What's it like to be a woman traveling in Turkey?
Most female visitors find Turks--both men and women--extremely welcoming, accommodating and helpful, and enjoy their trips immensely.
Am I crazy to think of traveling alone as a woman in Turkey?
Not at all, so long as you conform to local customs and attitudes (as in any country you visit) and take normal, common-sense precautions.
Will I get hassled because I'm a female?
Some women report being hassled--a little or a lot--in Turkey. Others report no problems at all. You can lessen the likelihood of bothersome hassle by dressing and behaving according to local norms. (Read on...)
Will I be in danger?
Violent crime, including assault and rape, is less common in Turkey than in many developed Western countries. No one can predict the future or what will happen to any individual traveler, but many people say they feel safer in Turkey than at home. Take common-sense precautions and observe local norms and you should feel safe in Turkey.
What sort of hassles might foreign women encounter?
Reported hassles include staring, minor groping and pinching, unpleasant sounds and comments, and unwanted romantic advances.
Are Turkish women hassled also?
Sometimes, but they have ways of avoiding most unpleasantness.
Do most men treat women this way?
Absolutely not! Most Turkish men are extremely polite, even courtly, toward women, Turkish or foreign, and will treat you with heartfelt respect and courtesy. You're likely to find most Turkish men more polite and solicitous of your welfare and happiness than many "Western" men. You may even find that you miss this courtesy after you leave Turkey.
Here's what "Cruise Diva" Linda Coffman says:
"IMO, there is no better city than Istanbul to either begin or end a cruise.
"I've been to Turkey three times and must add that there's nothing like a Turkish merchant to make an American woman feel welcome and desirable. Of course, it's probably got a lot to do with her American Express card. ;-)
"Seriously, I was in Istanbul last summer and felt perfectly safe wandering around shopping on Rumeli Street with a female colleague. We got lost a couple times and Turks on the street very helpfully pointed us in the right direction to find our hotel."
What can I do to avoid occasional unpleasantness?
As in other Mediterranean countries with similar cultures, you should observe local customs. Do things with others (a female or male companion you know, or a mixed group) when possible. If you're traveling alone, introduce yourself to Turkish women or families, ask a question or strike up a conversation so that you are informally included with them.
In Turkey, as in many other countries, social encounters between men and women who are not relatives or close friends are conducted much more formally than they might be in Europe or--especially--Australia, Canada, or the USA. Also, this formality is maintained for a much longer time.
How can I be "more formal"?
Dress neatly and act reserved. Be pleasant, but don't smile readily at men you don't know, even when conducting business (registering at a hotel, taking a taxi ride, etc). Be correct and formal, even on the third and fourth encounter. If a man responds by being overly friendly, you should be overly formal. Keep control of the situation, keep it on your terms.
What else can I do?
Set the rules for each encounter. Do things in public, or in group settings in which you know most of the people. Avoid being alone in private with a man or men you do not know well--especially in a car. (Mixed groups, including both Turkish men and Turkish women, are usually fine.)
Why can't I just be the way I normally am? Why do I have to do things differently?
Unfortunately, European and American movies, TV programs, magazines, books--and especially fantasy pornography--often portray "Western" women as "loose," if not downright promiscuous: they go out to clubs and bars on their own, they talk to men to whom they have not been introduced, they even sleep with men they've known for only a short time and have no intention of marrying.
It's true of some Western women, so a Turkish man may assume that it's true of any particular woman--you, for example. Like any Western man, if he's attracted to you he may give it a try and see what happens.
Many Western women smile readily, at anyone. It's looked upon as good manners to smile and be cheerful. Turkish women, who act more formal, don't usually smile at an unfamiliar man until they feel assured that the smile won't be misinterpreted as a come-on. Thus, when a Turkish woman smiles at a man, it means she is willing to be more friendly. It's a calculated escalation of interest, not just part of a cheerful attitude.
So if you smile at a Turkish man just to be pleasant, he might interpret it to mean that you're interested in being even more friendly.
The problem, then, is that the cultural signals passed between men and women, and the expectations, might be quite different, and not what is intended. Neither person is wrong or right, just different. You need to be on the same wavelength for your signals to be taken as you mean them.
If you're not interested, you may give a signal to a Western man ("Get lost!") and he's supposed to wander away. To a Mediterranean male, "Get lost!" might be taken merely as a pro-forma protest meant to protect your honor, to show that you didn't yield to his charms too easily. You're expected to protest, whether you're interested in him or not. When you say "Get lost!" to him, it might have the effect of making you seem even more attractive; he might take it as a signal to increase the hit on you.
A half-century ago in Europe, the USA and other highly-developed countries, these same norms and customs were in effect. Well, they still are in Turkey and in many other more traditional societies. Observe them, and your chances of being hassled decrease dramatically.
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to be a woman traveling in Turkey
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