Istanbul and Turkey have been our focus of attention in the last months. I open my blog with this new post. Enjoy it, I hope to keep you company with my stories.
The city and the people
My very first trip as the responsible person for this country. At the departure I was quite nervous, for a thousand reasons; on my way home I was full of joy!
The first days are highly positive, while I already plan the business trip for the next week in Italy. I go to bed very early, I wake up already tired. To balance this out a bit, my best friends are my masks: I have tried the collagen and the snail slime ones. Obviously, also culinary shopping supports my energies: the king of my meals is the ıslak hamburger. Everybody is crazy about it, so am I.
Compared to the past months, I notice a lot more Turkish flags, more symbols, and well pointed out. Taksim Square is full of them. When I ask about the general situation in Turkey, opinions differ very much. Somebody says “Yes, July was messy, but now it’s fine”; some others say “I have to go away before it gets worse, and I will take my family with me”. The answer depends on the position towards the government. The first thing I see one morning in Taksim square is a half-naked boy, forcefully held by policemen. He shouts and everybody stares at him. I don’t know what he’s saying, for safety I head away from the scene, going towards the shuttle to the university.
One night I go out with a girl that works for one of our partners. She takes me around some hidden streets behind Taksim square. We talk about these streets: they are her favorites because the majority of people stay away from these places, thinking that they are dangerous, but they are the true human heart of the city. This makes me romantically think of Napoli… Most of all, since it’s the anniversary of his death, we talk about Ataturk, about the things that he did and that he would have wanted to do for Turkey. The great modernizer, that exalted the Turkish culture, died at 55, my friend tells me, because… he drank too much rakı!
Something she said about Ataturk’s post-mortem really struck me: they would have wanted to dedicate him a statue in every square. In short, they wanted the “sanctification of the political man” to be even more massive. She completely disagrees: the idealization of this man conveys the message that there will never be another Ataturk, that nobody else will be as great as him, so it’s better not to try to change things because nobody could succeed in that anyway… Discourage the people to control them.
Turkish men are a whole different story. At the hotel they won’t allow me to move a step without carrying my bags, explaining everything and always smiling at me. In the late afternoon I go out for shopping: I see almost only men on the streets. Women, if there are any, have male companion. At most you can find them in groups. I have the feeling I am the only woman walking alone without any veil. I think I’ve noticed another tourist among the crowd. When I’m around, I hear boys saying something to me, luckily I have no clue what they say. One raps it, instead!
On the other side, a woman, alone, is helped a lot. She is accompanied to her place of destination if possible, doors are held for her, she is allowed to pass before others. Being a woman, you carry no weights, they are carried by men, even boys instead of you.
I am at Aydin University: here I realize the high value of hospitality in the cultures from the East of the world. In Italy we pride ourselves on being attentive to guests, but we cannot compare ourselves to the Turks. Here the hosts never forget to offer a good coffee or a tea, in case followed by a piece of baklava. In this university, they were nicer than usual: after they discovered I did not have time to have lunch, they even bought me a sandwich at Starbucks.
The business side
I notice a certain difference of attitudes from the people at meetings. During my previous trips, with male company, everything was more formal, sometimes even boring. Now that the other side is represented by a woman, the atmosphere is more relaxed. I don’t know how to exactly judge this, neither can I say what consequences this will have business-wise. I found myself alone at a meeting with many men and, to my surprise, they were more nervous than me! I noticed their voice shaking and their hesitation in speaking to me. I took that as a stepping stone to reach more self-confidence!
Never forget: Turkey is ferocious negotiation! I took inspiration from my father and how he would behave at the market: he is famous for the dirt-cheap prices he manages to get. Once he bought me a summer bag for 15€ even if it was worth 50. In my case, I have to think backwards, since I don’t want to be a victim of the same technique! In Turkey, after you make your offer, the following question is almost always: “And what’s your last offer?“Even if it depends on the product your selling, taken into consideration what was taught me and my point of view, I think it is important not to lower the offer, not to discredit the value of what you are offering. I would rather search for other solutions to meet halfway.
During this trip I received my first work compliment: at a university, an employee listens to me while I talk with his colleague, then says smiling: “You know how to sell, to his questions you answer with questions”. It is fundamental to perfectly understand what the other person needs, so that I can dedicate myself completely to the buyer’s needs. It is this or losing the interlocutor’s attention. The compliment got even more precious considering who that guy was. He himself has done this same job since he was a kid: he comes from Syria and the family business, for generations, has been selling fabrics in Damascus. Because of the long tradition, he really wanted to run the family business, taken care of by his father, his grandfather and so on. Then, the situation in Damascus and Syria had changed and he found himself forced to go away, reaching Turkey and managing to find a job in an international office, helping Arabic-speaking students. In the same office I hear Russian words… There’s Katy, better say Ekaterina: after a quick exchange she tells me: “We both speak Russian, we’re sisters!” Byelorussian, with a Turkish boyfriend. She is trying to learn Turkish but it’s really too complicated. Can you blame her? We talk about men: “Italian men are handsome, aren’t they?” I can’t say no! I ask her: “What about the Byelorussian ones?” She looks at me and sharply says: “I don’t like them, no”.
One morning at a university reception I meet another Italian because, like me, she is spelling very slowly her name to the Turkish guard. Very Italian name, Moira Valeri. So I ask her “Are you Italian?”, she looks at me and “Sì!”. I find out that she is an architect, from Ancona, who has lived in Turkey for 6 years. She tells me that in Turkey, architecture-wise, Napoli is very active. I would have liked to get deeper into this but our lift ride ends after a few seconds. We head towards our appointments. Walking past the Italian Institute of Culture in Istanbul, some days after the encounter, I notice her name on an event poster. To whom is interested in architecture in Istanbul, keep an eye on her!
The day before a taxi driver goes like “Where are you from?”. To my answer “Napoli” he starts a conversation on football, on Juventus being the first team in the league, on the Italian teams he knows: Juve, Napoli, Chievo, Empoli, Sampdoria. A friend of his is from Genova. I guess sea cities are somehow always sisters.
In the afternoon, something crazy happens, something I would have never expected. Who is from Napoli knows that, every time you type Naples on the internet, you get two options: Naples, Italy and Naples, Florida. I have always wondered how that place in Florida was, in another continent but still with the same name as my city. Well, I have finally met a guy from Naples, Florida! I couldn’t believe it! When we found it out, our first question was: “So, tell me how your Naples is!” This was not the only thing we had in common: he is a bassist as well, and it was hard to leave and stop our very nice chat.
You think that in Napoli we are the worst drivers of all? You haven’t seen Istanbul. Compared to the Turkish, Neapolitans are the most meticulous people in the world. Speeding cars are everywhere and, when in taxis, I pray God to gift me safety from accidents. Especially taxis have no patience at all and if the queue next to them moves just a little bit faster, they immediately switch lane. They can keep doing this up to twenty times a minute.
Istanbul always gives me the excitement of a megalopolis, yet I always manage to feel home, with the air that smells almost like in Napoli and with the golden heart of Turkish people. I hope my video (you can watch it by clicking here) will convey everything I couldn’t add here.