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Old 11th August 2005, 10:34   #1 (permalink)
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The single womans guide to turkey

Ive just read this article, maybe a bit close to the mark on some topics, but a good read!!

"Wait 'til you see how gorgeous the Turkish men are," my travel agent told me. "I was amazed at how gorgeous they were when I was there."

Hmph, as my friend Alex would say. Gorgeous, I guess, is in the eye of the beholder. Suzanne and I did not find the Turkish men particularly gorgeous, although we saw a few we'd describe as fairly cute. Of course, our feelings might be slightly colored by the experience we had with them.

At the risk of offending the Turkish community, who might rightly claim that we only dealt with one subset of Turkish society, the word we would use to describe the Turkish men is slimy. Of course, we were dealing with mainly the vendors--the ones on the street as well as in the bazaars, and one taxi driver who couldn't seem to grasp that "I have a husband and son," was a subtle way of saying, "I don't want to sleep with you, you disgusting dirtball."

Okay, we were warned. I did my research on both Greece & Turkey on the Internet before we left. (I'm wired; Suzanne is not.) I spoke with women who had travelled in Turkey, and who offered excellent advice on how to deal with them. "Don't take the Turkish men too seriously," a lady named Catherine advised me. "I took my cue from the Turkish women--who are very proud. Walk with purpose, and don't look at them--treat them as though they were beneath your notice. They will flirt outrageously with you, and it seems as though there are men at bus stops who know only three English phrases--"You are beautiful. Are you American? Will you marry me?"

We avoided the bus stops mainly due to the fact that they were prime terrorist targets. So we got no marriage proposals, only indecent ones. Our first stop in Turkey was the morning we docked at the port of Kusadasi, on the southwestern border of Turkey on the Asia Minor side. (For the Turkish-impaired, there is a European side and an Asia Minor side. Istanbul is split up between the two sides and most of the tourist attractions are on the European side.) Kusadasi is close to the ancient town of Ephesus, formerly the site of a tremendous center of worship of the goddess Artemis. (I'll get to the actual tourist sites later).


After we were done touring Ephesus the cab driver took us back to Kusadasi, where we had like an hour and a half to kill before boarding the ship again. Naturally, we took to the bazaars...
We were not, as I mentioned before, entirely unprepared. We had been wearing wedding rings throughout the entire trip because we had heard that the Greek men were a little, um, randy as well (they weren't.) We dressed conservatively, in long skirts or pants and loose blouses that covered our upper arms. We spoke about "our husbands" instead of our boyfriends, and I was prepared to claim Jeff's son as my own if pushed (which I was once, and it didn't work.) Either Turkish men don't know that wedding rings are a sign of a Western woman being married, which we're highly inclined to doubt, or they just don't care. I don't know, maybe these guys really are getting hellaciously laid by Western women. But at any rate, they all speak excellent English except for the word NO. Rumor has it that they think all American women are rich, but our experience leads us to believe that they are interested in all Western women, because they could tell neither by our looks nor our accents which English-speaking country we were from.

And boy, talk about your stupid lines! The first one we heard was inside the bazaar when one of them said to Suzanne, "Where did you buy your eyes?" The vendors were very pushy in trying to get us to come into their stores, which we expected, and just shaking your head and saying no seemed to be good enough. We were never sure the barrage of false flattery was because they were just trying to get us into their store or themselves into our pants. But it got annoying pretty quickly. The most common ones were: "You have beautiful eyes/hair." (Or just, you are very beautiful/pretty.") "Where are you from?" "Do you speak English?"

Being as I was, as I considered myself, an ambassador from another country, especially one with a reputation for producing what has come to be called the Ugly American, I at first felt compelled to be polite. "You don't have to tell them anything," Suzanne informed me ten minutes into the excursion, when I at least acknowledged their questions or attention. Considering the fact that we couldn't pass a man without his showering us with unwanted queries, I quickly learned that sometimes rudeness was the better part of discretion. I ignored them as we walked by or shook my head if they tried to hustle me into their shops.

But even as we walked down the street, you couldn't avoid the hoots and the catcalls. "Hey lady, your hair is very beautiful!" "Hey lady, come back here and talk to me!" And one guy actually called after us, and I kid you not, "Shake it baby, shake it shake it shake it, shake it, baby, shake it shake it shake it!"

