Wednesday, January 26, 2011

10 Things I Hate Being Asked About Turkey

After more than a year away, I'm going home in a couple of days for a holiday.
It's always exciting, albeit a little strange, and I am expecting another dose of reverse culture shock which, in some ways, is more difficult than the shock of moving to a new country.

You adapt to the rhythm of a place; its pace; its mannerisms; in some way, its language- you begin to merge with the culture. And then suddenly you're home, and the familiarity of it all is strange. Your wild, Mediterranean style gestures and blatant disregard for road (and most other) rules are suddenly out of place. You feel like a foreigner all over again.

And then come the questions. Now, in no way do I expect people to know the ins-and-outs of Turkish culture, politics and history, but there are a few basic questions which I am frequently asked which I thought were worth tackling prior to departure:
  1. Isn't it Dangerous? Compared with every other nation I have been to, I can honestly say that I feel safest in Turkey. Violent crimes are few and far between and apart from the odd bag snatch, Istanbul is generally a very safe city. That said, of course it's wise to avoid certain areas at certain times.
  2. What's it like to ride a camel? I wouldn't know. Apart from the rather odd camel wrestling competition on the Aegean coast of Turkey, one would be hard pressed to find one of these fine beasts here.
  3. Aren't the men creepy? On the whole, no. Just like anywhere else there are some notable creepers, but on the whole I find Turkish men kind, generous, honest and respectful of women.
  4. Do you have to wear a burqa/headscarf? No. Turkey is a proudly secular state, and only a portion of the female population wears a headscarf, which certainly does not include me, apart from if I'm entering a mosque. And they are banned from most state institutions.
  5. Aren't you sick of kebabs? Despite what the many 'Turkish' kebab joints all over the world seem to suggest, there is much, MUCH more to Turkish cuisine than kebabs. And it's delicious.
  6. How are your belly dancing skills coming along? They aren't. Belly dancing didn't originate in Turkey, nor is it really even possible to see- apart from at exorbitantly priced tourist shows.
  7. How's your Arabic? Non-existent. Turks speak Turkish, a unique language which has its origins in Central Asia and adopted a Latin script following the foundation of the Turkish republic.
  8. So you've been to the ANZAC Day commemoration at Gallipoli? No, and I don't intend to. Hanging out with a bunch of loud and drunk Commonwealth country backpackers while they trash a stunningly beautiful area of Turkey is not at the top of my list.
  9. You mean it gets COLD in Turkey? Yes. Istanbul has a Mediterranean climate, which means cold, rainy (and occasionally snowy) winters. And out east, well, that's a much chillier story.
  10. ? Well, I confess to getting tired after 9. You tell me.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Having a haircut in a strange land

I don’t quite know where my almost-phobia of hairdressers began, but my memories of trips there seem to merge in a gush of small talk from women with grating accents and hair as parched as a hungover tongue.

Perhaps it was hairdressers’ love of cutting, because it seemed no matter how many times I told them I wanted a ‘trim’, they would take to my painfully slowly growing hair as one would to unkempt hedge. And, once again, I would be left with mid length, dead mouse coloured hair, greasy with product I never asked for.

Whatever it was, I would avoid going at all costs, even if it meant going the DIY route which, as every teenage girl knows, NEVER ends well. First there were the temporary dyes, which either never worked or stained the hair with a tinge of pink. And then there was Sun In, whose promise of ‘sun-bronzed and kissed by the sun’ locks was woefully understated- translating into, well, yellow hair.

Venturing past the borders of New Zealand hairdressers left me with new problems to contend with, the biggest of which was trying to make myself understood in a different language. Unfortunately ‘gul’ (yellow) and ‘guld’ (gold) are much too similar in Swedish, and I was left with stripes the shade of a wedding ring.

In Ireland, lack of funds led me to a bunch of Koreans who had set up shop above a seedy looking internet cafe, whose apparently untrained, non-English speaking staff left me looking like a less peaceful and consistently coloured version of this girl:

It was with trepidation, then, that I traipsed off to a hairdresser in Istanbul following the return of my trusted hairdresser friend, Ellie, to the USA.

Within minutes of entering the salon I had their finest whizzing around me in every direction, offering me tea and making up the foils. I have to say that there’s something strangely disconcerting about having two good looking, presumably straight men attending to matters of beauty, but I took considerable pleasure in the fact that I could read my book or contemplate the wall colour in peace without having to be disturbed with news about the finale of Lost or of Lindsay Lohan’s latest downfall.

With all the lack of distractions I could finally attempt to relax and lose myself in the atmosphere of a Turkish hair salon which is, well, pretty much like any ordinary salon, save for the music being turned off for the duration of the call to prayer. There are the same uncomfortable hair sinks which leave you feeling that you’ve been pinned down by the neck by a professional weightlifter; the same walls of mirrors which leave you stuck as to which way to look; and the same overwhelming scent of hair products and bleach which result in a not-so-pleasant dizzying effect.

Three hours and too much hairspray later, the result was surprisingly positive. Good looking hairdresser #1 chivalrously helped me with my coat while good looking hairdresser #2 gave me the Turkish compliment- “Güle güle kullan”- roughly translating into "I hope this brings you joy". Unfortunately I confused this with the Turkish goodbye- “Güle güle”- and, with my phobia of hairdressers waning ever so slowly, I wished them both a nice evening and walked away as fast as I could.