Danger Is My Middle Name
photo by Onur

“Why did you take a cab?  It’s a waste of money!”
Personally, I thought that my hour-long, $30 cab ride from the airport was worth every penny.  I hadn’t been able to carry my bags all the way to the subway, much less handle them for the whole three hour trip by subway, tram, boat, and bus I would have otherwise needed to take.  Coming in from Germany, my twenty minute trip to the airport had cost about the same, making the Turkish ride seem like a bargain.  The real shock, though, came when my friends asked me to join them for an end of Ramadan celebration.  We all piled into the hatch of a small cargo van.  Squatting in the back, watching the traffic speeding behind us as the baby was passed between passengers in the back and front, the decision not to take a cab was equally unfathomable to me.

In Turkey, I’ve learned, the perception of danger is very different.  As long as someone is with their family or in a a familiar situation, nothing bad can happen.  How many times has a driver told me I don’t need to buckle my seatbelt?

“It’s not you,” I try to explain politely, although sometimes, it really is the driver.  I haven’t gotten over the fact that my first serious car accident happened my first week in Turkey.  However, it quickly became obvious that my explanation that the other guy can be unpredictable was not going over well.  I’ve now settled on just explaining by compulsive seatbelt wearing as a cultural quirk, something automatically respected here.
My friends were nervous about my move to downtown Istanbul, and were hardly comforted by the fact that I was going to live across the street from a police station.  In contrast, the fact that I was living with a Turkish girl helped put their minds at ease.  Similarly, I am constantly frustrated by friends who don’t want to let me take a bus alone at dusk, but will let their children climb all over the plastic platforms on board, as long as its day time.
By far, however, our largest disconnect is regarding traveling.  I travel alone constantly, without worrying too much about my personal safety.  While my friends worry that something happening, I feel like if I take basic precautions and stay alert, there’s nothing to worry about.  At the same time, I constantly encounter people, or rather, men, sleeping in public.  How can I be in more danger awake in a strange city that a man asleep in a city park, on a bus, or along the side of the highway, even if it’s familiar?

While I don’t agree entirely with my Turkish friends’ views, living here has also been a revelation about my own paranoia.  I may still insist on wearing a seatbelt, clawing my nails into it and insisting that its a free device that makes me less likely to die, but I have grown more relaxed in other areas.  I can run through a break in the traffic, even on a red light, have learned to leap from ferries to the landing, and am mastering the art of hopping onto a moving bus.  Someday, I may even move up to black belt activities, like sprinting across highways or eating cig köfte, raw meatballs cooked only with spice.

Meet the author


Originally from the US, Suzanne has lived in many places, but none that have captivated her quite like Istanbul.  She first moved here to earn her master's in 2008, and can't imagine living anywhere else.  An English-teaching, US correspondence-writing, Turkish-learning aspiring diplomat, she enjoys sunflower seeds, Skype, and the surprises each day here brings.