Nosy Neighbors and Safe Streets

One of the first things I noticed about Istanbul was that it felt surprisingly safe. As a tourist, I felt fine walking back to my hotel at 2:00 in the morning. There were always people on the street and though it was often groups of men, somehow it didn’t feel threatening. Some might be leering but others had a more protective demeanor. If groups of men are hanging out on the street in America I would think they are up to no good, but here its generally groups of taxi drivers waiting for business or men sitting around drinking tea.

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Islam and Alcohol

Although Turkey is a Muslim country, the national drink is alcoholic.  It's called raki and is licorice-flavored.  From what I have seen, pretty much everyone here drinks alcohol.  This may not be true in the countryside or in the more religious areas of cities, but at least in Istanbul there does not appear to be any sort of stigma against it.  In fact, one friend of mine worked at a university which was so committed to being secular that at staff parties the dean would walk around checking people's glasses to ensure that everyone was drinking alcohol.

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Turkish Speaking Santa?

On Christmas Eve, I was amused to see a Santa Claus speaking Turkish. But then I learned that St Nick was born in Turkey.  Who knew?  Also, apparently most Turks don’t know the difference between Christmas and New Years.  (Of course, people who are well-educated or have traveled a lot will know, but the average person does not.) If you tell a friend that you can’t go out because its Christmas Eve, he may look confused and respond that New Years isn’t for another week.  Contributing additional complexity is the fact that most Christians in Turkey are either Armenian or Eastern Orthodox and thus celebrate Christmas on the 6th and 7th, respectively.  At first I was surprised at how many places I have seen Christmas trees, but here they are considered New Years trees.  People also exchange gifts on New Years.  A traditional gift is red underwear, for luck in one’s love life for the following year.