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
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
Reported hassles include staring,
minor groping and pinching, unpleasant
sounds and comments, and unwanted romantic
Are Turkish women hassled also?
Sometimes, but they have ways of avoiding
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
"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
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.
—by Tom Brosnahan