Top of the list of fakes was a Rolex watch -- you can still see signs in the gift shops at Ephesus advertizing “genuine fake watches” -- but my family enjoyed the T-shirts I bought. My sister had admired my Chanel T-shirt, the original of which probably would have cost her nearly $100 in a smart store in Chicago. My Turkish copy was less than $5 from a market in Didim. When I owned up, and she was amazed, I knew what to bring her next time I came stateside. So, next time I visited the US, my luggage contained fake Chanel T-shirts for Jeannie and fake Lacoste T-shirts for Jamie and John and Rick, not to leave them out!
About the same time, there was a company that manufactured a T-shirt that was incredibly popular with my British friends. As the whole world knows, the British are famous for drinking tea. This inventive T-shirt played a pun and called itself a “Turkish Tea Shirt.” It contained a line drawing of two Turkish teapots, one perched on top of the other, and a pretty tulip-shaped glass. Printed on the front, too, was a long story, all about how to make tea.
Sadly, for the last 10 or 12 years or so, I haven’t seen this enterprising T-shirt anywhere. For most of the last decade, many of the T-shirts available in the Grand Bazaar, or in tourist markets around the country, have been pretty unremarkable. A picture of the Bosporus Bridge and a few mosques and minarets, and the word “İstanbul,” a plain T-shirt with “Türkiye” printed in different colors. To be honest, with the success of the Turkish soccer teams in European competitions, my foreign guests preferred to buy a Beşiktaş, Galatasaray or Fenerbahçe T-shirt for their kids and grandkids rather than the boring İstanbul or Turkey T-shirts.
The only exception was the fun “Tintin in İstanbul” T-shirt that showed the boy reporter chasing his dog Snowy outside the Blue Mosque… but as Tintin hasn’t really made it big with anyone under 25, you have to be more my generation to enjoy it.
Then, a few years ago, it all began to change. Companies such as Texist started producing more imaginative designs; five or six lines of text telling the history of İstanbul, and very cleverly, by using two colors for the lettering, the İstanbul skyline was superimposed.
Then last year, in the run up to İstanbul being a European Capital of Culture for 2010, I started seeing T-shirts saying “1.st anbul.” A neat idea! This was then followed by some in Turkish that link “ist” as the short form for İstanbul with other Turkish words that begin with “ist”: “istiklal” (freedom), “istikbal” (future) and so on.
Then, just last week when flying from Sabiha Gökcen, I was delighted to see my old friend the Turkish Tea Shirt for sale in duty free! Alongside it was a wide range of creative designs by the company JönTurk, including a rather cute “İstanbul” where the “İ” and “t” are the sides of a tea glass and the “s” is a spoon.
So now, thanks to JönTurk, I can share with you what the Turkish Tea Shirt says. “Nothing is more symbolic of Turkish hospitality than the tradition of tea drinking. Tiny tulip shaped glasses of dark tea carried on a swinging brass tray are brought to encourage either a bargaining session in the shops, or a new friendship in the home.
Turkish tea is always made in a double boiler. Boiling water from the lower kettle is poured over the dry leaves in teapot [sic]. Together they are allowed to steep over alow [sic] flame till the tea leaves sink. When serving the tea is diluted with boiling water from the kettle. Tea can be kept hot all day without ever becoming bitter; because the tea leaves themselves never boil. Afiyet olsun ….”
Every Turkish Tea Shirt sold to a tourist goes back with them to their home country, exporting a bit of Turkish culture.
How much better than those awful T-shirts you see in Europe: “My uncle/brother/mom went to London/Paris/Berlin and all I got was this lousy T-shirt!” I hope the current trend for imaginative and creative T-shirts will continue -- that will be a great result from İstanbul being a European Capital of Culture this year!