Religious disclaimer: I am not trying to offend anyone’s religious beliefs and hope that you see that the focus is on the culture. If you are upset by anything written here, well, feel free to vent your insecurities in the comment section below. For the sake of this blog post, Turkey is a Muslim country.
The trip was to Istanbul for one week. Half the time it was business (fancy hotel), and the other half leisure (Airbnb in the Favelas of Istanbul).
Scammed by a Taxi
As a naive millennial, I arrived at the airport thinking that I could just order an Uber and go to my hotel. There were two pretty big problems with this: I had no internet service in Turkey and Uber is kind of illegal (taxi drivers beat and sometimes shoot uber drivers). So, I was a sitting duck for the airport taxi companies. A “friendly” guy came over to me asking if I wanted a taxi — and after my disappointment of not being able to get my Uber– I said “yes”. After asking me all the information he told me that it will be 500 Turkish liras (80 euros). Initially, I thought that it was a bit pricey, but it was already late, and I had no idea how far away it was from the airport. After he got the money, his mood flipped and he made me follow him down the street to meet the driver. The “friendly guy” left without a word, I thought a “goodbye” would be included in those 80 euros.
The driver smiled and took me to an empty parking lot next to the airport, this was the first scary moment of the trip. At that moment, I forgot about the 80 euros and start being more cautious about who was around and a proper distance between the driver and me while we were walking in the parking lot. Finally, we arrived at the car, it was a bloody 10-seater van. At this point, there was not much I could do, the driver didn’t speak English, and we were far away from the bastard that got me the service.
Later on, I found out that my colleague that arrived a couple of hours before me and had paid only 20 euros for their taxi (I guess because it wasn’t a bloody bus). If you ever go to Istanbul, use this app for taxis.
24 kilometers in 3 hours
I have been in cities with heavy traffic, but this is one takes the piss. I experienced peak rush hour, and the funny thing was that there were no car accidents, it was just normal traffic. We were always moving but very slowly. Most of the time we were moving at a walking pace (according to Google Maps it would take 4 hours if I walked).
After this upset start, I became nostalgic because it reminded me of my home. Scammed and wasting hours in traffic, that is pretty much a normal day in Mexico City.
The first cultural shock came when I went to the toilet in the hotel:
It’s the first time that I have ever seen anything like this. I had mixed feelings of horror and curiosity. I don’t want to spoil it for you, so would just recommend you to experience it yourself, with an open mind.
Kebab is not Kebab
The first night, I reunited with my work colleagues and my Turkish colleague took us for dinner. They told us that it will be better to order a lot of food to share and we can try out different stuff. When she was talking to the waiter in Turkish I only got the word “kebab”. I was a little disappointed because, even though I love a good kebab, they are available on every corner at home. Well, I spoke too soon, the food that came out looked like this:
I had the impression that kebab was a fast-food, the holy grail for drunk people after a night out. I thought that the focus of the kebab was the bread with veggies, some meat, and a lot of nondescript white sauce, but I have been shown a different way. The important thing here is the meat, the other extras can but doesn’t have to be on the plate.
This reminded me of the misinterpretation of Mexican food with Tex-Mex (which most Americans and European believe to be Mexican food). Just a tip: if your burrito has rice, it is not a burrito.
The best host in Istanbul
For the second part of my trip, I stayed with Ufuk (I was afraid to pronounce his name), from Airbnb. The location was walking distance to the center, but the zone was a little bit shabby. The streets were so narrow that the taxi couldn’t continue, so I had to walk the last few blocks. I thought I had a wrong address because the host had awesome reviews. When I arrived at the address I text Ufuk that I was there and he came out to pick me up. He took me inside and showed me the place. His flat was full of random things from all his trips. While I was unpacking he was playing some Mexican music to make me feel like home. He offered me food, drinks, maps, and offered to take me on a personal tour of the city.
Ufuk didn’t speak English but this was not a limitation to be serviceable and friendly. When we were not able to communicate with signs or broken English, he always took me to his computer to translate the idea.
I am a frequent user of Airbnb and I can say that Ufuk is one of the few hosts that really love people staying in their place.
Warmness of People
The bad experiences didn’t ruin the trip. The problems with traffic, scam experiences, and dirty streets is something that you can find in any big city. Turkey is on the Mediterranean and you can see their warmness of this kind of culture around the streets. You can walk through the city and people will smile at you, not like many of the other European countries that are more reserved. This can be a little tricky because when they offer to help you it will be either scammers or people that truly want to help you and even go the extra mile to solve your problem.
Fooling around in the museum we met the manager of the place. The guy was very curious as to why a Mexican would want to visit there, so he was asking a lot of questions, but he didn’t speak English so my friend had to translate. We mentioned the story of the taxi scam and he felt very ashamed with the situation that happened and seemed to take it personally. He took us to his office and made some calls to report the situation and try to get my money back. We stayed there for an hour because it was the weekend and he couldn’t reach the people at the tourist office. On one hand, I appreciate his effort to try to help me out, but on the other hand, it was taking a lot of time and we wanted to continue to sightsee. He was so focused on helping us that he didn’t realise that we wanted to leave. It was only when my colleague politely interrupted him still appreciating his help and told him that we needed to go that he realized. He apologized for the inconvenience and said that he would try to make the report the next business day.
