Cultural differences in the US vs. Turkey

Whenever we’re traveling, whether it’s out of state or out of the country, I always think about the differences in how people behave and treat each other. One of the biggest differences you notice right away when you go to Turkey when you’re American (or at least, an American from a city like San Francisco or New York) is that when people go to a cafe, it’s actually to enjoy the cafe: they will get a drink, perhaps something big or small to eat, and they will catch up with a loved one, people watch, or just sit there and enjoy their drink and the general ambiance of the place. They actually a culture of people want to live in and enjoy the moment. In most cafes and coffee shops in San Francisco and New York, you will be guaranteed to see a sea of laptops, tablets, and people on their phones squatting at tables and seats at cafes. These people are all obsessed with work, productivity, and getting shit done… or at least, appearing to be obsessed with one or all of the above. A small minority of these tables/seats will be occupied by people actually conversing. And that is SUPER frustrating for people like me, who try to go to cafes to catch up with another person, whether that’s been my mentee, a friend/colleague, or a college interview candidate.

Another difference we noticed when we decided to rent a car in Antalya is best practices around driving. In the U.S., if there are two lanes on a highway, and you think someone in the fast lane is driving too slowly, you will typically just switch to the slow lane, speed up to get ahead of them, and then re-enter the fast lane ahead of them. In Antalya, we noticed that when people thought we were slow, instead of changing lanes, they’d actually start tailgating us, which to me, felt very aggressive. So in other words, that was their way to tell us, “Hey, you’re slow. Get out of the fast lane into the slow lane.” And if you don’t heed their advice, they can get very aggressive. Several of them pulled into the slip lanes alongside us to try to cut us off. Some of them literally got BETWEEN two lanes (and well, two cars — thank God we were all driving tiny compact cars!!) to cut us off. One driver even got out of the car and tried to talk to us at a stop light, which was really unnecessary. But that’s all from my perspective. Maybe from THEIR perspective, we were actually the ones being the jerks and not doing what could be standard in Turkish driving culture.

A last thing that is always noticeable to me when I’m traveling in Europe is how much people smoke, both indoors and out. This is clearly my very American side, but I really cannot stand cigarette smoke. In the U.S., you never really have to worry about this because smoking is pretty much outlawed in any indoor dining establishment, and even with restaurants that have outdoor seating, smoking either isn’t allowed or is done very sparingly. And now being pregnant, I especially want to avoid second hand smoke at all costs. Almost every place we sat at, cafe or restaurant, had people smoking, whether it was indoors or out. I could rarely sit and enjoy a smoke-free experience anywhere we sat, and if I did, that smoke-free period would soon come to an end. But that’s just normal in Europe. Sure, we all know it’s bad for our health, and I’m sure they do, too, but they don’t care because they enjoy it and want to live in the moment. Once in Istanbul, we changed tables because of the smoking from a couple sitting next to us. The server didn’t quite understand why we wanted to switch, and Chris emphasized to him that I was pregnant (he pointed at my belly and motioned his own belly to show a curve shape), and the server finally got it.

But all in all, the cultural differences are what make traveling fun. In retrospect, it makes me sad that we won’t be able to do much international travel for the foreseeable future given the pandemic plus my advancing pregnancy, but now, my main focus is making sure my baby and I are healthy and will have as smooth as a labor and delivery as possible. And then hopefully, assuming all goes well, months will pass, and baby can travel with us and be a little globe trotter.

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