Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Ankara: similar or different?

It's odd staying in an American hotel in Asia. Here we are half a world away from home in a country that is predominately Muslim and there is a Christmas tree in the lobby. When the piano player isn’t playing American pop melodies on the grand piano, there are Christmas carols on endless loop from the sound system. There are scrambled eggs and toast on the breakfast buffet beside sausages and bacon. At dinner there are quesadellas, pasta with alfredo sauce, fish and chips and schnitzel on the English menu. Sheraton Ankara certainly understands their clients.

On the streets near the hotel, you begin to see the differences. Walk for a block or two, but mind the pavement. In North America the sidewalks are paved smooth. The surfaces are level and of a standard height and width. Here paving stones, cement, and stone surfaces at different levels and widths make walking a few blocks a challenge; at least for us.

Drivers have the right of way. Seventy kilometers an hour down a narrow lane with cars parked on each side of the road after dark seems too fast to us, but just right for our cab driver. Car horns are used, not as the angry interjections I’m used to, but as a polite “excuse me”. On the street, yellow jacketed men stop traffic to allow vehicles to parallel park in spots so short that the cars must leave one wheel on the sidewalk and park diagonally in the space. As an old world city with narrow streets, cars are often parked up on the sidewalks to one side or the other. On wider streets, double parking is common and ignored by local authorities. Cars park on the corners of streets too. At the mall there is a man who will hail you a “taksi” from the line of cabs by the curb.

People here are affectionate. Friends shake hands and kiss one another on each cheek. Regardless of gender, people stroll down the street arm in arm. An older or respected person is greeted with a kiss to their right hand and the hand is raised to the forehead of the younger person.

While I’m grateful for the safety and security our hotel provides, and the familiar food after a day out in this new world, I am just as grateful for an opportunity to experience all the wonderful differences this adventure has provided so far.

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