Friday, February 24, 2012

Friday, February 24, 2012 - 1 comment

(Trying Not to Look Like a) Tourist in My Own Town

It was the cobblestones that gave me away.

As I left the bustle of the main drag for the narrow alleyways of the Old Quarter where I'd be spending my writing retreat, the sound of my suitcase wheels clattering over the newly-restored-but-still-nostalgically-bumpy streets broadcast the announcement: "Make way! Incoming tourist!" Just the sort of attention I love to draw to myself.

What is it that makes me react so allergically to being mistaken for a tourist? I know, I know, it's pride, plain and simple. It's just that I've worked so hard at learning Turkish and blending into the culture, so when I leave my neighbourhood where I am "the girl who hangs her laundry wrong, pronounces her "ü"s a little funny and still sometimes forgets to give her guests slippers but is basically one of us" and head downtown to where my blue eyes and confident gait immediately label me as "Lady, lady, yes please, I have a cousin who lives in Canada," it can be more than a little annoying.

Tourism is good for the economy. Tourism provides many of my neighbours with jobs. Tourism lets the rest of the world get to know this fascinating country that I love so much. And, heck, when I'm anywhere else but here, I am "that tourist" with the Lonely Planet in her bag, the camera around her neck and the wanderlust in her eyes.

I seriously need to get over my snobby prejudice against tourists.

Maybe it's just that I don't want to be lumped into the same group as the family I saw today bartering for Atatürk cigarette lighters in tank tops and shorts. All the Turks passing by - dressed, as Turks do, according to the date on the calendar and not the temperature of the air - turned to stare at these “misfits.” And I, bundled up in my winter coat despite the warmth of the sunshine, stared right along with them. This may be the Mediterranean, but one simply does not wear flip-flops in February.

It's the same fear of my own prejudice that kept me from riding the camels at the park down the street from my house for four-and-a-half years. A couple of times a month, I'd head to the park for homework or solitude. And every time, I'd stand outside the gate, turn to watch a bunch of Germans wearing matching wristbands pile off a tour bus and climb onto the camels, shrieking as those knobby knees straightened and lifted them high into the air. Then I'd turn back to the ticket booth, pay my "special local price" (which often means "free," depending who's working) and head inside to do my thing, as far from the camcorder crowd as I could get.

It really is silly to live that close to camels for that long and never ride one for the sole purpose of "not looking like a tourist." One of them belongs to my language helper's landlord and he was always offering me a free ride. A more humble person would've taken him up on it years ago.

I am happy to report, though, that last weekend, accompanied by several friends who were delighted to share the experience with me (and who apparently don't suffer from the same "anti-tourist hang-ups" as I do) I finally gave in and rode my first camel. Now I know why the tourists pay to do it - it’s a lot of fun! (And now I know why they shriek, too. When my camel suddenly sat down, it really did feel like I was about to be catapulted off!)

May this be the first of many times when I let go of my silly pride, stop worrying about whether or not I blend in, and just enjoy this place that people pay thousands of dollars to visit and that I am fortunate enough to call "home."


Love your writing, Jamie. You really have the ability to draw the reader in with your words and sense of humor.