Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Turkish Tourism Industry 7/15/14

I haven't had good experiences with the tourism industry in Mexico. Having traveled to Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan, and Mexico City, among other places, much of the tourism industry seems to run on aggressively luring customers into shelling out money. Take for instance the process of merely having a meal out in Cabo San Lucas. I remember taking one step down the sidewalk of a main street with my family when we were abruptly and too energetically approached by a host of a restaurant. He spoke persistently to my mother and father as we attempted to get the faintest idea of what the menu had to offer. At this point in the trip we had already grown weary of this system of accosting tourists, so we just gave in and took a damn seat. The experience worsened as a guy who appeared to be a manager asked how our meal was. We mistakenly engaged with him, and soon he began his spiel about timeshares and how for two hours of our time we could get a fifty percent discount on parasailing or a thirty percent discount at a spa. When he finally left, leaving our mouths bitter for the food in this restaurant, a three person guitar band came to our table and played a song in our faces that none of us wanted to hear. Because the band had "entertained" us, they waited around for us to give them money. If I had my way, I would have stalemated them for the rest of the night, though I think someone in my family doled out some pesos to get rid of them. Throughout my traveling to Mexico, I wish I could say this meal was an exception to my experiences with the Mexican tourism industry, but unfortunately it is not.

So here I am in Turkey now, and yes, Turkey does have some similarities with Mexico. First off, parts of it look similar, especially insofar as its infrastructure. Each day Jena and I walk past an apartment building that is under construction. Bricks are being laid for an outside wall as far as three stories up. There are no cones to tell one to step around the immediate area below. There are not signs suggesting to watch for falling material. When we first arrived there was this humungous piece of see-through fabric covering part of the wall--as if that could save someone from a fractured skull--but it has since gone by the wayside. During the day, as bricks are being laid, buckets of gray sand (what I presume is an ingredient for the mortar) are hauled up by a jury-rigged pulley system. These buckets swing a little too wildly overhead. Because I haven't seen this sort of construction craziness in many other places, save Indonesia where things are actually a lot more dangerous, I don't blame myself, then, for presuming my interactions with the people here in Turkey would be similar to interactions in Mexico as well.

But today I'm here to say that my interactions are not similar, and I've come to realize that I am not giving the Turkish tourism industry credit where it is due.

Thus far, I have had many experiences where someone has spoken to me regarding their services, and while I have initially presumed the person has an ulterior motive of duping me out of some money, I have been quite wrong. Tonight for instance, Jena and I were walking through an alley on our way home from the waterfront. In our neighborhood there are a slew of little alleys where restaurants, bars, and coffee shops are crammed into interstices. These off-the-path establishments have a bit more character than the ones on the main pedway, and if I were a permanent resident here, these would be the places where I'd want to be a regular. The clientele doesn't necessarily look friendly, but they certainly look cool.

So we're walking through this alley, and a host outside one of these restaurants greets us in English. He says, "Hello" and "Welcome," and tells us that his restaurant has cheap prices on drinks and food. In our neighborhood Jena and I get this sort of greeting a lot from hosts on the pedway since we're obviously tourists, and hosts seem to have a desire to show us that they can speak English. My default reaction, which has become a habit from experiences in Mexico, is to a) ignore the person or b) say no thanks in whichever language comes out first--Turkish or English--and ignore the person. I feel like I've been hardened by all the tourism interactions of my past.

But this interaction is different. The host is telling us about the perks of his restaurants, and meanwhile Jena and I are ignoring him and walking away. And then the host tags something onto the end. He says, "If you want come in, I can help you." From his tone and his words it becomes clear that he actually wants us to make us a good decision for ourselves, and that if we have any questions, he'll be happy to answer them. If we want to have a seat at his restaurant, he's the guy to see.

I have begun to realize here in Turkey that my defenses are going up, somewhat unjustly, during the first moments of my interactions. The pattern seems to be that that hosts and others simply want to announce themselves to you. And once they do, you can just tell them what's on your mind like, "I'm just looking" or "No thanks" and they'll leave you alone. There's less badgering, chasing, and unwanted negotiation than I've experienced in Mexico.

Experiences such as the one that happened tonight has happened more times than I can count during our first two weeks in Turkey. I credit the warmth and respectfulness of the Turkish people at large. My intention is to make an effort to be a more fluid in my interactions with vendors, to lend them a little more patience because there's a good chance they won't be irritate me. They'll say what they have to offer, and I'll be free to say what I'm thinking. Then, depending on how I'm feeling and what Jena and I want or need, we can all go on our ways.

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