Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Story of the Taxi Driver Who Treated Me Like A Normal Person

I don't know what made me remember this because it happened a few years ago, but there was this one time an Istanbul taxi driver treated me like a normal person.

This is not to say most taxi drivers are rude or cheeky or whatever. Most of them are nice. Especially since my Turkish has gotten a little bit better, and certainly since I got married, most guys I deal with seem to go out of their way to be perfect gentlemen. It hasn't gone unappreciated. When I first came here, I might as well have been wearing a neon sign that read, "Hi, I'm game!" or "Hi, my money tree harvest has been especially bountiful." But no more. Part of this is to do with not living in Bakırköy anymore, which is a thing in and of itself. Part of it also must be the status shift, the dulling of my Fresh New Yabancı glow, the precipitous glide towards my 40s, and since now I'm usually travelling with an adorable and bilingual little boy, my worst problem with taxi drivers is the occasional surly one.

Still, the interactions with taxi drivers have often felt scripted. It's kind of like I'm a Lady of some sort. The kind who isn't rude to the help, but who knows exactly where the line is between being polite and being friendly. Sometimes I'm the pragmatic enforcer of the line, while other times the driver is. It's weird.

I kind of like hearing their views on life and the universe and everything, and I even find their questions interesting. Taxi drivers can be just about anyone, from anyplace in Turkey or a surrounding country, and from any walk of life. A lot of them have lived all over the place, you'd be surprised. At times, I even enjoy the challenge of deciphering a thick regional accent. Nonetheless, a foreign woman ought to to remain, let's say, guarded with taxi drivers because sometimes the line between, "I'm being friendly" and "Pull over so we can have sex" is a lot finer than one might assume.

All of these things contribute to interactions with taxi drivers feeling less than "normal," whatever normal is though I can still say for sure what "normal" isn't.

So one winter night several years back in the days before LE, I went to the mall to get a giant remote control truck for BE's birthday. I was wearing this huge down coat I have, cut in about the most unflattering way you can imagine (I often hear the word Lundegaard in my mind when I'm wearing it, especially when I wear the hood), but it's the warmest coat ever and it's kind of like leaving the house wearing your nice, warm bed.

Anyway, I hailed a taxi and hoisted the massive box into the back with me and off we went. The driver was a little younger than me, and chatty, and I was feeling ever so pleased he hadn't made a fuss jumping out of the taxi to pick up the box for me. I mean, it's nice they do that but it also makes me feel silly and useless. We chatted about this and that, like normal people do, and it was all well within my vocabulary range to talk about why I'd come here, and whether America is nicer than Turkey or the other way around, and since those were the Bush years I was able to get my surefire laugh with my well-practiced lines about what a murderous idiot Bush was. The taxi driver was addressing me with "sen," and even used a few swear words here and there, all natural like normal people people swear. Since I wasn't getting even the slightest "ick" vibe from him, I just started thinking he must be very young and cosmopolitan to treat a foreign woman like a normal person.

When we got to my house, BE had just arrived home and was in the parking lot. I said, "Oh, there's my husband."

The taxi driver stopped talking and looked absolutely mortified. My hackles immediately went up, thinking I'd misread something horribly.

He jumped out of the cab and made a big fuss getting the box out for me. "I'm so sorry," he said. "I thought you were a man!"


Nomad said...

What a lovely story to sit and have my first cup of coffee with this morning. Your story illustrates one thing that I have often thought about over the years. Namely, would I have stayed, or even enjoyed my time, had I been a woman.
I rather doubt it.

As hard as it sometimes is in Turkey, I can imagine that throwing in a sexual dynamic to the whole thing would make it that much harder.

Opportunists as they are, Turkish men tend to think- or rather fantasize, that every foreign woman is a nympho. (And the fact that a lot of people have, over the years, used Turkey to stage their sex escapades hasn't really helped much.) That idea probably works fine enough in Bodrum or Kusadasi but it doesn't translate so well out of season. And this just adds the problem between the sexes here. Still, as I have said many times, Turkey isn't so much different than back home. It's only that shock of seeing it a bit more openly and in your face that often stings and chafes.

While I can easily understand why men enjoy such a unbalanced system, even more annoying/interesting is the fact that so many women simply buy into the whole male/female divide. I suppose if you cannot change it, you just learn to accept it and eventually try to make it work for you. For example, you see a lot of women whose only mission in life is to marry. There is this rush because, God knows their beauty won't last forever and makeup and flattering clothes can only go so far to complete the illusion. Personally as a child of the sixties, I find that kind of sad, but understandable. (And don't get me started on the mystery of cross-dressing and transexualism in Turkey. I'll stow that.)

I will admit that very often I like that feeling of male comradery that exists here. I have the idea that a lot of foreign men do, but usually don't like to say that openly. In the US, the alternative was full on competition on every aspect of life which takes its toll.

There is also the fact that many of the homeliest men- who back home would be snickered at by the less polite women, suddenly find themselves playing the frog transformed into a handsome prince. Like a fantasy come true, with Turkish women actually interested in them. In fact, that would be your taxi experience turned on its head. It is much more intoxicating than you might think too. These men often find themselves victim to a young woman looking to find her sugar daddy in their search for security.

You are lucky to have had a chance to get a peek at it. An insider's view. I have seen a lot of women who, after some careful conditioning, have had Turkish men accept them as an equal.(Seemingly anyway.) The results of the experiment, though, is usually only about 50% successful and quite often, many of the women actually find they'd prefer the special treatment they recieve as a woman compared to the faux-comradery that they discover as a female masked as a man.

A Seasonal Cook in Turkey said...

This made me laugh out loud! You have such a tongue in cheek style, and anyway I know EXACTLY what you are talking about.
Did you have a good break BTW?

Erika said...

I'm crying! I'm really crying from laughing so hard!


My mom told me a long time ago you can't be too nice to men because they'll think you want them. My first time in Turkey, for me, was little different than being at home in that regard. Clearly, I wasn't from 'round there and that in itself drew a lot of attention but I had to be outright mean to my tour guide and the driver. The dude tried to tickle me for chrissakes and said he liked to hear me laugh. WTF?!?! Mind you I didn't interact with them at all but with the very multinational group. Apparently, they'd observed me with in the group laughing, genuinely, with complete abandon. Clearly I was open to other possibilities. :\

Stranger said...

@ Claudia, the break was really nice and also intense in some ways, thanks! I'm loving the news from Uzbekistan, too...

Erika's right-- the sexual dimension to regular interactions isn't new in Turkey. It may not even be especially pronounced here. It's just that the lines are in different places, and it takes awhile to figure out where, exactly, they are. Plus navigating a foreign language, para-language, and meta-language.

I think it's related to the fact that the separation between men and women is so much farther here than I'm used to, and it's really easy to have a completely different understanding of a friendly smile, or casual communication, or even eye contact.

Barbara said...

Oh, I just loved this story! Reminds me of all the icky, gross, or otherwise strange taxi drivers I've had over the years! Even the ones who act nice with me are nice in a strange way! Oh, great story! :)