The Grand Bızzarre


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Middle East » Turkey » Marmara » Istanbul
March 23rd 2007
Published: March 23rd 2007
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The call to prayer at the blue mosque
Thıs place ıs mad, massive overload to the senses!

Comıng from Bulgarıa (where ıf you approach anyone for dırectıons or anythıng they just turn away, don't even try to understand what you are saying or try to communıcate some kınd of response) turkey ıs a massıve shock. Compared to the hour ıt took me to fınd the hostel ın Bulgarıa because of this, ıt took me the tıme ıt takes to walk to the hostel to get to the hostel - wow! People just called out to me on the street 'hey lady you need help? where you goıng?' and then just gave me perfect dırectıons, even when i wasnt looking puzzled because someone had just given me directions 20 metres back! And then say welcome to turkey! And its not like I was being exceptionally nice either - I couldnt quite grasp that all these people actually wanted to help me, and not for commission, or anything! I didnt know what to do with myself!!!

So anyways, got to the hostel, nice clean place with nice bathrooms and plenty of hot water (yes that combination is actually a first, pity about the bed bugs though, but I didnt work that one out for a day or two so we'll just leave that for now). Went out, to try and get lost as much as possible, (my usual favourite thing in a new place, you see so much more when you're not looking for anything), and then the fun really began...

(This is the part I had to censor from ma and pa while I was in turkey because that's just how parents are - its alright ma and pa, you can read this now, I'm not in turkey anymore)

I went out into the gauntlet (read: streets) where I was absolutely bombarded, romanced, *sequestered for a time as short as I could make it (which really wasn't very short at all), then reluctantly semi-let free, time and time again. Now I know that people who visit turkey say its an absolute bombardment of the senses, however I think those who haven't traveled there as a blond, blue-eyed, female, on her own, have really only scratched the surface.

Add to this normally overwhelming turkish experience the most pick-up lines you have ever heard, the best and most convincing, charming salesmen, the most persistent chasing-after you can imagine, and the result is that it took me on average about half an hour to get about 50 metres along any street in tourist town or the grand bazaar or the spice market... and thats without even looking at anything, if I intentionally stopped to look at something, it took longer.

The typical conversation almost always begins like this:
1. Walk along the street trying not to look at anyone or anything as an avoidance strategy that really doesnt work.
2. Get about 5 metres
3. 'Hey lady, Ive got one question, where you from?' - they say it so politely and in such a way you can't (being brought up with new zealand politeness and courtesy) refuse to answer (or else they start guessing anyway, they can always tell you are from an english speaking place even if you havent said a word. order of country guesses changes though).
'New Zealand'
'Oh Nuew Zeeeeeland (then with any one of: kia ora bro; all blacks yes?; auckland ay; wellington; I have a cousin in _______; my friend just went there two month ago; new zealanders very nice, very friendly people etc etc etc.)
'how long you stay?' (by this stage were up to about question number 5)
'three days'
'only three days? you don't like it here?'
(simpering: no no i love it here i want to stay longer)
'you want some tea, coffee?'
'no no thats ok, I think i'll just carry on, i only have three days remember'
'just 10 minutes, its alright i'm not trying to sell you anything, come, we go just here, have some tea'
'no no really...'
just 10 minutes, 5 minutes
no thankyou i think ill just carry on
you dont have 10 minutes? i want to show you turkish hospitality. how about tonight? you come out for a drink? i show you turkish hospitality, its ok we go somewhere public, you dont need to worry, i dont bite, i would like to take you out to dinner, you come here at 8 and we go have something to drink and dinner (at this stage im trying to fit even a half sentence in there somewhere but it just doesnt fit)
how about tomorrow, you dont have any time for me? not 10 mins in three whole days?

thats the standard persistence, normally it ends soon after that (with a handshake, holding my hand until i literally pull it away, but not before a kiss on the hand), but there was also the odd one or two who said goodbye and then started up again
'i really want to see you again, you look like a nice girl, such pretty eyes, you are very beautiful, you wont come out to dinner?' etc etc (etc ETC!)

Its unavoidable. If you don't answer at all they guilt you out:
'Hey lady hello!'
(silence, keep walking, pretend you dont know who theyre talking to)
'What, no hello? hey lady! lady!'

And then there's the really shameless ones:
1. 'Oh my gott!!!' (that one really did take me a while to work out, but in the context of the others it becomes clear)
2. 'Hey lady you drop something!'
(quite possible, so you turn around, look at ground, look at empty ground in puzzlement)
'my heart'
One guy actually made this one a little more beleivable, I saw nothing on the ground but he said he had it (whatever it was supposed to be, it turned out to be a seat in his little handbag shop which he grabbed my hand and dragged me to, made me sit down, 'you want tea? turkish tea? apple tea? what tea? no no sit down, dont stand up, I not sell you anything, just want tea. turkish tea? apple tea? lady if you take one more step you break my heart! oh my heart it is broken look what you did)!!!
3. Start singing and walking with you
4. Standard conversation starter (see above), then 'I walk with you, you must be very careful, these men bad, all try sell you something, I come keep you safe'

