Then and Now (2012)
by Allan Gall
I have been back a number of times, of course, since 1962 and lived in
Turkey 1968-74. But I tried to imagine the Turkey of 1962 as I made the
observations I share with you here.
- In the hotels: kible arrow (even in the most luxurious hotels) to indicate
direction of prayer, disposable slippers, safe, hair dryer, and mini-bar.
We mostly stayed in mid-range hotels of 40 to 90 Euro.
- Young women in special headscarves, specifically worn to demonstrate
religious observance. These are different from the scarves worn by older
women simply to protect their hair from wind and dust.
- Graduates of the Imam Hatip schools are about to be eligible for Officer
Training School. Highest enrollment in Imam Hatip schools in history. Claims
in conservative papers that the curriculum/quality of education of the Imam
Hatip schools is no different from regular schools in the number of hours
devoted to science and humanities, except for the addition of Arabic.
- Young people everywhere in jeans, t-shirts, polo shirts, sneakers. Even
conservative young men escorting young women who wore the specifically
religious headscarf were themselves usually wearing jeans and t-shirts.
- Religious young men have adopted a special head-touching greeting ritual
to indicate both are religious.
- Young children are heavier—no so much obese, but heavy—and taller/bigger.
Also some teenagers and many adults.
- More religious radio stations. Many local TV stations--some religious. A
number of provinces have their own stations. Excellent diction by the news
announcers—easy to understand. Lots of soap operas, reality TV etc., but
didn’t have time to listen to any of it. TMTV with non-stop pop music of
mostly low quality.
- High speed rail under construction.
- Sushi in Yozgat. Rotisserie chicken everywhere.
- Gas stations everywhere and many different brands of gas.
- Cops issuing speeding tickets. (Yes, I got one.)
- Four lane roads and expensive cars everywhere. Saw the latest Porsche,
latest Ferrari, latest BMW, Audi, VW and Mercedes models on the road. The
upgraded roads almost all go around the towns they used to pass through.
Traffic lights even in small towns. And mostly the drivers obey them.
- Population is younger. Weddings, weddings everywhere. Three in our hotel
on the night we stayed in Cankiri. A fourth in the restaurant where we ate
- Toki. This is a new government agency that appropriates land to build
housing, e.g., appropriates the land of gecekondular and other older housing
to replace them with apartment buildings. Value of the land—determined by
Toki—is credited to the former owner/resident of the land toward the price
of an apartment. Buildings are said to be built to earthquake standards.
Apartments are very small: less than 200 sq ft.: 1 bedroom, bath, kitchen,
sitting room all in that space. A retired teacher in a poor neighborhood in
Cankiri scheduled to be torn down by Toki explained that his very small
house was two-stories, occupied by him, his wife, their two young children
and the mother-in-law. Toki was only valuing the house by its footprint,
ignoring that it was two stories which made their living situation
possible. He said the 5 of them could not possibly share such a small
apartment. Also, because of the low value assigned, he would still owe
35,000 TL to Toki to get an apartment. He’d have 10 years to pay that but
at a relatively high interest rate that was not fixed but subject to annual
increases if the national rate goes up which it typically does due to
inflation. He could not afford it. Forgot to ask him what happens if he
doesn’t buy in. Does he get a cash payment for his land? Toki construction
was going on everywhere. I did not see a Gecekondu community anywhere,
although the old city on the citadel in Ankara remains intact as it is
gradually being gentrified and “restored” into fancy restaurants and
boutique hotels. Women still deliver yogurt and eggs in the neighborhood.
The character of all the small towns we lived in has dramatically changed.
Populations have exploded and cement block apartment buildings dominate
everything—miles and miles of them circle the cities and have replaced most
of the original interior parts of the cities, as well. The population of
Cankiri, for example, had more than doubled. Many Anatolian towns appeared
to have tripled. Samsun has a million people. But the old commercial parts
of the cities are often still much intact. There seems to be less effort to
tear down and rebuild these areas of town than to tear down the old
residential areas. Probably the merchants have some political clout. The
old commercial areas, of course, are supplemented by many and greater new
commercial districts/streets—shops in the ground floors of apartment
buildings. Where old residential areas remain, Toki has its eye on them.
Again, in Cankiri we spoke with residents in the only old residential part
of town still standing and it is scheduled to be razed. I was travelling
with two of my former students. Both of them had lived in this area and
their houses were both still standing—one partly falling down and
unoccupied, the other still partly occupied. The neighborhood where I had
lived had long since been turned into an ocean of concrete blocks. The old
residential areas that are being preserved in some towns are those declared
to have historic value. If you own one of those, you cannot tear it down.
