Turkish Tipping

Years ago when Ed and I lived in England we took a British Package Tour to Athens and Istanbul.  While Athens is a wonderful tourist city and we had a great time there, this story is about our adventures in Istanbul.  Our flight from Athens to Istanbul was a very short one on Turkish Airways which made a poor impression and was permanently struck from our possible airline list for the future.  When Ed and I were boarding the plane, I noticed a wet spot on my assigned seat.  Not knowing what the liquid was, I stood waiting for a flight attendant.  There was a young British couple sitting across the aisle from us who saw our dilemma.  The young girl stepped over, ran her finger through the wet spot, put her finger to her nose and declared the spot to be urine.  Although on the surface her action was kind of disgusting, I immediately bonded with her.  We hung out with her and her boyfriend for the few days we were in Istanbul.  Since the flight was full, we were not given new seats but, instead, I was given half dozen towels to sit on.  Turkey had been suffering from a really bad economy which resulted in a military coup about a week earlier.  Life in Istanbul seemed normal to us as tourists except that we were required to be off the streets by 10:00 pm.  Our little tour group sat in the bar every night playing card games while we heard occasional gunfire coming from the outside.  Despite the after effects of the military coups, the main Istanbul newspaper headline while we were there was the answer to “Who Shot JR?”  For those of you who can remember the first incarnation of Dallas, you may not be aware of how big an international following it had. The paper was written in Turkish but there was no confusion about what was being discussed.  One of the things you’ll find when traveling is that each country has particular products they offer to tourists.  In Turkey the product is carpets.  The day we were visiting the Istanbul Bazaar, which is massive and has wandering aisles, we had many local men trying to lure us to their carpet stores with the promise of a chance to rest and have a cup of tea/coffee.  We finally agreed to follow a young man down lanes and back alleys to one of these shops.  When we were seated he left to get our tea and came back with the guys to sell us carpets.  We had no plan to buy a carpet but watched the presentation with interest.  When the merchants were convinced we weren’t buyers, they simply left the shop and didn’t come back.  It’s hard to comprehend the size of this covered bazaar unless you are abandoned without knowing your exact location.  We spent the next hour trying to find our way out getting more and more concerned that this could become our final resting place.  We finally found a policeman who spoke English to walk us to the entrance.  We got back to our hotel just in time to change clothes for an outing to a Turkish restaurant/night club with our new British friends and a few other fellow travelers.  After dinner a band came out playing Turkish music which was soon joined by belly dancers.  Every country has cultural differences with ours – sometimes they are very interesting and sometimes they are just disgusting.  The method the Turkish men tipped the dancers was the latter.  The men would show their appreciation for the dancers by spitting on Turkish Lira notes and sticking them on the dancers’ foreheads.  Although I did tip by putting money on the floor, I couldn’t bring myself to spit on any woman on purpose.  As the evening wore on and the act was finishing, our young British girlfriend was fired up with alcohol, the music and was dancing next to our table.  When the dancers left, a couple of men pulled our friend onto the stage and she continued to dance.  The men in the crowd thought it was quite funny and started giving her lots of tips.  She danced for about an hour and we left the club with lots of soggy Turkish money.  On the taxi back to the hotel she asked for a handkerchief because she had so much saliva running down her face it was in her eyes (yuck).  The next day we had coffee with our friends before our flight left Istanbul.  Our young girlfriend felt really badly and we figured it was a hangover.  We planned on getting together again at the London airport.  We landed in Athens to pick up more passengers and paramedics came onto the plane.  They removed our young friend from the plane on a stretcher after deeming her too ill to travel.  Although I would never do it in the first place, my advice is to never let a bunch of strangers spit saliva all over your face.