Isn’t funny how different countries can sometimes seem just the same and completely unique all at the same time?
I’ve now had the opportunity to drive through the countryside in the US, Italy, England and Turkey, and I’m always struck by how, once you are a little removed from the concentrated culture of the city, everyone’s fields and mountains look like just that…fields and mountains.
I suppose there’s a metaphor in there somewhere.
For me, my recent trip had a lot to do with perceptions. I started my travels with some hazy, largely unconscious ideas pieced together by a mix of picturesque Pinterest pins, inflammatory news reports and well-meaning but under-educated overheard discussions.
Upon hearing my travel plans, everyone asked, “Why Istanbul?” To be honest, there’s really no one thing. Unfortunately despite good people and a greater God, religion gets it wrong sometimes, which I’ve noticed happens most when cultural and personal biases get lumped in with it by us fallible humans. So I grew up in my church bubble dismissing the region largely due to unawareness and therefore avoidance about Islam. “Classic American,” right? Luckily, through traveling opportunities and curiosity about other cultures that ignorance was not to stay for too long. After taking a missions class about world cultures about 2 years ago, I was even more excited about the area. Out of nowhere, Istanbul was on my mind and seemed to be everywhere…on book covers, Pinterest feeds, a vacation giveaway email and more. I became captivated by the beautiful mosques, long history, fascinating convergence of East / West and completely different but delicious flavor profile.
Here’s just a few of the perceptions, some my own and some that I’ve heard, that I found challenged during my visit:
Turkish people speak far less English than guidebooks and blogs led me to believe. Thankfully, they’re also some of the most hospitable people I have come across so the worst ‘mishap’ experienced was receiving an awful lot of hot tea (çay) when asking for the similarly pronounced check and the more than occasional appreciative laughter at our failing attempts to master “thank you” (teşekkürler).
Yes, the Muslim call to prayer happened every day, multiple times a day. But contrary to popular (American) belief, the city did not stop functioning during those times and no one made us feel awkward or out of place for not participating. Besides hearing it over the city’s loudspeakers, I never really noticed. Honestly, I found the idea of an entire country not only accepting but broadcasting its optional call to united prayer really neat, coming from the US where religion seems to be more and more of an incendiary topic and one we often skirt around in conversation.
Americans. Single women. You are perfectly safe in Istanbul. If you are smart and respectful, there is no reason why these sweet people would have any problem with you. There are bad people in every country, and the only time we received any sort of negative attention was from a passing car while walking back from a club at 1:30 in the morning in a dress and red lipstick…and we just ignored them so they kept on going. Overall, Turkish people really are incredibly welcoming, kind and helpful people. I can’t tell you how many times someone noticed our complete confusion with the bus schedule and approached us to help in whatever way they could despite language limitations. It makes me sad to think that many Turkish people might not have the same reception from every American if the situation was reversed. Because if I’m being honest, I can’t say before that I would have stopped unsolicited in the middle of my daily commute to help a lost tourist.
Turkish people are quite stylish and modern. They’re really into vintage clothes in the New City side of Istanbul, so there were strings of fantastic shops. Women’s unique, fashion-forward combinations were both beautiful and inspiring. The guys especially are very well-groomed, smartly dressed…and really dang attractive. We decided it must be the great cheekbones that everyone seemed to have.
I hope this helps paint a slightly different picture for you than maybe you’ve heard before. And I hope you decide to find out for yourself!