I feel the need to preface this with saying that I did truly love my time in Turkey. Both times. The people in general were amongst some of the nicest and friendliest and completely non-threatening people I’ve ever met. Always ready to help with directions or suggestions on new things to see. Yes, the guys do tend to be considerably more open and vocal about their attentions. But honestly, it wasn’t creepy. Personally, I found it innocent and flattering for the most part. I don’t typically receive that kind of attention back home so I’ll take it where I can get it! However, Michelle, the friend I was there with, looks like Liv Tyler so she got stopped a lot by the menfolk who I think legitimately thought that’s who she was.
For whatever reason, that I really can’t understand and don’t really want to understand, the men folk in Turkey referred to my travelling companion, Michelle, and I as ‘Spice Girls’ during our visit. I had been to Turkey before and had never been called that. Sure, I’d been cat called and all that, but never called a ‘Spice Girl’. We didn’t particularly find this term complimentary either – although I sometimes prefer to believe it was because they thought I looked like Posh Spice – not a chance, but, still, a girl can dream. I can pick out all of one Spice Girls song. One. And I still don’t even know it’s title (‘…so tell me what you want, what you really, really want…’?). We don’t look like them. We aren’t even British. Nowhere was this, umm… term of endearment(?) used to quite the excessive levels as the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul.
I had been given countless warnings about how easy it is to get lost in this supposed labyrinth of little shops. I never once even so much as got turned around in there and I’m about as directionally challenged as they come. There are signs hanging sporadically from the ceiling pointing the way to the outer rim of the bazaar. I was not new to the bargaining culture so that aspect of the Bazaar didn’t phase me too much either. Sounds like it should have been nice day out shopping for us two girls, right? Wrong! Once we were past the aforementioned outer rim of the complex, it all began to go weird.“Hey Spice Girl!”, “Lady, Lady! You Lost?”, “Hey Spice Girl!”, “Why are you so beautiful?”, “Hey Spice Girl!”, “My place, you come back to my place?”, “Hey Spice Girl!”, “Nice legs!”, “Hey Spice Girl!” – you get the picture.
That was pretty much all we heard for the next two hours. If we stopped to look at something, take a picture, or just paused for like, more than two seconds, we heard, ”Lady, Lady! You Lost?”; which was typically followed by, “My place, you come back to my place?” And no, ‘my place’ did not mean their stalls or shops like we naively thought, but their actual homes! All dialog was sprinkled indiscriminately with, “Hey Spice Girl!”, every few words. Michelle was told/asked several times, “Why are you so beautiful?” Followed by, “My place, you come back to my place?” All such invitations, she now politely (ok, this friend is one of the most proper, polite ladies I know BUT even she learned how to be almost rude) declined.My turn came when we heard, “Nice legs!” And then I felt a hand slide down my right leg. I’m a 3rd degree black belt, so my natural instinct to having my leg grabbed is somewhere along the lines of kick first, ask questions later. While I did manage to refrain from actually kicking the man, I was all prepared to launch into a stereotypical Western female diatribe about how you don’t bloody touch me unless: A. You’re administering life saving CPR; B. I say you can; or C. You look like/You are Dan Feuerriegel. Thankfully, Michelle caught my arm as I swung around to verbally explode at the perpetrator and his sniggering friend, reminding me that I was wearing a skort and had a decent amount of leg showing. Admittedly she was right, but still, not exactly what I wanted to hear. I ended up walking away from the situation doing nothing more then pushing his intrusive hand away and shooting him the most reprimanding I-totally-could-have-kicked-your-ass-if-I-didn’t-have-such-great-self-control look I could muster. Although, that self control was more due to Michelle’s influence then any great virtue I possessed. Sadly, I’m the hot tempered one of the duo and nowhere near as polite and cool-headed as she is. Although, with time and my sarcastic bent, I look back and realize that he was probably just paying me a compliment and maybe he just had to touch something he found so beautiful – bet it happens to Posh all the time! We hung around for about another half hour after that before deciding to leave the bazaar.
I feel the need to further explain this dichotomy in our personalities. Michelle is propriety and politeness defined. Me….not always. There’s a scene in Disney’s Enchanted where Giselle has just arrived in NYC from Andalasia and plops down in exhaustion next to an old grimy homeless man. She then proceeds to compliment his smile – which isn’t worthy of a compliment – and treat him warmly like he’s a good friend. He responds by grabbing her sparkling tiara and makes a run for it. Giselle takes a second to fully comprehend what just happened and then tries to chase him for a few steps before stopping and ‘politely’ shouting after him, “You…are not a very nice old man!” That, my readers, is Michelle in a paragraph. Polite to a fault and even when she’s trying to be rude, she fails miserably because people still think she’s just being friendly. In contrast, I would’ve been the crazy princess barrelling after him screaming obscenities the whole way until I got my friggin tiara back. And then I probably would have punched him just for good measure. It’s a good thing I was travelling with her of all people because if I wasn’t there’s a chance I’d be sitting in a Turkish prison right now for going all MMA in the Grand Bazaar. My grandma’s mantra of ‘make sure your brain is engaged before you react’, isn’t something I am naturally inclined to do.
Having relayed our experiences with the Turkish men, I hope this will in no way deter anyone from going to the Grand Bazaar. The cat calls and being touched were undeniably annoying when all we wanted to do was shop. All in all, we did enjoy ourselves. Even managed to get some shopping squeezed in between the spice girl call outs and leg grabs. I bellydance so you can guess which shops I beelined to first. Two costumes and a bag of jewelry later, all for less then what a single costume costs back home, and I had almost forgotten about creepy leg caressing dude. There was music playing in certain areas and everywhere was inundated with the typical sounds of chattering shoppers and marvelling tourists alike with vendors trying to draw you into their shops. Everything was so full of colour and lit up, lending a warm and inviting prismatic glow to the entire atmosphere. So, while I probably wouldn’t revisit the bazaar if – pfft… I mean when – I ever return to Istanbul, I would still urge anyone planning a trip that city to set aside an hour or two for exploring the Grand Bazaar.
It truly is an experience not easily forgotten and definitely one Michelle and I will never forget. These experiences are what I love most about travel – even if at the time I wasn’t enjoying it, it is one of those experiences we laugh about now.Have you ever been to the Grand Bazaar?