Where do you think you might experience the greater degree of culture shock -- when moving to İstanbul on the edge of Europe or when moving to Göreme in the heart of Anatolia?
I wouldn’t mind betting most of you went for the second option, which is, I must admit, what I also assumed would be the case when I first moved here. But the strange thing is that I’ve actually been caught out at least as often in İstanbul as I have in Göreme.
Years ago while teaching travel and tourism in Bristol in the UK, I read a book about how to protect against potential safety hazards. One of the snippets of information that wedged itself most firmly in my memory was the author’s suggestion that it was not always the most obviously dangerous things that caused the largest numbers of accidents. The example he cited was a dangerous cliff top. Fencing it off, he said, was not always necessary since most people would immediately recognize the risk and stand well clear (although not after dark and not after a couple of beers, I would contend). It was more important, he said, to fence off the less immediately obvious dangerous stretches where people might be tempted to take greater risks.
It’s a bit like that with culture shock, I think. Göreme being a small Turkish village of about 2,000 people living far from the major population centers and their broader cultural opportunities, I knew that I would need to make adjustments if I was going to fit in, and so it became automatic to dress more conservatively, to behave more sedately and to anticipate difference at all times. There were some horrendous mistakes, of course, and I remember most vividly taking up an invitation to an iftar (post-fast) dinner during Ramadan which was probably offered out of courtesy rather than with any actual expectation that I would show up.
Imagine my horror, then, when the door of the restaurant swung open and inside the room I saw around 70 men and absolutely no women seated at long tables. The friend who had invited me rushed to collect me, and everyone moved up to make space as if it were the most natural thing in the world when it so obviously wasn’t. But to be honest there haven’t been all that many outright clangers like that over the years.
In İstanbul, though, I have sometimes come unstuck because I’m sucked in by the superficial similarity of things and retract the antennae that should alert me to problems in the offing. In Göreme I suppose that by now I know instinctively how different social circles relate to each other, and what it is and isn’t reasonable to expect from them in terms of support. Conversely, I’m probably pretty clear about what it’s reasonable for people to expect of me, too. In İstanbul, though, I’m all at sea, confounded sometimes by demands that seem completely unreasonable but which a Turk, I conclude, must think quite normal.
When I look back over my time in Turkey, it’s clear that the cultural cliffs over which I’ve fallen have usually been the seemingly safe ones with İstanbulites and other foreigners. I’ve done rather better, I think, when it comes to the more obviously treacherous ledges of Göreme.
Pat Yale lives in a restored cave-house in Göreme in Cappadocia.