they also try to show you the tourist sights as a conversation opener. i actually got fully duped with that one when i was fresh out of the hostel, went to get some money out of an atm, didnt even have my bag or camera with me, guy comes up and says
'you just arrive here? you should go to the blue mosque, it closes in one hour, i point the way and then you go alone'
'ok thankyou'
(starts giving me directions and pretends it easier to see from down the street, keeps walking with me all the way there, tries to get me in the not-tourist side door but theres no shoe-bags left there (you have to take off your shoes to go in a mosque), go round to tourist entrance but big queue, decide to come back later, all the while he is explaining what all these monuments are and history etc, and in between carrying out the *standard converstation starter* so i say ok we go for a coffee, we're in public, what can he possibly do even if he is evil. so we go to this awesome place, not a tourist hangout. there's kilim (turkish carpets that are woven not carpet carpet) all over the floor, the walls and the ceiling, you cannot see any actual surface. so we get some coffee (actually 'bosnian' turkish coffee was better, the mud stays at the bottom in bosnia), and play some backgammon, which is a big thing in turkey. but we have to play for something apparently, which i have to choose, so i say for our drinks. then we play lots of games, because you have to apparently have first to 5 wins to have a winner. i end up winning, partly because i was lucky that day, but also because he would tut-tut when i made a mistake (which was nearly every turn) which would be advantageous to him and show me how i should play. so anyway then he takes me to his uncle's carpet shop (its a shop, it must be public, it must be ok), gives me tea, asks to hold my hand, i start saying its time i went back got my things and did some laundry, he carries on the rest of the standard conversation about dinner and drinks and how he can show me real turkish places that wont rip me off because the hostels recommend places to the backpackers and take a commission so its very expensive, i say im tired and somehow manage to get him to stop, not before he says 'i really like you, i really want to see you again' and gives me his number, manages to get me to promise ill call him the next day, but if i dont, to definately let him know i wont see him (obviously so he can pounce on some other young lass if i won't put out)

so the first day was exhausting to say the least, and despite all the good bargaining to be done i was too scared to stop anywhere for long. especially near a carpet, handbag, or turkish delight stall, those guys were always the most persistent, and the best (almost perfect) english.

so the next day i made one of the guys i met at the hostel chaperone me (thanks david!), and the difference was MASSIVE! it was kinda more fun, i did some bargaining, which it turns out im not bad at (david was impressed) and enjoy a LOT. and i didnt really get harassed at all. david thought we did, and couldn't quite imagine what it was like for me on my own because it was bad enough for the two of us! the worst we had to endure was pretty funny, they have a good sense of humour:
one guy who said 'something pretty for your girlfriend', david: 'no thanks', turk: 'something for your other girlfriend?'
one guy who said 'something nice for your mother' (no comment, keep walking) 'what, you dont like your mother?'
one carpet guy who gave up very quickly,
and one guy who said 'something for your mother in law?'
that was it
unbeleivable
can count that on one hand
i was actually almost disappointed, so the next day i decided to go it alone again, having recovered due to my chaperoned day, and try and get some surreptitious video recordings - the bombardment is so intense you have to see it to beleive it. only unfortunately it was a sunday so the bazaar and market were closed, and i hardly got harassed at all which was very disappointing.

but even when i was leaving (read: massive pack on my back, rosy cheeks)
'you leaving?'
'yes'
'without me?' (had to laugh at that one)
another guy stopped me and asked if i had time for a coffee, kept me talking in the middle of the street with a pack on my back, said i had rosy cheeks (its alright all, travel hasnt changed me a bit haha), i looked tired so i should come in for some tea and wheres my boyfriend he should be here to carry my bag for me, your boyfriend not here (i worked out on the first day you dont admit your traveling alone or that you dont have a boyfriend, not that it actually made any difference at all anyway) come have some tea

however i was waiting in the square outside the blue mosque until the midday call-to-prayer started, and this school group came up to me and started touching me and touching my hair and trying to communicate 'how old are you what is your name you have pretty A's (eyes) can we have your email your phone number you are very beautiful where is your boyfriend' and then proceeded to all have a photo with me, all crowded in close but a different one squeezed tight next to me for each photo, they went nuts when i asked for a photo with them, and they were so over the top that when their teacher finally dragged them away half an hour later this asian tourist came up to me and said 'are you a celebrity?' 'no!' 'then why???' he looked so puzzled, i tried to guess, i dont know, blonde, blue eyes, i dont know. it was hilarious!

So, overall impression: still processing
I think I loved it, it was definately an experience anyway, I would go back again which says something. But I would probably make someone come with me, unless I was making a documentary. It was the only country in a while that hasn't secretly tried to rip me off. Tourist stuff was expensive, but you expect that. The people were genuinely friendly and helpful, and not because they wanted a commission. One guy when i was leaving said 'you leaving?' and then just said 'goodbye, have a good trip'.
Although I'm still trying to work out exactly what they did want, I mean its obvious i guess, but it all seems kinda pointless that they prey on women on their own that are only there for a short time... have to wonder what their success rate is!!!)

theres a link at the top of the page for probably the best video i managed to get...

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29th March 2007

Goodtimes!
hahaha what craziness hey? thanks for the shout out! Still in Istanbul heading to Cappadocia tomorrow night and back here on Tuesday! I hope Romania's goin good!
30th March 2007

Welcome to the land of harrasment!
I love the idea of going to Istanbul and Turkey in general. I know it must be easier for a guy as they wouldnt give as many offers of dinner and drinks. A great experience youve had and I figure you must be happy to get back to harrasment free NZ or Switzerland.

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