers and trails in my future. He’d been using a Wikipedia article to help him read our fortunes, but he seemed excite to be sharing this experience with me and my other friend, who had never had our fortunes read in this way before.

Turkish coffee is very dense. It’s more like espresso than coffee, and because of this one only consumes a shot-glass or specialized tiny coffee mug. The person drinking Turkish coffee leaves a small layer of coffee grounds in the bottom of the cup and turns the cup over on a saucer to cool. The grounds may slide down the sides of the cup as they cool and solidify, which the reader then uses to tell the drinker’s fortune.


“This is very embedded in the Turkish culture. So it’s not something that you learn somewhere else, it’s around you all the time. You know, you grow up with your mom, your grandma, you know, the aunts and the ladies on the balconies, everyone does it. ” The speaker said as we sat in the Nuka Turkish Cafe in Westwood months after that initial reading in our home. He mentioned that shapes in a coffee mug might look like numbers or scenery.

“There are places in Turkey where you would go to visit like an actual medium. Well, those are self-proclaimed mediums. But the interesting thing is, I’ve been to certain mediums that would have incredibly accurate fortunetelling. Like, they will give you a lot of information about your past and your future. And very often, I’ve met people and I have had friends who have these professional medium fortune telling them, like their fortune telling actually becomes true in the future. And so it’s an interesting thing. And I really don’t know that side of it that well. It’s very supernatural. And I just feel like some people actually do have that supernatural talent to be able to use this. “

The speaker added that Turkish mediums also use tarot and palmistry to tell fortunes, and that this tradition is quite old. “The Turkish army that my father is, is a part of has an insignia on it that says before Christ, 200 something. It’s a 2200 years old army.” He added that before Christianity, many Turkish tribes practiced paganism. “

“We have a Turkish idiom that says, “Don’t believe in this fortune telling. But like, don’t live without it… it’s an integral and cultural part of our lives. But we also live in a society where, you know, we are aware that fortune telling is not a very scientific method… So it’s, it’s more of a fun sport at this point than actual people believing in it. It’s more it’s more fun than it’s taken like serious.”


The speaker was happy that we had come to visit him in the Nuka Cafe, and he pretended to be annoyed that I was recording his thoughts about fortune telling. When I asked him where he first saw fortune telling, he mentioned that much like a baby doesn’t remember their first steps, he doesn’t remember where he first encountered this tradition. Another friend mentioned that the speaker’s past fortune came true, and later that day he read another cup of Turkish coffee. He told our third friend that he saw a world map and a wedding.

This is important to me because much like the speaker, I enjoy fortune-telling tools but don’t really believe in them… unless something else changes my mind about their accuracy. I first came across the idea of fortune-telling from tea or coffee in the movie Coraline, and I showed the speaker the section of the film that includes fortune-telling after we had done the first reading in the house. I enjoyed having my fortune read and will not believe it while simultaneously “keeping it in mind.”

This seems to be a largely female craft. The speaker is interested in Turkish folklore and could not remember the meanings of symbols he described to us the first time he performed this tradition using Wikipedia notes.

Rude Turkish Hand Gesture

Main Piece

The following is transcribed from a conversation with myself, GK, and the informant we will call, AT. 

AT: A gesture we have in Turkey that has a different meaning than in America is the “okay hand gesture”. This is when your index finger and thumb create a circle between them and your other three fingers are pointed straight into the sky. In Turkey, this gesture has a very negative meaning.

GK: What’s its Turkish meaning?

AT: In Turkish culture, it means “a**hole”. You usually give someone that gesture when you are in an argument with them. It is the equivalent of giving someone the middle finger in American culture.  

Background: The informant is originally from Istanbul and lived there for 13 years before moving to Zurich. He knows of this hand gesture through living in Turkish culture and says to have learned it from a friend at school. And the way he handles the gesture really depends on where he is. When he is at school in the U.S., he knows the gesture has a different meaning so he does not take it poorly. However, when he is back in Turkey for the summer, he has a much more negative reaction when someone gives him this gesture. 

Context: The informant and I discussed this over Face Time. 

My Thoughts: It is interesting to see a hand gesture take on different meanings depending on the country. The okay hand gesture in American culture has a positive annotation to it, and has even evolved into the “Circle Game” where you get punched if you see someone holding that gesture up. However, you’d get a much different response in Turkey, and also a number of other countries. This includes: Brazil, Mexico, and Russia. This shows you have to be very careful when going into other countries because something that seems normal to your culture can be very poorly received in another country. 

