Turks are some of the kindest people we have met in the world. Day after day we were astounded by how truly nice these people are. Every time we were lost, someone would immediately offer to walk us to where were trying to go – not just direct us – and there was no strings attached, no attempt to get us into a carpet shop. People seemed very happy to see us. Tourism is apparently way down since 9/11 – even a lot of the cruise boats aren’t stopping in at Istanbul and Kusadasi.It’s also interesting to note that they were extremely kind to us despite not being part of a tour group, and despite being dressed like poor students. We felt their generosity was not motivated by a financial desire – it’s just how they treat visitors to their country.
When we finally did buy a carpet in Istanbul, we had a great conversation for about an hour after we’d made the purchase with the owner of the shop. One of the points he really tried to make us understand about the decline in tourism was that tourists are scared of Muslim countries, but in reality, Turkey is a country of widespread religious freedom and acceptance. Attaturk did wonders for this country in terms of personal freedoms.
Don’t be surprised by the stares or the lack of smiles you might see. We found the Turks a lot less outwardly friendly than Americans, but break through their shell, and you will be rewarded with a big wide smile. At first, we were certain that none of them liked us and were unfriendly, but realized that this is simply a difference in culture. We suspect that they see Americans and Canadians with their constant “Walmart” smiles as being “fake”.One of our favourite examples of this difference in culture happened in Cappadocia. We went on a sunset guided hike offered by the hotel. Although it was aimed at a group, we were the only ones who signed up – never mind, we got our own personal guide! For a 3 hour guided hike (with taxi ride there and back) we had to pay $10 US each. When it came to tipping, we had no idea what was appropriate – the normal 15 or 20% we would leave seemed almost insulting. So we left $5 for the two of us – a 25% tip. Our guide accepted this and thanked us, but didn’t even smile. Had we just insulted him? Was it too much? Was it too little? We had no idea. He checked us out of the hotel the following day, and after we had settled up and were on our way, he came running back to us with a bottle of local wine in hand. He gave us the wine, and we finally got a big smile out of him. So we guess the tip wasn’t so insulting after all!