Generalizations about nations are usually exaggerated and often inapplicable to an individual, but that does not prevent us from being under their influence.
People tend to stick firmly to their prejudices, and the media — which often participate in creating those — should take more responsibility in order to contribute to their reassessment.
My experience in Istanbul has taught me once again to trust my own eyes more and rumours less. Of course, you shouldn’t blindly believe me, because even what I say now might be questioned by the experience of someone else.
People in Istanbul drive like maniacs. Well, traffic in Istanbul is chaotic, indeed, at least on Taksim square, which is a major shopping, tourist and leisure district in the centre of the city. Although there are many traffic lights, pedestrians don’t seem to respect them all the time. There are many many, many cars there, and interestingly enough, at least 50 percent of them remind me of the New York yellow cabs. One should be careful while crossing the street, but also because of pedestrians among other things. I would not dare to drive in Istanbul but I am not much of a driver for now, maybe more a bad pedestrian. All in all, The City of Seven Hills is expected to have heavy traffic as one of the biggest cities in the world with approximately 15 million people living there.
Salesmen are hard to reject. As you can read in Overheard in Istanbul post, one bazaar guy really asked us “How I can help you to spend your money?”. And there were many similar attempts of “help”, but all that is more funny and cute than actually unpleasant or boring. Usually simple hayır, teşekkürler (in English: no, thanks) is enough, but since it seems that they enjoy offering their products they can be quite persistent as well. Maybe more insistence can be expected from beggars than from salesmen. You can see people inviting you to eat in their restaurant, or to buy clothes or really tasty ice-cream. In one shop in front of Grand Bazaar (Kapalı çarşı) we were even offered to have some good Turkish tea. In forums you will find much advice that you shouldn’t feel obliged to buy anything although salesman treated you like a queen and although you tried out so many pairs of shoes for example, but I was quite happy when my friend Anna decided to buy one pair from the man who gave us tea and was so polite with us. So, I guess it is hard to reject them but not because of their persistency but because of enjoyable moments with them and their humour.
Taking a cab in Istanbul is a bad decision. Yes and no. Like in all other places where you are a tourist you should ask around with locals first about customs, prices and safety. If you don’t, probably every second taxi driver will try to earn some extra money on you. And that is not case just with Istanbul but with every city around the globe I guess. As I already mentioned there are lots of cabs in Istanbul, so you can get one in less than 2 minutes. I took taxi a few times and was quite lucky and paid the expected amount of money. The drivers are even very talkative and receptive. But my friend Kathrin had less luck than me and overpaid one ride which cost 33 turkish lira on the way, while coming back she paid only 7 TL, for the same distance.
All Turkish women wear scarf. Lie. It seems to me that there are even more women who don’t wear one. The interesting thing is that I saw many very nicely dressed women and the scarf didn’t ruin their look, but it matched the other clothing and shoes they had. For many of us – Europeans, this way they dress according their religion is incomprehensible but we should understand that they just want to follow example of Mohamed’s wives rather than think of themselves as victims of men’s will. Turkey is a secular country and women can’t wear scarves at university for instance, because it can be understood as political religion. So, those who stay with decision to hide their true hair and still want to attend classes may wear wigs.
It is not safe to go to Turkey if you are for instance – Serb. Although the seaside in Turkey is quite popular in Serbia, there are still strong prejudices about this country and safety for Serbs who want to travel there. There are still parents who will not allow their children to go to Turkey or will let them go with a big burden of warnings and precautions. You should know that this is vice versa as well. As my friend Faik, producer and journalist at the BBC’s Turkish section, told me, during the 90’s he himself as a TV presenter had to read news such as: “Butcher man Radovan Karadzic did this or that..”, which would be interpreted today as politically incorrect, but at that time stirred up a lot of fear of Serbian “barbarians” and avoiding travel to this country. My intention is to assure you that this is rubbish. People there were extremely polite to me and even interested in where I exactly live in Serbia, how many people are there and is it more or less expensive than in Istanbul. Media can have a really big impact on public opinion, so maybe it is not a bad idea to think if today we still have hate speech and bigotry, just wrapped in colorful paper with bruises.
Nobody speaks English over there. Not exactly nobody, but it’s not so easy to find good English interlocutor, at least if you try to speak randomly with people on the street. During reporting about Turkish coffee on the streets of Istanbul, we tried to conduct a survey with them, but we were getting lots of waving heads for no, while finding mostly tourists in the end, with whom we could talk. And one could say – so what? Do they really have to know English? Maybe with aspirations towards the EU it would be logical, or not?
Turks are small, dark and kinda filthy and beware of them. One big fat bolded NO. Indeed, Turks are beautiful and handsome. If they like you they can ask you out or ask for your phone number, but really won’t push you further if you decline. And beauty goes for women as well if you believe my friend Bram who described them as “wow, such nice eyes and skin!”.
Don’t look a Turk straight in the eyes. Somebody told me that you shouldn’t look a Turk straight in the eyes for several seconds, because he will understand it as invitation for a next step, such as kiss. I haven’t really tried out this claim, but if you like some Turk try it out and see what happens.