The Commemoration of Atatürkü

Main Piece

The following comes from dialogue between myself, GK, and the informant, AT. 

AT: One of my favorite Turkish holidays is called “Atatürk’ü Anma, Gençlik ve Spor Bayramî”, which translates to “Youth and Sports Day”. I like it because it is one of the most relaxing days of the year. Work is cancelled, school is cancelled, and everyone just goes outside and enjoys life. 

GK: What day does it fall on?

AT: It is celebrated on May 19. 

GK: How do you and your family usually celebrate the holiday?

AT: My brother and I usually go play soccer with our friends in the morning. Then we’ll usually go on a hike with our parents. And cook some dinner out side after. It’s a really great day to unwind and enjoy with friends and family. 

Background: The informant knows of this holiday by living in Istanbul for 13 years. His family would always celebrate it as it was a national holiday. And although he doesn’t live there anymore, he still chooses to celebrate it because he loves the holiday so much.

Context: The informant and I discussed this holiday over Face Time

My Thoughts: In my opinion, this holiday serves a great purpose in Turkish culture because it gives people the day to relax and spend time with their families. After doing some reserch, it looks like this holiday originated in 1938. It celebrates the founder of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, and his arrival in Samsun on May 19, 1919.  It celebrates youth and sports due to the wish of Atatürk, who loved sports growing up. 

Turkish Proverb – “Havlayan Köpek Isirmaz”.

Main Piece

The following is transcribed from a proverb given from the informant, AT. 

AT: A Turkish proverb that I know of is “Havlayan Köpek Isirmaz”. This translates to “the dog that barks does not bite”. This proverb describes the type of person who does a lot of talking but never backs it up. And it also serves as a lesson to never say you’re going to do something and not end up doing it. 

Background: The informant knows this proverb through his time spent living in Turkey. He says it is pretty commonly taught, and is usually done so at a younger age. It was taught to him by his father, and is something he says he tries to live by. 

Context: The informant and I discussed this proverb of Face Time. 

My Thoughts: I am a fan of this proverb because it perfectly connects the lesson to the inaction of the barking dog. It is very important to do what you say you will, because if you don’t you will lose credibility. People will believe you less if you are all bark and no bite. Another takeaway I have from this proverb is that the American version seems to be more dictated towards fights. A person who is labeled as “all bark and no bite” is usually someone who talks as if he wants to fight someone but when presented the opportunity declines to do so. It is interesting to see how proverbs are interpreted in different cultures. 

Cin – Turkish Demons

Piece: We have these things Cin, pronounced jin, uhm and like plural you would say cinler, because there are plenty, and they’re like these little demons, uhm I’m like hella fucking scared of these, these little shits, parents and grandparents can use these to scare little kids out of doing literally anything, and the biggest one being staying out until dark. Uhm the main one was my grandmother would say that after the sunset prayer, because in Turkey a mosque prays 5 times a day, and so like the equivalent of a preacher, at the top of the mosque sings a prayer 5 times a day, the one that represents sunset, if you stay past that prayer, these things would come out and eat you or haunt you.  You can actually release these on people, like a curse, we had a few like old women in my village who had a very powerful third eye and if they said a bad prayer towards you, they could curse you with these like “I release the cins on you” or something like that. So some people if they were cursed I remember hearing, uhm they could not sleep for days, they would wake up from their sleep because they see these in their dreams. But it seems like a dream even though it’s actually real, they are there, its just once they disappear, like the people who are cursed they think they are sleeping, but they are actually awake when they see theses creatures, it’s just that when they’re terrorized enough, they think they have woken  up from a dream, or a nightmare.

Background information: The informant is a USC student. Originally from a small village in Turkey, she relocated at the age of 10 to the United States.

Context: Apparently these demons were introduced to kids at a very young age. They are used to keep kids in line whenever they want to act rebellious. The informant remembers these so vividly because they used to scare the living daylight out of her as a kid.

Personal Analysis: A trend that I have noticed among interviewees is that most of their parents use some sort of story to control their kids. It’s almost as if “fear” is the only way parents can assert dominance over their children. This collection is another example of just that: Parents using fear tactics to control their kids.

For another version of this myth, see Ilargia.franceserv.eu. (2019). OLD FEARS IN TURKISH CULTURE. [online] Available at: http://ilargia.franceserv.eu/index.php/articles-posts/etudes-studies/42-old-fears-in-turkish-culture [Accessed 26 Apr. 2019].