Some towns, like Safranbolu, have large areas of preserved Ottoman style
houses. Some become hotels, restaurants, tourist shopping districts, etc.
- The call to prayer is recorded by the perceived best of the best in Ankara
and sent out to the mosques. Thus, we heard the same voice coming from
multiple mosques simultaneously everywhere we went, although it appeared
that there were at least a couple of choices. In Sivas, for example, the
voice and the length of the call was different but again it was the same
from all 4 of the mosques within earshot of our hotel.
Imams receive government salaries. The Friday sermons are also prepared in
Ankara and sent out. In Safranbolu, the hotel owner said his local Imam’s
salary was 2500 TL but a teacher friend of his with two young children
- Banks, banks, banks everywhere. As in the U.S., apparently making money
from money, rather than by adding value to something, is highly profitable.
- For rent signs by Coldwell Banker. Sports clubs.
- Groups of professional women in their mid-thirties to 40’s having long,
slow lunches, marrying late, smoking, appearing to enjoy life.
- Newspapers are much more rarely seen. I saw men sitting around
everywhere, idle. In the old days they would have been reading newspapers.
Not now. Also newspaper stands are now few and far between. All my teacher
friends in the old days bought multiple papers every day. Clearly they no
- Dogs. I only remember Kangals and generic brown stray mutts. Now, there
are dogs of every description reflecting the injection of blood from
specific designer dogs presumably brought in as pets and obviously in some
cases turned loose in the streets. Some attractive results and some not so
much so. Many stray dogs had ear tags to indicate that they’d been given a
rabies shot by the municipality. Cats everywhere and better fed than before.
- Working seat belts in taxis. Meters in taxis and actually used to
- Soccer playing fields with artificial turf—fenced off and locked.
- Parking enforcement—collection of parking fees and fines on some streets.
- Cell phone use everywhere and service everywhere. I have a picture of a
female street sweeper in Ankara on her cellphone. On the other hand, I did
not see teenagers using electronic devices. And generally the use of
cellphones by people on the streets even in Ankara was much less than is the
- Public bathrooms with the latest in automatic water dispensing faucets,
soap dispensers, towel dispensers and reasonably soft toilet paper—but don’t
count on it.
- First class Turkish wines, but expensive. In the U.S. we drink the same
quality for less than half the price. We can even get Turkish wine here for
less than we had to pay for it in first class restaurants—even after
bargaining the price down.
- A beef feedlot outside Kastamonou. Beef has replaced lamb/mutton in many
dishes to the detriment of the dishes. The food generally was not as good
as I’d remembered in ordinary eateries, such as lunch at roadside
restaurants. It was still possible to find great food, but it required going
to expensive restaurants, but even there fish was often over-cooked. An
exception was soup. Great soups everywhere: Ezo Gelin, Mercimek, Yayla,
- A woman doing Sudoku.
- Many greenhouses in villages. Many village houses with TV dishes and solar
hot water heaters on the roof. Village housing generally seemed modernized,
although I did not visit a village house. Most farming appeared mechanized.
Most villages had new mosques.
- A teenage girl in a village playing soccer with two teenage boys. Her head
was not covered.
- Plastic and cardboard collectors on the street. Also plastic bottle cap
collection containers hanging about and people seemed to use them. Bottled
water used by everyone.
- Ultra modern and efficient airports. And THY is rated # 1 among European
airlines. Well deserved. Great way to fly.
- Merchants hawking tourist wares were polite and waited for a show of
interest, rather than hustling customers. Bargaining is still the norm and
tough. Our Turkish friends bought a small kilim that started at 400TL.
Eventually, they got it for 250, but they were more rude than I could have
- Towns appeared to have more distinct characters along religious lines. In
Cankiri and Inebolu, for example, there was not a single restaurant in which
alcohol was served and veiled young women were the norm. In Cankiri we went
to the best restaurant where they said they’d never had a tourist before in
their 5 years of operation. In Amasra, Kastamonou, and Sivas the religious
veiling was rare among young women on the street. Outside Kastamonou in a
village, a middle-aged woman with beautiful long hair in a ponytail was
herding cows. No head scarf. In the same village a girl of about 18
approached us to sell fruit. No headscarf of any kind.
