Quiet please, I'm thinking.
I’ve been thinking about Belgium again, now that I’ve left that country, to try and figure out what it was about living there that I really didn’t like. There were many things that bugged me – excessive car horn usage for one, high taxes being another – but there was, more specifically, a feeling of being downtrodden that I have not experienced anywhere else. Most people are aware that Belgium has a reputation for being boring, and there was certainly an element of that, but I think it was/is the general acceptance, nay inclination, for the general populace to play victim. Many countries have had it bad, suffered famine, war, pestilence, and gotten on with it. There is something about the Belgian psyche that seems to revel in malaise.
I say this because, living in Turkey for the best part of a month now, I see again how helpful and considerate people generally are, and want to be. The Irish in my experience will, as a rule, often go out of their way to help you, if they can. They will also go out of their way to mess you up if you cross them, but that’s another story and not a theory I suggest testing. The English, for all their faults (and they have many), are a fairly considerate bunch, unusually good humoured as well as being disinclined to upset your day if it can be avoided. For the ten years I lived in London I found them motivated, hard-working and optimistic, if somewhat racist, opinionated and overly self-assured. Yes they had an Empire, yes it spanned the globe, but more importantly that day has long since passed. Deal with it.
Now back to the Turks. First of all, in case anyone may be in any doubt, the Turks do smoke more than anyone else alive, in my honest opinion. They smoke like it’s going out of fashion. I have been known to spark up quite regularly and I have had my dalliances with quitting too, but even I draw the line these days at chain smoking and early morning cigarettes. The Turks have no such foibles. They will spark up first thing in the morning, last thing at night, straight after they have extinguished the preceding cigarette, all that good stuff. But when it comes to helping or being friendly they certainly take the biscuit. Having come here straight from Belgium and the 5 years of my life I spent there, I had gotten more than used to bad service, limited choice of providers, poor excuses for shoddiness or tardiness, and a general lack of respect for basics of exchange, ‘I pay you for the services/goods you provide and in turn you treat me with professionalism’. I could tell you stories about this that would make your hair curl but maybe another time. When we called for an electrician recently, in Istanbul, we were told the guy would be with us in 10 minutes! I’m sorry, what was that? 10 minutes? Holy crap. I shit you not, the guy was here in 5, and he was helpful, polite, considerate etc. The corner shop down our street will deliver water to your house (drinking water generally being delivered in plastic containers from a trusted source), as well as bread, cigarettes and other assorted goodies. This takes some getting used to after my Belgian experience.
Another thing I quite like in Turkey is how individuals will refer to any female older than themselves as abla (big sister) or abi (big brother), in the case of an older male. I really think this contributes to a culture of respect, which is evident in the way one is treated in stores, cafes, bars or restaurants. I am well aware that the Turks don’t have the best reputation in many parts of Europe, though my wife would argue that this is because these are the descendants of families who moved there and never integrated whilst also not progressing with the rest of Turkey, They are now stuck somewhere between being European and Turkish, some dark and uncharted cultural no man’s land. Suffice it to say I am finding the adherence here to old world manners quite charming, and I don’t even mind being a yabangee (foreigner). Let’s see if this continues.