I hate to be mean, but let me just summarize my neighbor on my (long) flight from Istanbul to Dulles.
As I was sitting on the plane, watching as nobody sat down next to me, I thought that maybe I would have the two-seats next to the window to myself. I watched as nobody sat down, and by then most people had boarded, and there was a moment where nobody else was coming back, so I though that was it, I would have some extra legroom.
Of course, that was too good to be true. A large woman come down and sat next to me, spilling over a little into my space. As she tried to sort herself (difficult in a small seat with a large body) she handed me some things to hold, like her carry on, her complimentary blanket, and pillow, which I was glad to give back when she was done.
She had trouble with her touch screen on the seat back in front of her, so I helped her navigate. Then they brought us US customs declaration forms. I filled out mine, then she asked me to do hers! (She didn’t have her glasses) She handed me her passport (Cameroon) and I filled in her information, asking where she had been and why, where she was going, if she was bringing anything with her, etc, etc.
As we flew, a few times she once again asked me to hold things for her as she tried to reach the bag at her feet. When they served us meals she got me a few times to hold something on my tray as she tried to get hers open (the man in front of her had to sit up so she could open it, in the end).
Most of the way through the flight I needed to use the bathroom, but couldn’t get past. I eventually made it, but still…
She was nice, but I had thought for a moment I would be alone, and she was inside my personal space…
Let me share with you a story from my trip from Istanbul to Ataturk Airport, and see what you make of it.
As I was standing, minding my own business, at the Aksaray station waiting for the train, a voice behind me spoke in German. As I turned, confused, the voice spoke again, this time in English. “Are you going to the airport?”
I replied that I was. The man asked me where I was going, and I told him California (not true). Then he asked me for some money. I had honestly used my last 6 lira on public transportation (perfect budgeting/stroke of luck on my part), and told him so, minus the specifics.
"I have no money. It’s all gone. I was working in Antalya (I think that’s where he said), and need to get a bus from the airport. I just want to get some coffee. Do you like Turkish coffee?"
And so, we fell into conversation about America, Turkey, the size of Istanbul compared to Paris or London, how many Turks there are in America, and how long it would take him to get a work visa/green card/citizenship. As we talked we went from the station to the train, winding up seated across from one another.
He would talk, I would try to disengage, but fail, and he would mention again how he had no money before suggesting we get coffee at the airport and how long before my flight took off. I told him no, because I had no money and no time before needing to go through passport control. (I had time)
After we got to the airport, we had to go through security to get into the airport, but he wanted me to go a different way to get to the cafe. I said no, got in line for security, and he got in line behind me before checking to make sure he could go through without being on a flight. I went through and walked up to the escalator; he came through right after, but never caught up with me, and I didn’t see him again.
Was he a nice guy who just wanted to be friendly and get some coffee, or, as some friends suggest, was he trying to trick me?
Both Morocco and Turkey are well known travel destinations. Both are known for their markets. And you don’t have markets without vendors, sellers, merchants, etc. And, unfortunately, merchants can seem aggressive and even scary to those who didn’t grow up with that sort of culture.
In Ankara, we barely saw any merchants, and those that we did see were mostly selling food, i.e. we weren’t their targets and they left us alone.
In Istanbul, I saw quite a few merchants use “tricks” to attract customers. Some of them would try to strike up a conversation and make small talk about this or that. They always know where you are from, have been there, or know someone there. Sometimes they use a trick, like one guy who tried to tell me I had dropped something so I would turn around, talk to him, and buy his guide books. Maybe because a lot of them speak pretty good English, they try to befriend tourists before trying to get them to buy something. And then you’re already friends, after all.
In Morocco I noticed a lot fewer vendors calling people out and trying to get their attention. There seemed to be more waiting until people approached, a more relaxed style, waiting until the buyer has expressed interest, which is great if you don’t like being accosted by salespeople. However, that doesn’t mean they weren’t also skilled in convincing you to part with your money. One guy gave us a free pastry sample before paying for it. Same with a woman and some henna. Another woman with henna tried to forcefully decorate my friend’s hand. I’ve been told of other instances of things being thrust into hands followed by demands for money.
So, in Morocco people were more direct while in Turkey there were some wiles being employed in the markets. In Turkey it seemed every merchant saw me and tried to get my attention, unlike in Morocco. That would have made Morocco better, except for the odd merchant who tried to force us to buy from them.
I’m still getting used to merchants and markets, but the more I go there, the more comfortable and fun it is! Never let nerves scare you away from such an interesting new experience!