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June 11, 2012, Monday

Not in the job description

Not so long ago I wrote about how a visitor to the village made me face up to the fact that here in Göreme we are, well, let’s say a little lacking on the sparkling conversation front.

 Not for us the soirees stretching out into the early hours and roaming free over a wide range of topics, although I do recall a somewhat hair-raising Christmas Eve a few years ago when a group of us were gathered together for a book reading in one of the hotels.

As I remember, I’d been a bit reluctant to go along at all but had caved in at the last moment, there being not much else in the offing. It was the weirdest of situations. There we were, a group of about eight of us, sitting around a large room in one of the cave hotels while the snow fell outside, taking it in turns to read from a biography of the late Hungarian actress Zsa Zsa Gabor, when slowly it became apparent that she was claiming as a young woman to have had the sort of relationship with Atatürk best not dwelt upon in a family-oriented newspaper.

Well! There aren’t many occasions like that, I can tell you, but this is the time of year when suddenly Göreme conversations focus sharply on a new topic, namely the difficulties the hotels and restaurants face in finding and keeping good staff. “I asked him to help with the washing up,” a friend said, “and he just snapped back that it wasn’t his job.” She was a woman, and it occurred to me that she might face particular difficulties getting men to take orders from her in what is still a pretty patriarchal society. But actually the problems seem to be fairly universal and have to do, I think, with the nature of small-society living.

One of the things I love about Turkey is that it is a much more entrepreneurial country than the Britain that I came from. The upside of this is that people are much readier to give things a try, even at the risk of failure, than they would be in England. The downside is that the best-qualified people are usually busy learning a trade with one eye to the day when they will be able to leave and start their own business. Time and again I’ve watched wonderful hotel staff stockpiling experience, only to hear that they’ve found a place and will be opening their own hotel.

That’s one problem. Another is that the hotels are getting bigger and more sophisticated, while guests are expecting more and more. Ideally, then, some of the larger ones really need to import people trained and experienced in hotel management to help run them. But while tourists love the small-town feel of things here, people brought up in İstanbul or Ankara remain quite sniffy about village life and demand eye-watering salaries to justify what they see as a hardship posting, rather as if they were being sent to Afghanistan.

Small pool of potential employees. Ambitious workers. Reluctant professionals. It all amounts to a headache for employers. The good news is that a group of Afghans arrived in Göreme this year and they seem keen to work and not too sniffy about what they’ll do. Long may they stay with us.

Pat Yale lives in a restored cave-house in Göreme in Cappadocia.

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