Are we raised in a culture of fear? Thoughts on Turkish and Greek hospitality

My red/blonde hair makes it hard for me to blend in anywhere, but it’s especially hard in a Muslim country. Hell, even in Greece I stand out. But so far on this trip I’ve caught myself being unreasonably paranoid or wary of people who don’t deserve it.

My WWOOFing friend Lena was the first to point it out while we were road tripping around Lesvos. I asked that we put my backpack containing my laptop in the hatch and cover it with a blanket. It was Sunday morning in a small mountain village named Andissa. She thought the idea was funny.

“It just never would have even occurred to me,” she said.

There’s also the fact that EVERYONE hitchhikes in Greece, no problem. And then there are two girls I met in Mytilini, Natasa and Daniella, who host Couchsurfers on the regular and once even picked up two Iranian guys off the street because they “had nowhere to stay.” I was stunned when they told me this. They shrugged it off like it was an everyday occurrence.

The dirt road to Molyvos

(Road tripping around Lesvos.)

I’ve spent the last few days in Turkey, along the Aegean Coast. I’m running on a short schedule and headed back to Greece tonight, but I travelled from Ayvalik to Izmir, then Izmir to Selcuk, and then back to Cesme. The Turkish folks I’ve met along the way are kind and patient, and eager to help.

In Selcuk I wandered around the city centre one evening, taking photos and avoiding shops. I’ll be the first to admit it: I hate markets. I find no joy in the clamour and chaos. I hate people hounding me for money. I hate not being able to blend in. I understand why travellers are pulled to markets, but I just can’t love them.

On this occasion, a man sitting outside a carpet shop called out to me as I went by. His English was perfect. “Hello!” he said. “How are you?”

“Good, thanks,” I said and kept moving quickly.

“Where are you from?”

I halted. Really, it’s hard to consistently be an asshole. “Canada.”

“Canada! I have a good friend from there. He’s a writer. He wrote a wonderful book about Turkey.”

When he asked me if I knew of him, I admitted I hadn’t, and he rushed into his store to find a copy of the book. I stood outside, hesitant. But he clearly didn’t want me to buy the book, because he presented its used and worn pages to me, and then jerked it back suddenly like I were going to run off with it. We chatted for a bit, and he invited me for tea.

“It’s just been brewed,” he said. “Care to join me?”

I hate that my immediate reaction was “this guy is trying to sell me something and I shouldn’t trust him.” I know it’s a good idea to go with your gut instinct, but sometimes people really are just nice. I mean, I was dressed in backpacker clothing, dirty and tired, and certainly not looking like I had the extra money to toss around on Turkish carpets. I was, however, on my way to meet a friend and couldn’t actually join him. I told him I’d come back if my friend was interested, and hurried off.

I sat there for hours feeling guilty about my decision. What if he really was just a NICE guy?

(In hindsight, he was probably trying to sell me a carpet. But I doubt he would have FORCED it on me or anything.)

A German cafe in Andissa

This little lady at a cafe stop was the dearest, most attentive woman.

That evening we went for supper at a small family-run kebab restaurant. The owner bustled between tables with his young daughter in pursuit. As we were leaving, he asked if we’d like to look at some carpets in the store next door, run by another guy.

Of course, I thought. Here comes the sales pitch.

We refused and started walking away, and the storeowner ran after us. I was waving my hands, “No no, not interested,” and he shoved some postcards at me.

“For you,” he said. He was just giving me some postcards.

Clever sales tactic to ignite my guilt, or genuine goodness? And don’t you hate that I’m even questing this at all?

I’d like to believe with all my heart that people are inherently good. That the man in the carpet shop was truly just offering me a cup of tea because he wanted to share his homeland with me. That in the Western World, fear is a part of our upbringing, and while it’s smart to be cautious, it’s okay to let go sometimes.

Good eatin' on Santorini

(My hosts on Santorini island offered to take me and the other guests out on a tour — completely free of charge and full of awesome.)

But can we? The media tends to take only the scariest stories and turn them into something every household viewer sees and fears. What they don’t see is the kind lady from Naxos who brought me dessert, or the two sisters from Mytilini who treated me like a queen, or the softer side of Michaelis on the farm when he shared half his frappe with me while I was struggling in the heat. Or, my favourite: the guard at Ephesus yesterday, who emptied his pockets of cat food to feed the strays on site, and then carefully poured his bottled water into a small dip of an ancient column that served as a water dish.

Because I do believe people are inherently good.

  • April 12 2014
    Pan, The Gravel-Roadin' Guru

    Last week it was pouring down rain and I drove by a man out walking in it. I so badly wanted to take him where he was going but there’s so many bad people in the world. It’s terrible we have to be that way.

  • April 12 2014

    interesting views there and having spent about a week in Turkey (mostly in Istanbul) I felt the same thing. Being blonde haired and blue eyed and alone I was constantly hounded for directions, tea, carpets, scarfs you name it and the turkish wanted to show me it.

    I generally ignored it after the tenth time of being hounded but then one time I stopped and talk to two Turkish men about my age with good English and ended up saying yes to going for tea on top of a carpet shop (this is never something I would admit to my father) Even still I’m not sure if this was a smart move or not but I’m still alive and had some traditional turkish food and tea and good conversation so I dont regret it.

    Though it might have been a silly move I do try to give people the benefit of the doubt. Maybe its our culture, the media or whatever it is but we are now-a-days on guard a lot and if thats a good thing or bad thing who knows. However I do believe there are a lot of generally good people out there in all cultures!

    • April 21 2014

      Ah! That’s nice to hear. I think sometimes you’ll get invited into a place like that with the hopes that you’ll buy something, but the people genuinely want you to be comfortable and experience something “real”. If that makes sense.

