Ok, I agree! The title sounds a little bit like a stereotype, but I assure you, that was not my intention when choosing it… Actually, it may prove to be up to a certain point a myth debunker. I hate stereotypes and I try to be as open-minded as possible, imagining myself in the same boat with those whom I’m tempted to judge, finding “excuses”, explanations for everything and even ending up judged for being too understanding but… Even though we try hard to avoid falling into stereotypical traps, we cannot deny that we all see the world through our unique lenses, reality being affected by our perspective. Frankly speaking, this whole blog shows you Turkey through my eyes, not Turkey “as it is”. Can we even talk about “Turkey as it is”, when “Turkey as it is” is decided by humans who are by definition subjective? Some argue that the best perspective is that of the majority. Well, I don’t agree with them! I think “Turkey as it is” is the sum of all the perspectives and in the same time each one of them separately. What is reality when everything is relative? …. That’s a good question and an interesting topic, but given that the purpose of this post is not to debate the nature of and the reasons behind stereotypes, I’ll get back to my “soğuk stories” before getting into deep waters.
“Cover up, look down” is nothing more than an advice. And it’s a very good advice for those who travel through Eastern Turkey and don’t want to be misunderstood or find themselves in odd situations. Anyway, when you grow up in a country where everybody wears short skirts, dresses and pants during the summer and where people consider you shy if you don’t establish eye contact with them, you might find this advice a little bit unusual, even if you did your homework before departure. And I did, I did a serious but mostly disappointing research… Actually you cannot even imagine how many stupidities I’ve read about Turkey! Rude men, dangerous places, unsafe for women blah blah blah… The icing on the cake was: if you are a blond you should either get your hair darkened or cover it. Really? I’m a natural blond and I was as blond as always when being in Turkey, without having any trouble because of that… No, no! Don’t rush to draw conclusions! The “cover up” part of the advice doesn’t have anything to do with covering your hair! It simply means you should dress decently, cover your legs and shoulders. It’s not even a rule, you can dress as you wish, but if you show too much skin you’ll probably draw attention to yourself, you can be misunderstood and even taken as an easy woman, and I’m sure you wouldn’t like that!
In Eastern Turkey (Note: Eastern Turkey! not the Western part of the country or the touristic places where you can see people wearing any type of clothes) people are more conservative, many women wear başörtü (headscarf) and you hardly see someone with bare shoulders or knees in the city. I’m kindly asking you to think twice before you judge someone by the way they dress. Wearing a veil is not a sign of backwardness, nor is wearing a mini skirt. I meet a lot of friendly and open-minded women having their hair covered, the same thing I can say about girls wearing short dresses. Of course, stereotypes exist on the both sides and all they do is separate us. We all have the right to dress as we like and the obligation to respect others and ourselves. And to respect others and yourself means that you should inform yourself and adapt to the host culture when traveling. And this way you’ll keep yourself out of troubles. You probably wouldn’t wear bikini when skiing in the winter, just as you wouldn’t go to swim wearing boots and jacket. So, why on Earth would you go in a tiny dress to a place where most of the women cover their hair?
Well, reality on the ground can be very confusing… No one (at least, I didn’t see anybody) was wearing short dresses in Elazığ, but… the shops were full of skirts, shorts and sleeveless tops. I could not understand why, until I went to a wedding. Many women wear short skirts, dresses at weddings or parties. And on holidays, as one of my friends told me. While wearing skirts or dresses in the campus was ok, I avoided to wear them in the city. It happened only once or twice at the beginning, and even though I was wearing knee-length dresses I felt uncomfortable, having the impression that people are gazing at me. The attention was also due to my “different” appearance, being one of the very few natural blonds in the city. But nothing bad happened. Of course, I had been approached by people asking me Nerelisin? (Where are you from?). I answered to some of them, others I simply ignored, pretending that I do not understand them.
The “cover up” unwritten rule “hit” me with the occasion of our trip to the cities near the Syrian border (more about in a following post), when one of the coordinators informed me that I would better wear long pants, unless I want to get myself and the group into trouble. She presented me the worst scenario ever: I could put the group in the situation to fight for me if some man wants to take me away (!?). You don’t get everyday this kind of warnings! I did panick a bit. Ok, let’s chill out! There is a very very small possibility for this scenario to happen! Most likely, in such a situation you’ll be just watched in a disapproving way. And that’s not really pleasant. I followed her advice and everything went well. What I learned from this experience is, that if you don’t put yourself in danger everything is going to be all right!
But what about the “look down” rule? Well, looking into the eyes of a Turkish men on the street can be considered a sign of interest, so it’s better to avoid holding eye-contact with strangers. I was a little “shocked” when my friend advised me to look down. I must admit that I had some troubles with this “rule”, even though don’t usually stare at people. But I do use to look at them when walking. It’s something natural, done unconsciously, and hard to change. Sometimes I like to guess what people think, where they go, what they do for living… Or, if someone is staring at me I do look at him/her in order to stop them. I’m like “Ok, I got you! It’s rude to stare at someone, don’t you know that? Now look somewhere else, please!” I’m sure it happened to me in Turkey as well but as soon as I noticed I looked away. If you cannot change your habit try to control it.
Just like in the case of the “cover up” advice, you are not bound to follow it. But if you don’t want to be disturbed by flirty guys it’s better to take it into account. Nothing bad happens just because you hold eye contact with someone or dress in a specific way (except when you exaggerate) if you establish clear limits from the beginning.