Before I had kids I spent a lot of time in Turkey working on several jobs, including bidding on (and winning!) the largest one of my career. Spending many months in Ankara, Turkey's capitol city but not it's cultural epicenter by any stretch of the imagination, gave me the opportunity to get an insider's look at everyday life there that the average tourist misses. Of course, I also missed all of the tourist stuff, something I will have to rectify eventually. These are 13 things about living and working in Turkey which stick out in my mind:
1. 6 day week - all offices are open half-days on Saturday. They generally close up shop at about 1pm, leaving you with a weekend that is only 1.5 days long (not enough time to leave town and go touring if you're a business traveler like me!)
2. All movie theaters I went to had point and shoot toilets (squatty potties) only. Other venues didn't, but for some reason movie theaters did. This was about 7 years though, so maybe they've updated the plumbing since then.
3. Pide for lunch on Saturdays. Monday to Friday we'd get a hot catered lunch (soup, meat and starch dish, and some kind of dessert) that would arrive in giant 3-tiered metal lunchbox. On Saturdays though there was no catered meal. Instead, the boss would bring in pide, which are sort of like long, skinny, greasy foccaccia with either meat or cheese inside.
4. CHEAP massages at the hotel spa. Turkey is the land of cheap massages. For $7 I used to get an awesome deep muscle massage, and at that price I could afford to go regularly! Almost made up for all those hours spent hunched over a keyboard.
5. Tea boys and drivers. Labor costs are low in Turkey, particularly for unskilled labor. Every office had a "tea boy" (often old enough to be my father, it was very disconcerting to hear them called "boys") and a driver (also always a man).
6. Horrific drivers. I've done a fair amount of traveling and have seen some pretty awful driving (heck, even in Israel drivers are terrible), but Turkey takes the cake. I met up with my husband in Istanbul one weekend, where we took the most frightening taxi ride of our lives. This driver was in such a hurry that he passed a bus as it was letting passengers on by driving between the bus and the bustop! He just cut right through, swerving around all the passengers trying to get on and off! Terrifying. Absolutely terrifying.
7. Abundance of (cheap!) internet cafes. When I first started going to Turkey the hotels didn't offer any way to connect in the room (neither did my laptop for that matter). Luckily there were internet cafes on just about every corner to get me my fix.
8. Freezing my ass off in the Hotel Metropol. During my first project in Turkey they'd always put me in this little fleabag hotel near the project office. Winter in Ankara is COLD and this hotel didn't have proper heating. I used to literally boil myself in the tub to get warm enough to go to sleep (thank heavens the next project I was put in a normal modern hotel). Actually, there was poor climate control in pretty much every building - it was always too hot or too cold. Spring was beautiful, but winter and summer were sometimes rough.
9. Pervasive odor of cigarette smoke. It was EVERYWHERE. So much so that it even stunk up clothes I hadn't even worn!
10. Many homes displayed silver mirrors on the wall - with the mirror side turned to the wall. Muslim tradition dictates that you can't pray where there are graven images, so to avoid this people would turn their mirrors to the wall. Over time, they began to decorate the reverse side, and then that developed into a tradition all its own. I even bought one to display in my own home. This one is typical:
11. Secular Christmas celebrations. Turkey (or at least Ankara) has adopted the secular trappings of Christmas - just decorations and sales, no religion involved (pretty fun for a Jew actually).
12. Ataturk's cult of personality. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk single-handedly turned Turkey from a third-world backwater into a modern Western republic, and ensured that it embraced the values of modern secularism instead of becoming another Iran. That said, the Turks take their hero worship VERY seriously. They've even got his pajamas on display at his mausoleum. And every office in the country displays his portrait.
13. Belief that Greeks rigged the voting for Time Magazine's Man of the Century to make sure Attaturk didn't win (yes, really, there were even letters to the editor about this when I was there).
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