Friday, January 23, 2015

Reflections on My Turkey Trip - Part 2: What I Like About the United States

If you recall from yesterday's post, I have been asked numerous times: "So, what did you think of Turkey?" I had been hemming and hawing at my response, but I am now ready to share my answer, via three separate posts.

In yesterday's post, I covered Part 1: What I Like About Turkey. In today's post, I cover Part 2: What I Like About the United States.

Yes, smarty pants, "what I like about the United States" is a nice way of saying "what I don't like about Turkey." My trip to Turkey made me appreciate a lot of the things that I take for granted living in the United States.

Let's get this show on the road, folks...

What I Like About the United States

The Smoke-Free Zones

Sure, there are smokers in the United States. Lots of them, in fact. But, for the most part, I feel as though I can live my life without being subjected to second-hand smoke. That may not be the case everywhere in the United States, but at least here in Washington state, where I live, smoking is outlawed in public places and within 25 feet of entrances, exits, windows that open, and ventilation intakes.

In Turkey, smoking is far more prevalent than in the United States. There are no laws limiting where folks can smoke. I inhaled enough second-hand smoke on this trip to make me a strong candidate for lung cancer. I wish I could surgically remove my dirty lungs, scrub them with a chemical sponge solution, and then reinsert my soot-free lungs within my chest cavity.

The Drinkable Water

I very much appreciate being able to drink water from the tap in the States. As I was told, water is generally safe to drink in smaller villages in Turkey, but the water can't be trusted in the cities. As such, we drank bottled water pretty much everywhere but Fethiye and Alaattin. (And, yes, I realize this is an issue in many parts of the world.)

The Free Restrooms

Restrooms in the United States are free. In Turkey (and in many parts of Europe), you need to pay to use public toilets. How ridiculous is that? First you need to pay to drink the water, and then you need to pay to pee the water!

The Shower Enclosures

Showers in the United States are constructed in such a way that the shower water is contained within the shower unit. Most showers in Turkey are "wet showers" and thus have no such enclosure. No matter how careful you might be when you shower, the floors, toilets, and whatever else within close proximity to the showerhead ends up soaked.

The Respectful Drivers

For the most part, drivers in the United States are respectful of pedestrians. You need to be, as there are strict penalties for hitting a pedestrian. In Turkey, pedestrians cross the street, even at intersections, at their own risk. There is no such thing as pedestrian right-of-way.

The Environmental Consciousness

Not everyone in the United States is careful to throw garbage in designated containers. And not everyone in the U.S. carries cloth bags to the grocery story. But folks in the States are lightyears ahead of Turks in terms of being environmentally conscientious. And this is coming from someone who is outraged that the Chicago suburbs, where I grew up, don't compost!

In Turkey, trash is everywhere. On roadsides. In fields. At vistas. And often the garbage is multiple layers deep. Furthermore, Turkish people use plastic bags like there's no tomorrow. I have a hard time with this. Everywhere I went, I wanted to organize a trash pick-up party.

The "Normal" Mannequins

We have "normal" looking mannequins in the United States. When it comes to mannequins, I appreciate normality.

The mannequins in Turkey are all super-duper scary-looking, not to mention ugly-as-all-hell. The next time I visit Turkey, I'm definitely taking a more thorough photo survey of the Turkish mannequins; it would make for a very entertaining coffee table photo book.

Me, with some possessed mannequin children.

On the streets of Istanbul.
Seriously? WTF?

The Sense of Trust

For the most part, in the States, we give folks the benefit of the doubt when it comes to trust. In Turkey, it's completely the opposite. No one trusts each other, particularly when it comes to business exchanges. I'll never forget the first time Ferit told me that I couldn't trust Turkish people. "Hmmm," I thought, "that's kind of circular, isn't it?"

The Variety of Food

To me, there seems to be a lot of variety in the diet of North Americans. Even though we have our "American" food (hamburgers, hot dogs, and the like), we tend to regularly eat pasta (Italian), burritos (Mexican), and other varieties of food. While I appreciate Turkish food, it got really old, really fast.

For one, being that I'm a vegetarian, I am limited to primarily eating Turkish vegetables. Nearly all vegetables are cooked in Turkey. Though I'm okay with cooked vegetables every now-and-then, they aren't nearly as tasty or as healthy as raw vegetables. And though I love tomatoes, peppers, and (cooked) onions, they get rather monotonous when they are a part of every meal, including breakfast.