We have no idea if this sort of crap actually works on any Western woman, but we couldn't imagine even the most bubble-headed Valley Girl falling for these tired old routines.

The next morning we docked in Istanbul, were loaded onto tour buses, and were given a grand tour of the city. Our first stop for getting off the bus was the Blue Mosque. We got off the bus and the street vendors descended on us like a plague of locusts, pushing tourist books and cheap toys and hats and scarves under our noses. We were warned to watch out for the pickpockets, who thrived in this sort of atmosphere. The first thing I learned that morning was that the sort of long, loose hair I had was the erotic equivalent to Turkish men what naked breasts were to American men. (I bound it up with hair sticks I always carry in my purse the first opportunity I got after leaving the mosque.) A young street vendor pushed a book on Istanbul into my hand and said, "For you, free."

"Free?" I asked suspiciously, knowing already that nothing in this city came for free.

"Yes, for free," he told me. Then he added, "And you give me a kiss," touching his lips.

"Uh, I think not!" I replied and I pushed him away. Just then a second one, who'd heard the exchange, turned around and said, "I give you a free book for a kiss, yes?"

"No, I'm married," I replied as I hurried into the center of our group.

Leaving the mosque, the street vendors noticed that Suzanne and I were the only young and apparently single members of our group. They followed us like flies. I turned to one pursuing us and said, "Je ne parle pas Anglais," hoping that pretending to be a non-English-speaking person would get them to leave us alone. But the boy reacted in perfect French. It seems the Turks who deal with the tourists learn all the major international languages, as our taxi driver in Kusadasi the day before had taught us when he told us he had learned enough of English, the major European languages, and a few Oriental ones from the tourists who'd ridden in his cab. "Laissez-nous tranquille!" I told him as we turned away, thinking to myself that speaking French wasn't gong to bring us any relief either.


What we learned about travelling around Turkey (or probably any Moslem country, since it seems Moslem men have hot bananas for Western women everywhere, we hear) when you're unaccompanied by a man is that we were correct in dressing conservatively, and that if the wedding rings weren't major deterrents, they were more protection than not. Suzanne had been to Egypt last year and hadn't worn a wedding ring and had gotten a bad time of it from the Egyptian crew on the cruise boat she was on. While she claimed that the men in the bazaars were not nearly as obnoxious, she also said she was glad she was wearing a wedding ring in Turkey. We are sorry now that we didn't wear kerchiefs on our heads like the Turkish women; as a Moroccan lady once informed me when I considered going to Morocco, the men will assume you're a Western woman married to a Moslem who's converted.

A pair of sunglasses is a must-have accessory, in our opinion. It's not so helpful in the bazaars, where there's no need for them, but when you're on the street it serves multiple purposes. First of all, if the men can't see your eyes it's one less thing they have to comment on. Secondly, it prevents them from seeing you make eye contact. The briefest glance, even when simply scanning a crowd, is an invitation to pursue you. So you can walk down the street looking straight ahead, seemingly ignoring the gauntlet of vendors (it's like something out of an Indiana Jones movie, I swear to Goddess!) while keeping your eye on all of them.

They do not take No for an answer. But we did not feel like we were in much danger for the most part, as Turkish laws are much stricter than American ones. As far as we know, they do not have the same problem with concealed weapons as we have here (i.e., no one is going to shoot you or stab you for your fine American jeans.) They are really more annoying than anything else, but they simply do not know when to quit. When one Turkish man accosted us while walking down the street, I turned to him and said, "I'm sorry, our husbands do not like us speaking with strange men." He did not take this for the subtle invitation to piss off that it was, and we had to just walk faster than him to get away from him. We had one English-speaking taxi driver in Istanbul who could not take an invitation to piss off either (although in retrospect it was probably a bad idea for me to sit up front with him.) His first comment to me was, "You have such pretty eyes," to which I replied, "Thank you, my husband and son think so too." This did not deter him in the least and he tried to set up a date with me after he got off work. I pointed out again that I was married. He asked where my husband was and I told him he wasn't feeling good and stayed back at the motel today (had he asked what was wrong with him, I would have been sorely tempted to reply, "HE DRANK YOUR F**KING WATER, OKAY???") At no time were we ever physically accosted or molested. My e-mail friend Catherine said only once in her experience did a Turkish man actually grab her butt, upon which another one grabbed him and forced him to apologize.

