If you’ve ever lived in London you would have heard of the Heathrow injection. I’m not sure if such a concept has been created for Istanbul’s Ataturk airport (yet), but the basic principal is that upon entering a new country, you uncontrollably start the downward struggle against your waistline, which, should you get a good shot, will increase substantially. Now, I’ve lived in both London and Turkey and all I can say is they must’ve got me real good at both airports.
Of course, it didn’t help that I was travelling around Turkey and eating out every night sampling the delicious Turkish cuisine with its fresh bread, mezzes dripped in olive oil and super sticky sweets; good news for my taste buds, bad news for my hips. By the time my trip hopping around the country finished several months later, the damage was already done. I had ballooned, much to the surprise of my new found Turkish friends, and was relatively emotional about it. And of all the places to be, Turkey, I found out very soon after, is not the country to be sensitive in.
I was at my old workplace when I went to the kitchen to grab myself a coffee; you wouldn’t think that would be so damaging to the personal self-esteem, however, by the time I returned to my desk I had definitely deflated a few notches. During my coffee escapade, the tea lady had taken it upon herself to note my increase in weight, not by sitting me down and telling me constructively of course, but by squeezing one of my love handles between her fingers and tutting to herself. Being sensitive as I already was, I can’t say this move went down all so well, and promptly called a foreign friend to help me feel better (She did what? No, you’re not that fat.). My subsequent visits to the kitchen didn’t go much better as I was either informed that the coffee I was drinking gives you cellulite, or did I notice the massive big red spot on my face? ‘The one right there, wait, let me just point it out for you’. Now mind you, none of this was done with malevolence, or spite, or jealously. Just care, affection and the general Turkish concern for vanity, whether it be their own or yours.
And it doesn’t stop at weight. I found it rather amusing, whilst going for a wax of all things, that the beautician actually asked what I did and how much I earned within about 5 minutes of inflicting pain (I lied of course, if I said how much I really earn, she would probably be suspicious of how a 5’10, green-eyed, blond foreigner earns such money). I’ve found now that if someone asks me how much I earn, I just reply that ‘it changes from week to week’. If it manages to confuse them in the first instance, I usually can navigate the conversation to better grounds. Which they usually navigate back to some other personal question. Like how much do I pay for rent, which to me seems like an indirect way of finding out how much I earn by finding out how much I can afford. I’m still young, so the age question doesn’t affect me so much, but it also usually gets thrown in there among the top 5 things to ask.
If there’s one thing I’ve learnt over the course of my stay in Turkey, it’s that tact and Turks go together about as well as chalk and cheese. The openness of the Turkish culture initially surprised me, although as time goes by, I have also come to the realization that deep down I also really want to know the answers to the questions. Cultural standards and social acceptability had managed to suppress these desires prior to my move to Turkey, but now that the flood gates have been opened, I find myself wishing to ask the very same questions. Then again, who am I kidding; I’m long past wishing to know, I’ve already become ‘one of them’.