Sometimes something as simple as going for a walk can illustrate differences in cultures. I first learned this when I went to St. Louis with my then boyfriend who was German-Croatian (at the time it was just plain ‘ol Yugoslavia). He had some family who had relocated to the city and they complained that no one walked in St. Louis – there weren’t even any sidewalks in the suburbs. As I recover from a bout of bronchitis, I’ve been doing some walking instead of hitting up the gym. Just a half-hour walk highlights differences between Istanbul and other cities I’ve lived in.
Concrete jungle. Cities are naturally made up of building after building. The cities I’ve lived in and visited in the past, however, are interspersed with parks as well as having tree-lined sidewalks. Besides a park which follows the Sea of Marmara from Bostanci to Pendik on the Asian side of the city, there doesn’t seem to be much planning for parks in the residential areas of the city and the only tree-lined street I’m aware of is the shopping street (Bağdat Caddesi) where people come out by the dozens on Sunday afternoons to be seen. We actually live in a gated community not for safety purposes but for the dog. While there isn’t a whole lot of grass for the dog to sniff to his heart’s content, there’s a heck of a lot more than in other areas.
All alone. People are always bustling around in Istanbul – going for one location to another. But they are usually in a car (traffic is obnoxious) or a bus or a Dolmus (a sort of shared taxi/bus). No one seems to walk for pleasure in the city. When I take a walk outside of our apartment complex, I’m the only person walking around unless I’m near a bus stop or the entrance to an apartment complex. People actually drive less than a kilometer to get to a grocery store! And don’t get me started about the residents of my apartment complex who drive to the gym in the complex! I guess my unusual activity of going for a walk explains the amount of stares from the construction workers. (I’m assuming that staring is not considered rude here considering the vast number of men who stare at me wherever I go.)
Trash. All big cities are dirty. Yes, Americans, even your big cities have trash laying around. That’s what happens when you have a few million people living together in close proximity. It’s not surprising then that there are plastic bags swaying in the breeze and soda cans rolling around the streets of Istanbul. What is surprising is that these items are thrown away inside our gated community. A gated community which has a garbage can every few meters (I know; I pick up after my dog). There is in fact so much food thrown onto the ground in the complex that walking the dog is in an exercise in futility. Don’t eat that! No, not that either!
I don’t mention these differences to lash out at Turkey or the city of Istanbul, I’m merely sharing some of the differences between the city I live in now and the cities in which I’ve previously lived. Different doesn’t necessarily mean bad. Sometimes different is just, well, different. What unusual attributes have you noticed where you’re living?