We had only one truly scary moment. It was our first day in Istanbul as we were walking to the Covered Bazaar. We were surrounded by street vendors on both sides calling out to us. Suzanne and I stuck together, sunglasses on and ignoring the catcalls. One guy hollered out to me, "Hey lady, you have beautiful hair!" When I ignored him he called out louder, "Heylady, come here, you have beautiful hair, I want to talk to you!" When I continued ignoring him he got irate and followed us down the street screaming, "Hey lady! You turn around and look at me! I'm talking to you! Who the hell do you think you are ignoring me?" I half-turned around--I never saw the man at all--and yelled, "Pas Anglais!!!" in my angriest voice. He left us alone at that point, although later on Suzanne and I agreed we knew not whether it was because he thought I didn't speak English, or because he saw the Turkish cop right there.

A word to the wise--for all their reputation, and for all you saw in the movie Midnight Express, the Turkish police are your friends. They have a vested interest in keeping the tourists happy. Turkey is not a First World country--it's a developing country, and the poverty is more widespread than it is in the United States or Western Europe (which explains in part the pushiness of the street vendors.) Turkey will not profit from people coming back to their home countries and telling tales of being physically assaulted. The Turks are very afraid of the police because justice is far different there--according to a Turkish guidebook a friend lent me, the penalties alone for stealing are steep--25 years in jail. If someone sells you a 14-karat ring at a bazaar and it turns out to be only 10 karat, his ass is in serious trouble if you inform the police. A Lebanese couple in our tour group said the best thing you can do is to threaten to call the police--that is the last thing a persistent Turk will want you to do!

That was the same advice we were given by our Turkish tour guide (we loved our tour guides, Ahmet and Ehret, by the way--living proof that not all Turkish men are slimeballs.) When we asked Ehret what we should have done in this situation, he said to yell for the police. When I asked what we should do if no police were around, he showed me how to pull away from someone or to push them away. I asked if this wasn't risky, would this get us arrested and thrown in jail for assaulting a Turkish citizen? He said no, we were guests in this country and the woman is always right. "He is hassling you," he told me. "In Turkey the woman is always right." "Does that go for non-Moslem women as well?" I asked, with a note of suspicion in my heart. "Yes," he told me.

An older woman in our group who heard our conversation came up and told us that she had lived in Saudi Arabia for a year, where the men were so aggressive that they would come up to you in the street and grab your breasts. "In any Moslem country, the woman is always right," she told us. "Even the non-Moslem women." However, I would take this advice very cautiously--several books I've since read on Islamic countries indicates that Islamic fundamentalism is on the rise everywhere, and as is the case with all fundamentalist idiocy, the woman is always wrong.

should add in finishing that Suzanne and I did enjoy visiting Turkey, and would not want anyone to think, especially women travelling without a man, that it is too dangerous to try. We really only felt scared once, when the man followed us down the street en route to the Turkish bazaar. The men are, in our opinion, far more talk than action. Most of these "harrassment" situations were in your typical "construction crew" setup--we think a lot of this was a lot of macho show for their friends. Men by themselves never bothered us. There was a man in a shop in Kusadasi that sold professional belly dancing costumes, and although a couple of other women and I were in costumes and dancing around, he behaved himself. Of course, he was the only man there...Also, the ones who can't speak English will leave you alone--out of four taxi drivers we dealt with in Istanbul, only one spoke English and he was the only one who bothered us. The restaurant owners and waiters were just fine, as were the older street vendors--the non-mobile ones. We also experienced less flattery crapola in the Egyptian Spice Bazaar, which has a lot of different shops like the Covered Bazaar but is frequented more by the locals--the latter is strictly Tourist City today.