  • April 12 2014

    Very interesting Article, Candice, as always. I love reading about your travels…….Especially since you’ve been in Greece. The people seem very warm and friendly both in Greece and Turkey. We do get a lot of Negativity from the media here about other parts of the world for sure. Keep on enjoying your visit there, I look forward to reading more. Hugs, Aunt Elsie.

    • April 21 2014

      Thank you Aunt Elsie!! I appreciate that. Yeah, the Greek and Turkish hospitality has been AMAZING.

  • April 12 2014
    Ailsa Ross

    I like the honesty of this piece. It’s embarrassing and awkward to admit that even a simple taxi ride in a foreign country can fill our heads with imaginary headlines of our brutal demise: “Girl in hospital after taxi cab attack while travelling alone.” It sounds petty and small and sad to be so afraid of people, especially when so much kudos is given to hitchhiking and Couchsurfing, being open and unafraid. I do Couchsurf, but every time I ring that doorbell of that random house I’ve agreed to stay in, my palms sweat. “Am I about to become a human centipede?”
    To have to be constantly alert and aware while travelling alone is tiring, so tiring. To always have to be the one to watch the bags at the bus station, to feel paranoia prick my skin to a light sweat as my taxi jolts through the dark night in an unknown city, no friend to curl their fingers round mine and smile. Man, it’s tiring.

    • April 21 2014

      LOL,”Am I about to become a human centipede?” Awesome.

      It IS tiring, and yeah, and travelling as a solo woman comes with its own particular set of fears and concerns.

  • April 12 2014
    Naomi Todd

    I’ve had a few incidents when travelling alone which has made me more wary than before. I do however realise that the majority of the incidents could have been avoided had I listened to my gut instinct. I like to think that people are on the whole are good and that a lot of the time, they’re curious to meet someone from another part of the world different to theirs. But I still need to work on my Ice Queen exterior at times!

    • April 21 2014

      Hahaha, it IS hard. The guy in Turkey just started chatting with me and I didn’t want to be a total asshole and not respond. I have a hard time being rude to people.

  • April 13 2014
    Tammy Burns

    Honest piece — and something that too many people don’t want to admit to. I have such a hard time trusting that everyone is good when I travel — like you, I stick out (tall and blonde) and it’s so ingrained in my subconscious to doubt that people are being genuine. I’ve been caught off guard quite a few times by people who proved me that inherent goodness does exist: the taxi driver who returned my lost camera in Bali, the cafe owner in Turkey who joined my friends and I just so he could show us the “proper” way to smoke shisha. It’s so easy to have your back up at first, but I think the best way to cope with it is to admit it, like you have here. Pretending you don’t have those feelings just lets fear bubble under the surface, and I think that’s much worse.

    • April 21 2014

      Thanks, Tammy, that makes a lot of sense. I LOVE that a taxi driver returned your camera! That’s so sweet.

  • April 18 2014

    sometimes I also feel we were raised in a culture of fear and caution. The
    “it’s better to be safe than sorry” motto could have actually taken its toll on
    us, especially when we travel to some unfamiliar places like Turkey. Wouldn’t
    it simply be nice if people were truly, inherently good? Yeah, but ….

    • April 21 2014

      Yeah, sad reality. I’m learning to relax a bit more.

  • April 30 2014
    Joe Baur

    I find myself being a bit overly cautious while abroad, too, thanks largely (I presume) to fear mongering Western upbringing. Besides news stories, I blame it on our politics and TV shows. Growing up, all the crime shows told me cities and different people are bad. They will kill you… just because. Politics taught me to be scared all the time of some imminent threat from a foreign country.

    Needless to say, I wasn’t nuts about traveling abroad when I was kid.

    Luckily things are changing. TV shows are set in cities without necessarily condemning all to a gruesome death and different cultures are embraced.

    Still, it’ll be a long while before we’re as open as other countries, as you describe the Turks and Greeks. I’ve heard of a Frenchman offering my friends a free stay at his country home, because he overheard them discussing lodging at the airport. Initially they too thought he was trying to come on to the women in the group or do something generally creepy. In the end, he was jut being kind.

    Turns out people are indeed inherently good.

    • May 31 2014

      Haha I love that story! I’m always so amazed by the kindness of others. Can’t imagine inviting two strangers into my home.

  • May 30 2014

    I’m really happy to read about these positive travel experience. When I told ANYONE in the U.S. That I was going to travel through mexico, the response I received was usually one of shock or horror. “But it’s so dangerous! You’ll get decapitated!” (Yes, people have said this to me.)

    When I told people I was going to Europe for the summer (which ended up being extended to 2+ years) a common response was “HAVE YOU SEEN TAKEN?!” (Granted, this was just after the movie had come out.)

    I really do feel like people, Americans in particular though this can apply to Canadians as well, are sort of trained on this notion that everywhere else is bad. In any case, I’m happy to see you’re having a great time!

    <3 Daryl


    Post: What Does Success Mean To You?

    • May 31 2014

      Hahaha, boy, you should have heard the reaction when I said I was going to Bosnia & Herzegovina…yowza.

  • March 08 2015
    Alex Bellink

    Having spent quite a decent amount of time in Turkey, Morocco, and other countries in which this is a common occurrence, I have come up with an answer for you! My answer is that yes, they are trying to sell you a carpet with that cup of tea. BUT, at the same time they do genuinely want to tell you about their country and what it has to offer. Their culture is different from ours; they’re taught to sell all the time to make money, but also open their arms to strangers and tourists at the same time.

    • March 09 2015

      Hahaha I figured as much! But still, harmless. I’m surprised people think Turkey is dangerous.

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