When I was 14 I tucked my school skirt into my undies. I managed to walk the entire length of the school driveway before I worked out why people were staring at me.
That’s how I feel in Istanbul.
Turkish men like to stare, particularly if you’re blonde and blue-eyed.
I knew this. I’d been warned. Don’t look at them. Don’t smile at them. Don’t acknowledge their existence. Definitely don’t make eye contact with them twice. One fellow blogger even warned me not to get abducted, as with the MFAT job cuts there’d be no-one to rescue me.
To begin with I was wondering what all the fuss was about. The Turkish men I met were perfectly nice, albeit it a little too helpful.
Then I went to Sultanahmet.
Admittedly it’s unavoidable when you’re a tourist as it’s home of the Blue Mosque, Aya Sofia, and the Topkapi Palace.
I scream solo female tourist with my Lonely Planet, backpack and puffer jacket and everywhere I go the inevitable, “hello, where you from?” follows me. Over the next three days I learn if I wear jandals they guess Australia, shoes Russia.
I follow the advice and ignore them. My Turkish friend tells me that Turkish men interpret no as maybe and maybe as yes. Unfortunately they also seem to interpret my silence as playing hard to get.
So on my second day in Sultanahmet I change tact. When they say hello I reply, “no speak English.”
It works, for awhile atleast.
Then one crafty local sees right through it when I giggle after he jokes, “I’ve got it, you’re from China, you’re definitely Chinese.”
He then yells out, “excuse me miss you’ve dropped something.”
I know I haven’t but I gingerly turn around to check, just in case.
“You dropped my heart, ah ha you do speak English where you from?” I hightail it for the sanctuary of the Aya Sofia.
I emerge hours later and it begins again. This time from a mildly attractive 30-something businessman, “excuse me miss, where you from? Has anyone ever told you you’re beautiful? Do you know that your scarf brings out the colour in your eyes?”
It goes on for a good 10 minutes.
Finally he says, “if you say hello I’ll leave you alone.”
In a dismissith tone I mumble “hello,” right about the time I’m swiping my travel card to enter the sanctuary of the tram station.
Peace. At last.
But as the tram’s pulling into the station I turn to my right to see him standing right there next to me.
It throws me. He definitely didn’t appear to have any intention of taking the tram. He smiles and says, “you must think I’m stalking you?”
I don’t say a thing.
I make a point of entering the tram from another door. He follows me and positions himself directly opposite me and for the next 20 minutes proceeds to stare. I don’t even think he blinked.
I’m packing myself. My mind is racing. What if he follows me when I get off? If he’s crazy enough to follow me onto the tram, is he crazy enough to follow me off?
He doesn’t, but just my luck the next day as I emerge from downing my daily dose of Turkish coffee and baklava he’s standing right there. Seriously in a city of approximately 17 million people, what’s the chances?
Luckily Turkish men outside of Sultanahmet make up for their sleazy counterparts. When I get lost they kindly accompany me to my destination and when I’m at the airport they accompany me to my gate. Turkish people sure love to accompany you!
And, as an end note I must admit I can see how you could fall for a Turkish man. Some are ridiculously beautiful, particularly the ones who sunbed, wax their cheekbones to make them more defined and give an impression that it takes no effort to look like that, even though they’ve spent hours preening themselves.
But I don’t think me and Turkish men are meant to be. You see many also like to stroke their girlfriends in public. Seriously, us women are not cats.