Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Travels: Not so wonderful thing about Istanbul

I had some warning that traveling alone in Istanbul may be more difficult than doing the same in Spain. My Rough Guide to Europe had the following in the Culture and Etiquette section on Turkey:
Single female travelers may experience some harassment. A common approach is being stopped to answer a quick question. Be aware that a quick question is never a quick question and you could find yourself embroiled in a desperate attempt to solicit your phone number or arrange a dinner date. 
I wasn't sure if I would encounter the described harassment in Istanbul since it is more liberal than elsewhere in Turkey. In fact, I thought it would be rare because I find that cosmopolitan cities seem to have more with each other than smaller towns in the same country. I also thought that because I'm not white or blonde, that

Unfortunately, I was harassed a lot in Istanbul. Their tactics were just as described in my guidebook. As I walked by, the most common conversation opener was "Where are you from", which was often repeated if I ignored them. Some of them would say something about the sights near us like "Oh you are visiting Aya Sofya". But I did ignore them and just kept walking.

I'm not sure what their intentions were or where the conversation would lead if I even made eye contact. I never responded to their calls. I just kept walking. I suppose some would eventually try to sell me something. Or that's what I hope because that it gives them a reason to me, for the lira in my pocket. But according to The Rough Guide, it sounds like some of them want to have dinner with a random non-Turkish tourist woman.

These "friendly" men were in particularly high concentration at the square between the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, middle-aged men just hanging around the square while tourists criss-crossed in front of them. This only happened when I was by myself in the historic quarter of the city where the main tourist attractions were: Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia. This didn't happen to me when I was elsewhere in the city that were less touristy and I was accompanied by a Turkish friend. I don't know if it was because I was alone or because I was in a particular part of the city.

I can tolerate friendly haggling with a souvenir T-shirt vendor but I became uncomfortable when he started to say he broke up with his girlfriend "yesterday." And proceeded to have me stay for a cup of tea with him at his stall. I paid for two t-shirts and practically ran away.

The harassment was enough to make me really cranky and suspicious of men walking my way on the sidewalk. I know that people will tell me that that's just the way (a certain) Turkish men and foreign women interact, I'm a tourist, I was alone, blah blah. But none of those circumstances is an excuse. This behavior gives me the creeps. It rubs me the wrong way. It's just not an appropriate way to treat women.

But my time in Istanbul also included many fond memories such as -- like I recalled in a postcard to a friend -- having tea on the top of a parking lot overlooking the city and the Bosphorus glittering in the evening sun. That moment made me want to stay in Istanbul forever.

1 comment:

ecomarci said...

aha, sounds awfully like what i experienced in bangladesh. i got the impression that the catcalls and "questions" were a mix of curiosity and male chauvinism, and while not really threatening, still disconcerting.