Traveling around the world is an amazing experience. You meet so many people along your way that you get to share life with even if only for a brief moment. This is the second time I’ve gone on a big backpacking trip and both times have been absolutely incredible for their own reasons. I have discovered something quite obvious along my way: every person’s experience is 100% different and it’s not necessarily because of the unique way we view our surroundings. A lot of it has to do with the way our surroundings view us, in other words, what we look like. The first time I traveled around SE Asia I was quite heavy and I had dark hair. No one really gave me a second thought. Having now lost quite a bit of weight and gone blond… you can imagine the difference that might make in countries with predominantly dark featured inhabitants.
Turkey has been the best and worst as far as my appearance goes. There are some Turkish women who have lightened their hair, but for the most part I stuck out like a sore thumb. Sometimes I didn’t mind standing out, but sometimes I just wanted to be ignored. A lot of women get annoyed with any kind of attention from the males, but I’ve decided that it can be fun if you choose to see it that way. And choosing to see it that way will make your overall experience in Turkey or other such countries much more positive. However, some men do cross that line between flattery and repulsion and just appall you with how offensive, abrasive, and vulgar they can be. This happened on a few occasions.
The difference between flattery and repulsion can be clearly seen in these following examples…
Looking vs Gaping.
When I was younger some college girls were staying with us for a few nights from the University of Michigan and we were watching the Olympic swimming matches with my mom. My mom decided to announce just how fine those speedo wearing hotties were. Naturally, I was mortified and made it known with a, “mmMMOOOmmmm! to which she replied, “what? I have eyes, too!” Well, yes, we all have eyes. This is a fact that even Google can’t refute. So if a male walks past and his eyes linger you can be flattered that you’ve caught his eye. You’re attractive. Like a well done painting or a beautifully composed photo in a gallery, he just wants to look. It doesn’t always mean he’s objectifying or thinking inappropriate thoughts. Gaping or staring on the other hand… not awesome. The man on the bus who watches every move you make and listens in on every word you say?…. that’s just uncomfortable and intrusive. Take a picture, it will last longer… Actually don’t, that’s creepy.
Friendly vs Audacious.
There were a few times when men would start a conversation with, “Oh, you are very beautiful” but that was that. They would then go on to ask where I was from and how my travels were going (and sometimes whether I would like to buy a carpet or not). That’s friendly. Thank you for your compliment and diverting conversation. BUT then there’s the man who decides to sit way too close to me, instantly making my guard go up, considering there was an entire stretch of wall space to sit at a more comfortable distance. And when it was clear by my taking out my iPod and putting in my earbuds that I didn’t want to talk and yet he still continued on, more red flags. I decided it was time for me to find another place to sit and enjoy my afternoon. But he followed me… I said goodbye… he followed. I said “okay, I’m going now”… he followed. I said in a strong voice, “I’m going this way, YOU go THAT way!”… he stood there and stuck out his hand. I thought, finally, he’s going to shake my hand and go on his way. But when I shook his hand, he held on tight and would not let go. I twisted and pulled and then shoved his hand away and yelled, “STOP! GO AWAY!” and turned and walked toward a group of other people. I swerved in and out of small side streets always looking back to make sure he wasn’t following. That was NOT friendly behavior. That was scary, not gonna lie.
Romantic vs Sexual Harassment.
These are the big events. The ones that will stick out in your mind as either a fond memory of a grand gesture or a troubling memory of a degrading and angering moment. The romantic I think I blogged about already but I’ll recap briefly. It was back in Korea on the day before I flew to Malaysia. I was walking back to my friend Nick’s apartment since I’d had to move out of mine, when I heard feet running up behind me and someone yelling for attention. It took me a minute to realize this person was yelling for MY attention. When I turned around, I saw a Korean man that I remembered passing on the street a couple of blocks away. He ran up out of breath and in very good English said, ” I don’t normally do this and I hope you’re not frightened, I’m not chasing you, but I think you are very beautiful and I would like to take you to coffee.” THATs a romantic gesture. That takes a lot of courage and could be straight out of a movie. I was quite flattered, unfortunately I had to tell him no, that in this romantic comedy/tragedy the hero was a few days too late and the heroine was flying out of the country the next day. The end. Cut to credits.
Now lets examine the antithesis of this: the bus ticket salesman who got drunk one night. That was one of the most uncomfortable, disgusting moments of my life. Noel and I had been warned by a man at a previous hostel to be careful when using the word ‘sick’ because in Turkish it’s the “f” word. He told us story after story of ill travelers being misunderstood. Well it was no misunderstanding when this man of 40-45 years started nuzzling my neck and saying, ‘sick, yes sick tonight’. We’d met him earlier in the day when we were trying to decide between taking an overnight bus or a bus early the next morning. He’d been kind enough and helpful, so when we saw him around the hotel Noel and I always said hello. It was around 11:30 that night that we were sitting in the restaurant area writing postcards and blogs when he came through on his way to the toilet. He seemed in good spirits when we said hello and asked him about our bus tickets. When he returned from the washroom and staggered a bit I could tell he was indeed in good spirits if you get my drift. He came over laughing, touching my back and getting closer and closer as he spoke with that awful alcohol breath. I was feeling nauseaus just sitting in that saturated air. I don’t remember all that he said because I was concentrating on how to get away from him and making anxious eyes toward Noel who couldn’t hear or was ignoring the awful things he was saying to me. Finally I just said, “please stop”. He looked surprised and feigned an expression like, “what? I was only kidding!” Then walked away. Drunk jerk.
So yes, I’ve had some not so awesome experiences, but I will say again that most times haven’t been as repulsive or offensive as that last one. I know that I’m blond and clearly foreign in a country like Turkey, it’s useless to get frustrated when people look at me because I’m out of the ordinary. But I will say this, if you’re reading this blog and of the male persuasion here are three tips: don’t gape, don’t grab or hold on, and do NOT nuzzle. ew.