This is a clear example of the warmness of the people from Turkey. When they want to help, they will put in extra effort, but sometimes it can be too much.
During my leisure time, I decided to take a boat trip to the Prince’s Islands. The Prince Islands are an archipelago off the coast of Istanbul, in the Sea of Marmara. The boat takes you to the 3 main islands. The islands are very nice, but honestly, the deal-breaker that made me decide to take the boat trip was because they take you to an island that is on the Asia side. That was my first Asian experience, it lasted 3 hours, but still, it was worth it.
I arrived at the harbor early. The boat had an open space with big tables where you can sit down and even order some food or drinks. I sat at one of the tables on my own and then a group of 4 girls in hijab and a middle-aged man came and sat down with me at the same table. I haven’t interacted with many Muslim people before, so I was very curious about their religion and culture. Having a group of Muslims next to me was too strong temptation to miss out on asking some questions and I am the kind of person that prefers to risk an awkward moment than to suffer in silence.
I don’t remember what I said in the beginning but we started talking. They were 4 sisters in their 20s originally from Somalia and now living in Qatar and the guy was their local tour guide. Qatar and Somalia (at that time, I wouldn’t be able to point out Somalia on a map), are so exotic to me that I became more curious. We talked during the whole boat trip and they were also surprised that I was Mexican, they also saw it as something exotic.
During the conversation, I felt the tour guide was pretty protective. He was respected like he was their father. The guy was talking and the girls were listening and not contradicting any argument, they were a little over-respectful. The girls were even calling him “Baba”, which could translate as “Daddy” (not in a perverted way).
Most of the conversation was me asking how things are done in Muslim culture. Do women have the same rights as men? How do they, as women, feel about the different roles of men and women?
They saw that my questions were genuine and curious, rather than confrontational, so the conversation was always friendly. Baba was saying that God made men and women for different roles, so that is why they have different “responsibilities” (I think he meant rights). He said that there were bad men in the world and only men knew men, so that’s why the Muslim father always overprotects their daughters and when they get married the responsibility lies on the husband. He was saying that women were precious and we should take care of them because they are innocent and naive, he said this as praise to women, but for me was more of an insult. The girls were quietly listening and complying, even though maybe the didn’t fully agree.
From what I read about Muslim culture, there is not a dating step to meet your love partner. If both families approve the relationship, there is a wedding, sometimes even without the consent of the people getting married. The girls said that it is true but there are ways to meet a person. She told me that they can go out with someone that they liked, but always with a male member of their family.
The conversation was going well so I started asking more controversial questions. Muslim can have up to 4 wives, so I asked Baba why women cannot have more husbands. He told me that there are more women in the world than men (not true), and the problem will be that women will stay without a man and they will do adultery. To avoid infidelities they let the man have more than one wife. I was holding the laugh when I heard his reasoning and the girls stayed quiet, probably they also thought that it was bullshit. In the end, he said that it’s possible to have more wives, but not everybody does it, you need to prove that you can support them financially. Then I asked the girls if they will let their future husband have another wife. They said “No way!”. They see it as something that is inside the Quran, but they won’t let it happen to them. This was the first time when I saw more assertiveness in their words rather than submissiveness. Probably there are many things that they don’t agree with when it comes to religion, but they will only follow what they are used to and what they can handle. The main point is that it’s not the religion that you follow, it’s more about how the people around you influence you with that.
In the island, Baba took us to a local restaurant. The girls were telling me more about their lives in Qatar. JFYI you don’t pay income tax in Qatar. The 4 sisters had jobs and were earning good money, so they travel quite often. When we finished the food, the waiter came and gave the bill to Baba. I gave my part of the money to Baba and he paid the rest. The girls didn’t even make an effort to pay their share to Baba. This was very confusing to me, Baba was supposed to be the tour guide and he invited them for food, most of the times it is the other way round. When we left the restaurant I asked one of the girls and she told me that Baba normally pays everything, and in the end, he tells them how much it was. They were so used to have the man pay for everything because they feel that is the role of the man, even though it was their money. I am almost sure that Baba wouldn’t let them pay either, because he would feel a lesser man. That was so stupid for me because they were the ones that were actually paying, but because of gender roles, the just couldn’t. Plus, I was easily imagining Baba charging them more at the end of the day.
On a final note
The Muslim culture has different beliefs and traditions to what I am used to. I am not trying to sound like an expert of Muslims (I was there for only one week!), but in my personal experience, in terms of behaviour and warmness of the people in Turkey can be compared to Latin American society.
There tend to be clashes and disputes between Muslim and Western societies. The main reason is that the cultures are very different and even sometimes contradictory (feminism). This creates tension between them. The Muslim people are most of the time more affected because they are seen as the “intruders” to the western countries, and that’s a global trend, people from developing countries move to developed countries for better education, opportunities, and safety.
Muslims are not aliens, they are warm-hearted people with different beliefs and experiences. I honestly don’t like a lot of their beliefs, but c’mon, Christians have weird beliefs too. In Mexico, girls put the statue of Saint Anthony upside down to get a husband.
Thanks to globalization, there are a lot of examples of societies coming together with different religions and the key to making the world work for everyone is to not be an asshole.
Shout-out to David Watson and Gabriela Kadlecová for proofreading the text and Selma Kartal for the local perspective.