One final thought--and this is in case this is read by any Turkish men who might take offense. I do not mean this page to be an offense or a "rag" on Turkey in general. Suzanne and I do realize that we were "strangers in a strange land" and that we might not be as familiar with the culture and customs as we would have liked. However, we do not think we were wrong in finding the behavior of the street vendors and taxi drivers annoying. What I found particularly offensive was that many of these people identified themselves as Moslem (I asked). Correct me if I'm wrong, but the Koran just doesn't give people carte blanche to have sex with anyone they please any more than the Bible does. Of course, I realize that there are probably just as many "surface Moslems" in Turkey or any other Moslem country--just as America and many other countries have "surface Christians"--people who identify themselves with the dominant religion when they neither believe the philosophy nor otherwise "walk the walk."

What I found particularly disgusting was the clearly pervasive notion that it's okay to "sully" a non-Moslem woman in a way they would never dare "sully" a Moslem one; this is as hypocritical, in my eyes, as Jimmy Swaggart renting out prostitutes (non-Christian, "fallen" women) so he can do things he wouldn't dare ask his good Christian wife to do. I keep in mind that Islam as a religion is only 1,300 years old, and that Christianity was just as immature about sexuality and women (and already burning them at the stake for being both female and sexual) at that age. But Islam is also coming of age in the twentieth century, not the thirteenth century--when they have a mass media that exposes them to the rest of the world in a way our medieval Christian fathers didn't. Isn't it about time Islam grows up and recognizes that Allah never said it was okay to harrass non-Moslem women, and that if men are going to claim to be Moslem, they should walk the walk, not just talk the talk?

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Old 11th August 2005, 10:55   #2 (permalink)
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Re: The single womans guide to turkey

Excellent read - thanks!

So true about Kusadasi though

The shop boyz are really giving the place a bad name and the tourists a hard time.

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Old 11th August 2005, 11:02   #3 (permalink)
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Re: The single womans guide to turkey

Very interesting read, I really do enjoy reading things that people have written who have only ever been to a place once. I don't agree with quite a bit of it but interesting all the same.

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Old 11th August 2005, 11:07   #4 (permalink)
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Re: The single womans guide to turkey

Lovely reading! and on some points i do agree.
You get used to some of it, but still....i hate the fact that I cannot go out for a beer alone without a male chaperone :-S
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Old 11th August 2005, 19:15   #5 (permalink)
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Re: The single womans guide to turkey

Yes very interesting reading.
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Old 11th August 2005, 22:54   #6 (permalink)
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Re: The single womans guide to turkey

Excellent read Canim, thanks for sharing.
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Old 12th August 2005, 11:25   #7 (permalink)
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Re: The single womans guide to turkey

Good read. I know the hassle is worse in Kusadasi than it is here in Altinkum, but there are some bars here that are almost as bad. Although I've never felt unsafe and I do sometimes go out for a drink on my own.
However, I noticed a huge difference in the amount of hassle when my 20 year old daughter was here. She didn't feel comfortable going anywhere on her own, even though she is used to handling pushy men in Leeds. It almost spoilt her holiday. I wish the hassling waiters realised what they're doing to their potential customers.
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Old 25th August 2005, 21:48   #8 (permalink)
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Re: The single womans guide to turkey

When I lived in Ankara 10 years ago as a newly-wed I got a lot of harrasment from Turkish men, often men on their own who spoke limited English and had no regard for the fact I was married and THEY were! One followed me for ages after I smiled my thanks when he'd helped me across a busy road - he frightened me more cos he just didn't speak at all and waited silently if I went into a shop pretending to be shopping!

My husband only had one thing to advise on the matter. Don't smile at Turkish men and if they speak to you tell them to **** off!

Of course 10 years later I'm feeling insulted by the lack of such harrasment!!

Article was good but didn't agree with the religious remarks.
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Old 26th August 2005, 10:16   #9 (permalink)
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Re: The single womans guide to turkey

Sorry to say i have to agree.
Being my home town kusadasi for ten years.
Even after all this time my wife who is turkish finds it almost impossible to shop in that particular area.and avoids it...
Selšuk a bus ride away and a different world.and a lot cheaper...
When will they learn...dont hassle and you will sell??maniacs....
dont do it.... stop it

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Old 4th December 2008, 10:34   #10 (permalink)
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Re: The single womans guide to turkey

Education is the key guys.
Some day Turks will think like europiens.But it will take time.It gets worse if you go to east.West is better somehow.
I am a Turk and I dont like this either.But some ladies encourage them.Specially in Gumbet
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