For two, Turkish food is generally swimming in oil. My stomach has a very low tolerance for oily foods. This didn't go over well.

For three, Turks put yogurt on everything. While I find that the yogurt helps to combat the oilyness of the food, I can only eat so much yogurt.

Case in point...Ferit and I took turns cooking in Istanbul. When it was my turn to prepare a meal, I asked Ferit if he'd be okay if I made a vegetable stir-fry. Ferit asked, "What exactly is a vegetable stir-fry?" After I explained, he asked if it was okay if he could put yogurt on the stir-fry. Uhhh...okay?

About a month into the trip, I suffered from diarrhea for about a week. I don't know what it was. Perhaps the water. Perhaps the oily food.

The diarrhea revisited me in our final month in Turkey. This time it stuck around for about 4 weeks. I finally went to the doctor. They ran some tests, but they couldn't find anything wrong. As soon I returned to the States and resumed my normal diet, the runs ran away.

Admittedly, I do love the eggplant dish that Nuray, Ferit's sister-in-law, made. The dish was absolutely delish! I could easily indulge in Nuray's eggplant for every meal for the rest of my life!

On a somewhat related side note, I started reading a book called American Gods, by Neil Gaiman, when I was in Turkey. There's a conversation at the beginning of the book between two inmates. One of the inmates, Iceman, describes his Greek girlfriend: "My last girlfriend was Greek. The shit her family ate. You would not believe. Like rice wrapped in leaves. Shit like that." I got a good chuckle when I read this, because the Turks also eat shit wrapped in grape leaves. For what it's worth, some of the shit wrapped in the grape leaves was tasty.

The Cheap Hazelnuts

Ferit's last name, Fındık, means "hazelnut" in Turkish. (Notice the two "i's without the dots." If you recall from Part 1, these letters are pronounced using a retching sound.) Suffice it to say that hazelnuts were somewhat popular on our trip.

Hazelnuts are expensive in the United States. But they aren't nearly as expensive as they are in Turkey. This is odd, as Turkey produces more than 70% of the world's hazelnuts. Go figure! (Of course, it didn't help that a large portion of the hazelnut harvest was recently damaged by disease and unseasonable weather.)

The Individual Eating Utensils

I appreciate that we don't share eating utensils in the United States. While I'm nowhere near a germophobe, my elementary school science classes gave me a thorough understanding of how diseases are spread. When someone is sick and you share a utensil with them, you're spreading germs, and you're bound to get sick, too. Likewise, when someone has a cold sore and you share a utensil with them, you're bound to get cold sores. I'm herpes simplex virus-free, and I'd like to stay that way.

Stay tuned for Part 3: What I Learned About Myself.


  1. I have the same smoke issue every time I went to Vegas. LORD how do people put up with that, not to mention it lingering on the clothes, the hair everywhere. Yes those mannequins are creepy!

    Really have to pay to pee! That had to royally suck when you were suffering for 4 weeks!

    And I will remember to bring my own utensils! I will steel a fru off someone's plate, but I ain't sharing a fork with anyone but Michelle! Great post lady,

    1. Thanks, Tony.

      Healthy lungs are so important for cyclists. I feel like I committed a major sin, yet I did nothing wrong!

      I had a hard time paying for the toilets. While my lungs might have to hell on the trip, at least I was able to exercise some major mid-body-section restraint. :)

    2. I had some of those "core" exercises who.e fighting the crud myself! And yes yellow snow, or the pick stuff in my rainier I am careful of!

  2. OH and I LOVE on my rides up Chinook pass, filling my bottle from melting snow and feeling pretty good I will not get sick. We ARE lucky I know.

    1. I'm generally comfortable with melting snow -- unless it's yellow. :)

  3. Hmm, I tried commenting from my iPad, but I don't think it went through. I enjoyed reading your reflections! I actually don't mind paying to use the toilet here in Germany. I find they are much cleaner as a result than USA bathrooms! On a separate topic, I would not want to share utensils either. I think I'd have to feign not being hungry. When I studied in Spain, families would all share a salad in the middle of the table (using their own forks though). They gave me my own salad because they knew that was different than what Americans were used to.

    1. I'm not surprised German bathrooms are cleaner than the bathrooms in the US. Germans are cleanliness fanatics -- which, by the way, I totally appreciate.

      There's always a tough balance between immersing yourself in a different culture, yet wanting to remain firm on things that are important to you. That was very thoughtful of your Spanish families to give you your own salad. :)


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