Arabic is read from right to left, European languages left to right. Some Asian languages read in columns, while others are like pictographs; get all the info, then go back and build the meaning of the sentence (sort of like German, when you have wait on the verb).
With many ways to read books, can it be a surprise that there are even more ways to read people?
Sam (Samet) worked at our hotel in Istanbul; he used the book analogy when we had a lengthy conversation about the hospitality industry, its economic engine and the subtle nuances of human relations that meant the curtain between “you paid me to be a servant to you” and “how are you enjoying your stay” had to stay down–no matter what accents, expectations, or accidents.
“It is like, every person who comes in this hotel is a book, and you must read them, but not all the lines. They have a whole life elsewhere, but here they want maybe something similar, maybe something different. You have to read very specific lines, look for the messages that are important, and not be distracted by the rest,” he said–in amazing English.
(Sam’s a smart kid, age 25. He’s also tall and movie-star handsome with curly hair, so you can just imagine what the population of wealthy retired world-traveling women who frequent his hotel offered him to read. Jack and I got a real kick out of watching him in action.)
His insights were echoed by Mustafa (43), the carpet seller across the street who willingly spent hours with us recording interviews. From the outlying provinces, “Moos” had been in Istanbul only 18 months. “I was born on a carpet. My mother made them, my father sold them wholesale. My brothers and sisters and I, everything we knew was carpets.”
It became evident as we talked that Mustafa regretted for himself the university education he intends his son to achieve, but also that he and his cousin (and business partner) relished being “cultural ambassadors. We teach the Middle East. We know carpets, how they made, the dyes, who is making them. We teach people every day, we are not just taking money. But we must have money or the shop closes.”
Behind this, Mustafa and Ahmed actually relished discerning who was inside the customer standing before them, what he or she wanted from the whole experience of buying a carpet. “Some people rich. They want a carpet only to prove they rich. They don’t touch, just ‘what is most expensive? OK, that one.’ Some people see a color, they fall in love, some people you talk into buying, some people you can never talk into buying. It is half work, half fun, this talking.”
Selling books, Jack and I read the customers who present themselves, trying to get them right. Back to front, straightforward, any hidden messages? It seems that, in every country, no matter the product, reading people is what makes a good shopkeeper. So Jack and I traveled 5,000 miles to find mirror images of our daily life in the people we met and the work they did.
We kinda like that.