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Heidi Reimer
Do You Want a Cup of Tea, Do You Want a Boyfriend?

Turkish Men and Other Hassles

Friday - 16 Mar 2001

One can only take every man in the street calling “hi, how are you, where are you from, do you want a cup of tea, do you want a boyfriend?” for so long. As I explore the city the next day, the friendliness is first charming, then disconcerting, and finally, after half an hour attempting to dodge the gauntlet of male attention, I am exhausted. By noon I have consumed more apple tea than my bladder can handle, shaken my head at countless wares for sale and guides for hire, evaded two dinner invitations, been gawked at by every man I’ve passed, and I am developing a paranoia that is tempted to hide in my room for the remainder of my Istanbul stay.

“Is your daddy a candy maker?” a young man in the street asks me. No, he isn’t. “Then why are you so sweet?”

His name is Murat; he and a Turkish boy are walking with an American backpacker toward Topkapi Palace. Weary of thwarting pick-up attempts and relieved at the presence of someone from my own culture, I allow my assimilation into their group. They are teaching me the trick to pronouncing thank you in Turkish (tesekkür ederim, “tea-sugar-et-dream,” very fast) when the American announces his departure, and I am left with two Turkish carpet salesmen as my companions for what becomes the next day and a half.

Carpet salesmen loiter at tourist sites and call out to foreigners, offer directions, show them around, ask if they’d like a cup of tea back at the carpet shop. Try to sell them a carpet. I have no intention of buying one, but it is easier to stay with them than to wander alone. A male escort does not stop the stares, but there are no more approaches. Their nickname for me is Gule--“Rose”--because I am tall, like a long stem.

Murat directs me to the entrances of the sites, tells me what Islam means to him, drills me in the language and use of the currency, buys me dinner, and falls in love with me.

After some consideration, I decide I have no future with a chain-smoking Turkish carpet salesman. When I will neither buy a carpet nor sleep with him, he decides he has no future with me.

I eat dinner by myself my last night in Istanbul. I am on edge, knowing a foreign girl alone in this city is an open invitation, and I am not friendly to the waiters and patrons who smile at me. Two days here have turned me guarded and defensive. I write in my notebook, and eat, silently. Toward the end, three Canadian girls enter the restaurant. I join their table, and it’s a relief to share stories and laugh with people of my own kind, who are not trying to get a date, or sell me something.

If tourist-clogged Sultanahmet was foreign culture, I get it for real when I leave the familiarity of the Ali Baba and am shuttled to the otogar for an overnight bus to Selçuk. I find my bus without getting lost, and take my assigned seat to watch the men in front of dozens of bus companies compete with bellowed names of destinations: “Izmir! Izmir! Antalya! Ankara!” Others sing, chant, dance, wave a Turkish flag, for reasons I can’t figure out. No one speaks English. I am the only foreigner on the bus—and in the entire otogar as far as I can see.

With many shouts, smoke breaks, and stops for unknown reasons, we are on our way. At one stop I realize we are about to board a ferry to cross the Sea of Marmara to Yalova. The middle-aged woman beside me decides I need a wing to be taken under, and she motions me to follow her to the upper deck, where she buys me my fifteen millionth cup of çay and tries to make me understand her Turkish. Between her seven English words and my seven Turkish, an improvised system of hand signals and facial expressions, and the pictures in my guidebook, we are soon and with much laughter communicating. She calls out to everyone who passes, “Blah blah blah Ingilizce? Blah blah blah Canada,” pointing to me, but they shake their heads so we go on without an interpreter. She shares her food, and pays for my use of the hole-in-the-floor bathroom.

On the bus a steward walks the aisle periodically, dispensing—hand soap? eau de cologne?-- into the palm of every passenger. He serves çay and coffee in white plastic cups, and small wrapped cakes. The driver smokes, but passengers are not permitted. I think I have yet to meet a Turkish person who doesn’t smoke—or, for that matter, offer me a cigarette.

I am astounded by mountain scenery as morning approaches. We near the town of Selçuk about 7:30. I have no accommodation arranged and my only plan is to see the ruins of nearby Ephesus. Realizing that for the first time I will be alone and uncared for, I haul out my guidebook and try to figure out my next steps.

But the Turks still want to run my life—my motherly friend gets off the bus with me, speaks rapidly to a woman outside, who turns to me and says in English, “You will stay at my pansiyon, yes? It is very cheap. Come.” She heaves my backpack into her trunk beside a pile of unidentifiable vegetables. I ask how much for a night, she says $5. I hug my friend, she kisses both my cheeks and prattles away earnestly. I say “tesekkür ederim.”

So much for independent travel. The people in this country haven’t left me on my own for more than 20 seconds.

Here I Am
Paranoid in Turkey
  Heidi Reimer - Bio and Journals
  Do You Want a Cup of Tea, Do You Want a Boyfriend? - Intro Average Rating of 35 Viewers
Chapters of Do You Want a Cup of Tea, Do You Want a Boyfriend?
  Here I Am
  Turkish Men and Other Hassles
  Paranoid in Turkey
  Beware the Tall, Dark Foreign Woman
  Culture Clash
  Chok Guzel
  Heads on Mountains, Snakes in Tunnels


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