I have been living in Turkey for a little under 2 months now and though I am getting used to it, there is number of things that my American eyes have found amusing. Or amusingly quirky.
Istanbul is the land of cranes and malls. The city is booming and from my bedroom window I can see no less than 5 cranes working to build up the city with two cranes too close for me to view (one on either side of my building. I thought that Los Angeles was the land of malls and shopping, but it has nothing on Istanbul! There is over 100 malls here. For me this is great because I get lost a lot and I can just slip into one (once I clear the metal detectors and private security service, which is standard practice here) warm up a bit and maybe have tea.
In no particular order here are a few of the things my western eyes find quirky:
1. Snow Day - I'm from Chicago (via California) so I know a thing or two about snow and cold weather. After a light dusting yesterday most of Istanbul had a snow day today. It's not too cold but schools are closed and streets are less crowded than I have seen. I thought, "Haha, there's not much snow here!" But after walking around for a few hours (I got a lil lost) I realized that the city lacks the infrastructure to deal with more than a light dusting of snow. Unlike Chicago, there is no team of plows and salt trucks ready to deploy at a moments notice. Also, the city is not paved with wide flat streets like the Chi.* It's more like a less extreme San Francisco, with narrow winding roads curling up and down hill. I went out to find the post office in the winter wonderland and overshot my turn, I did eventually find the post office, but it was inexplicably closed. On a Wednesday. At 11am. OK... Now my feet were getting cold, but lucky for me, there was mall on the next block! This bringing me to the next quirky Turkey item.
*Another thing Chicago has which Istanbul lacks is street signs. This is just one of the many reasons I get lost.
2. The GAP - The GAP here is crazy expensive, or "çok pahali" as they say and also, it SUCKS! What is going on here? It's like a flash back to the worst GAP clothes of the early 90's on sale for 200tl. No sale rack, bland offerings and 12 employees for every shopper. Does someone care to explain this? I'm very disappointed.
3. Smoking - Smoking, from what I can tell, is a national past time in Turkey. Men smoke, women smoke and cigarettes are cheap. After spending the last 3 years in California, this is quite a rude awakening for me. You will walk behind a smoker for at least part, if not all, of your trek to [fill in the blank]. You will stand in a cloud of second hand smoke you will move to avoid it and end up in another one. The thing that makes this strange is that it is illegal to show people smoking on TV. To deal with this, cigarettes are blurred out of movies and shows. It looks like this...
4. Hospitable people/ murderous drivers. I have had great experiences here with the people I have met. They are kind, patient with my foreign ways and generous. I am not the first one to point this out, but as soon as they get behind the wheel they would rather kill you than slow down for you to clear the road. It is not uncommon for cars to run red lights (just a suggestion!) or speed up towards a pedestrian in a cross walk, just to see them run. Seems like some sort of disconnect here. Hmmmm....
5. Atatürk everywhere! - Images of Atatürk are EVERYWHERE. A picture in every classroom and a statue or 2 (or more!) in every park or patch of green space. I was most blown away by taking a trip off the beaten path in Kapadokya to a garden house of a friend. We were so far out that I could not see a single light in any direction. In fact, there was no power to the house, we had to hook the house up to our car battery (awesome right?). The house is just one room with a partial kitchen, wood burning stove and you guessed it, a photo of Atatürk.
6. Politically incorrect. It's true the US has taken political correctness to new heights. Blazing a path to what is and is not acceptable and what does and does not determine discrimination. I freely admit that I am on board with this agenda.
Turkey is on its own time, however, as this is not the case here. On the first day of Turkish class my teacher introduces herself like this.
"Hello, my name is Beste. I am 29 years old. I am single and I work as a teacher."
Um, ok, now we are gonna go around the room and tell everyone how old we are and if we are married or not....
OK, that's it for now. It's just a slow snow day here in Istanbul. Time to eat some soup.