Visit Turkey: Culture, Macho Men and Vintage Cars
Turkish culture and society are often regarded as a sort of ‘Islam lite’ because the country is often a rather comfortable blend of Orient and West. Turkey has embraced capitalist concepts such as the free market, and was even–until fairly recently–pulling out all the stops to join the EU. However, Turkey is probably heaving a collective sigh of relief now that it was excluded from the elite club which famously has Greece and Spain as two of its less-than-satisfied members.
Turkey is an ideal destination for exploring the merging cultures, with weather that supports a ton of cheap last minute holidays, whether you’re after a sunny break or a sophisticated weekender in up-and-coming Istanbul. One of the first things you’ll notice on arrival is the streets are full of vintage American cars of the sort we used to see on black-and-white gangster movies starring the likes of George Raft.
These classic models actually go rather well with the old Ottoman architecture in the smaller towns, and if you catch a minibuse or ‘dolmus’ (literally ‘full up’), it’s one of these aging beauties you’ll most likely end up in. Climb into the back of one of the dolmus on any corner and sit there sweating on thick leather upholstery until it fills up with passengers, at which point it will finally depart.
There was recently a ‘tidy up the toilets’ nationwide campaign in Turkey, to try and tackle some of its more embarrassing issues, but unfortunately even in major tourist attractions like the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, you’ll still not find a toilet roll for love nor money. A word of advice: Never travel anywhere in Turkey without a few rolls of TP in your luggage and an emergency one in your handbag. Many of the smarter hotels and restaurants have facilities that compare with anything New York or London can offer, but be prepared even in some of these to be faced with the old hole in the ground and a plastic beaker of water. To add insult, there’s usually a grim-faced boy or man guarding the door like Cerberus, into whose gaping maw you must throw a ‘kurus’ (pennies) in order to gain entry to the Empyrean beyond.
In common with most other Islamic societies, men and women tend to go their own way and do their own things, with men seemingly always to prefer the company of fellow males in cafes, restaurants and even on the beaches of the plush Aegean resorts. This may have something to do with the way in which Turkish social norms have evolved over the centuries. For example, the famous Turkish baths originated as after-work clubs for men and only later became popular with women.
There has always been this soft form of segregation in Turkey, and seeing a couple of men with their arms around each other in the street is quite normal, but it’s a sign of friendship only and not to be interpreted as gay-friendly. In fact, although homosexuality is legal in Turkey, it’s still considered quite taboo.
About the author: David Elliott is a freelance writer who loves to travel, especially in Europe and Turkey. He’s spent most of his adult life in a state of restless excitement but recently decided to settle in North London. He gets away whenever he can to immerse himself in foreign cultures and lap up the history of great cities.
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