Things I Noticed in Turkey

• The Turks love their flag. It’s simple, distinctive, and bridges the gap between the secular and the religious. It’s everywhere.

• They also love Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, whose image (and signature, strangely) is almost as ubiquitous.

• But if you reject the compulsory secularism of Ataturk, and look back with fondness on the Ottoman Empire, perhaps you can display a tughra somewhere.

• A couple of other flags: the Iraqi Turkmen flag, and the flag of the Turkish minority of Western Thrace.

• I saw this image a few times. Apparently it’s “Turk” in Old Turkic.

• The evil eye is common. Some examples:

• Turkish shopkeepers tend to round prices to the nearest lira, so you won’t acquire many kuruş coins.

• Something amusing for me: a chain of men’s clothing stores named after a former Prime Minister of Canada. (More information at Maclean’s.)

• Postage stamps are still perforated and lickable, not stickers like in the US. But post offices and mailboxes seemed rather rare. You’ll know when you find a mailbox on account of its distinctive yellow, octagonal shape.

• Men can greet each other by performing something that looks like the French “bise,” but instead of kissing on each cheek, they just touch each side of their foreheads.

• Toilets have two flush buttons – apparently one for liquid, and a more powerful one for solids. UPDATE: Apparently this is pretty universal now, and only because Georgia’s plumbing is so backward does it appear novel to me.

• Occasionally you encounter a squat toilet, complete with hose for “wiping.” Where there is no hose, a lot of places require you to put your used TP into a waste paper basket beside the toilet, and not try to flush it.

• Unlike in Egypt, I never saw any donkeys or horses employed to pull carts, but I did see plenty of tractors driving in the streets.

• I stood out for wearing khakis. Every other male wore dark trousers – no shorts. Few people wore sunglasses or hats.

• Few people sported tattoos, dyed hair, or inventive piercings (although the former may have been hidden from me, covered by the long sleeves and trousers).

• More than 50% of women wore hijabs. Hijab wearers could be dressed otherwise as westerners, although many would also wear a long, straight dress in a single color for extra modesty.

• Obesity is nowhere near as common as in the United States.

• Turkish breakfast: cucumbers, olives, cheese, pita and various types of hummus.

Mosques are everywhere, and regularly issue the call to prayer, although Turks seem to be less into their religion than Egyptians are. The mosques tend to follow the same Turkish pattern, which derives ultimately from the architecture of Hagia Sophia. The tile work in the older mosques is gorgeous.

• There are very few functioning Christian churches.

• Stray cats and dogs are everywhere.

• The crows have a particular black and grey piebald coloration. There were even wild parrots near Topkapi Palace.

• The snails were larger than the ones I’m familiar with in the US. Here is one with a lira coin (slightly larger than a quarter) for scale.

• People still smoke cigarettes more, and in more places, than in the United States.

• Turkish coffee is a thing. You have to order it with or without sugar on account of the way it’s made. It’s served with water so that you can wash down the grounds if you want.

• Tea is also very common, and served in distinctive cups.

• There is a certain improvisational nature to the driving, but it is not as chaotic as in Egypt or China.

• You can’t serve yourself at the gas pump – the attendant will do it for you, and then give you a receipt, which you take into the store to pay. In the store, there is usually a great assortment of candy bars and cookies for sale.

• Cut-out police cars greet you as you drive into the average town.

• In North America a car radio, on the FM dial, will move by increments of .2. That is, if you’re tuning it, 101.1 will be followed by 101.3, then 101.5, then 101.7, etc. My car radio in Turkey was tuned in increments of 0.05, so that 101.10 was followed by 101.15, then 101.20, then 101.25, etc. It did not seem to pick up any more channels.

• Driving around you see some novel brands of motor vehicle, like MAN, Skoda, Scania, or Dacia.

• The English captions could be improved. They all seemed to have been written by non-native speakers who learned the language in school, and consequently weren’t that polished or even literate.

• I found the displays of spices and Turkish treats to be very aesthetically pleasing.

• I found Turkish warning signs amusingly eccentric.

• There are still a few pay phones, although the housing apparently can double as a wi-fi station. I also saw a machine that will charge up your cell phone for some minor consideration.

• Hotels do not provide washcloths. Like in China, you need to turn on your room’s electricity with your hotel key, and there are generally no sheets on the beds.

• Other similarities with China: a pervasive informal economy with haggling, the close grouping of several shops or stalls each selling the same type of goods (jewelry, camping equipment, plumbing fixtures, etc.), occasional “hutong”-style slums, and a more vibrant urban life than one finds in the US – particularly in the form of street restaurants set up on sidewalks or in vacant lots.

• An occasional sight in the countryside: tent villages, and shepherds herding sheep.

• Turks seem generally more reserved and less emotionally or physically demonstrative than Americans. There is a marked lack of legible clothing on adults, or even decals or bumper stickers on cars. If people supported certain sports teams, they generally kept this fact to themselves.

• In fact, there seemed to be little participation in global consumer culture. I heard very little western pop music, saw no dubbed Western television shows, and a lot fewer images of SpongeBob, Minions, Disney Princesses, etc. than you might expect. Turkey seems to enjoy a great deal of cultural autarky – generally, there’s nothing but Turkish content on the television and radio. I kind of respect this.

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