- Fragments of conversations with an older couple running one of our hotels:
“In my day, as parents, we worried—especially for our daughters—about sex.
Today’s parents worry about drugs.” “I’m a retired military officer, so I
am looked upon with suspicion. I have to be careful. I have a friend who is
very angry about what is going on and he is outspoken about it. I’ve told
him he is risking arrest by what he says publicly, but he is too angry to
keep quiet. I am sure he will be arrested soon. It is not possible to be
outspoken against the government today.”
- In the hotels: Even when paying 40 Euro and up, the bathrooms still don’t
always have plumbing with sewer gas traps, so some of the bathrooms smelled
of sewer gas—one in a modern building. It was so strong that we had to keep
all the windows open. No evidence of sewer line breathing pipes even in new
construction. Bathroom construction even in nice hotels often has some
idiosyncrasy that makes you scratch your head. Generally, Turkey needs
plumbing codes and inspection of plumbing in all construction.
- Shopkeepers sprinkling water on the sidewalk in front of their shop and in
- Gardeners still water plants and even lawns with an open-ended hose. Very
expensive hotels with lawns did have sprinkler systems.
- In the old sections of Anatolian towns, small shopkeepers are unchanged. A
single tailor in a 7x9 ft. space with a single sewing machine. Sellers of
various wares in front of small shops whiling away the hours, sitting on
stools with the occasional tea and seemingly even more occasional customer.
- Lots of bread still served and eaten with meals. In the truck stops, half
a loaf per person was the norm and some people asked for more. Much of the
bread now uses bleached flour, but it was still possible to get some of the
good stuff, some of the great pide, and a new thing was multi-grain in high
- Jaywalking. Pedestrians crossing everywhere at all times, dodging
traffic. The difference now is that the cities are much more populous in
both cars and people, so the art of jaywalking and avoiding hitting
jaywalkers is of a high level.
- Drivers still create a third lane when someone is passing where they
should not be. No one panics. They just adjust. It works.
- When you’re having a conversation in a group, if one man decides to light
up, he offers every other person a cigarette first. High rates of smoking
continue among men. It seemed to me that smoking was common among young
professional women, also.
- The sidewalks, which are packed with people, are often treacherous. Many
ways to trip or fall due to uneven surfaces, depressions, and significant
- Simitci’s still roam the streets. Simits are still delicious if you buy
them fresh and terrible if you don’t. The answer to the question, "Taze mi?"
is always "Demin firindan cikti, abey." or some version thereof.
- There are still a lot of men sitting idle everywhere—young, middle aged,
old. Some in groups but often singly. Many hours seemingly doing nothing.
I’ve asked several economists why Turkey’s economy is robust despite its
high un- and under-employment, while the U.S. economy is considered in the
tank with an 8% unemployment figure. No one gives a credible explanation.
- You can still get things done by asking someone who knows someone. Our car
battery was dead in Cankiri. It was Sunday morning. All car parts places
were closed. “No problem,” said the hotel receptionist. He called the owner
of the hotel who happened to also own a car parts store. He sent a
technician to verify that the problem was the battery. The technician
arrived within minutes, verified that the old battery was a goner and called
the boss from his cell. Minutes later the owner arrived in his high end
Mercedes and produced the right sized battery for our vehicle from his
trunk. We were delayed only ½ an hour.
- Sexism and ageism. A sign on a lamppost in Ankara: Wanted: a female
employee, aged 17-35. No indication as to what the employee would do.
Also, many signs in windows of stores indicating the gender desired for
- Parking remains every which way you can get away with most places. And
with the proliferation of cars, it's a # 1 problem.
- You can still get oralet—if you’ve been missing it.
- You still get menus showing many things that the restaurant actually does
not have. But, of course, after the first day you remember to start by
asking the waiter what they have, rather than by reading the menu.
- Men walking arm in arm is now rare, but I did still see it. They were over
- Still a lot of trash casually tossed in public places. Sign in Yozgat
national forest where clearly Sunday picnicking is the local pastime:
Along with your memories, please take home your trash.
- Sign in a museum: Do not cross beyond the rope. Second sign beneath
it: Please obey the rules. We had a laugh over this later in another
museum where the second sign was missing and a group of Turkish tourists was
having fun beyond the roped off area, having their pictures taken with the
mannequins representing Ottoman life. As Erol observed, “The problem in this
museum is that they forgot the sign saying that it was necessary to obey the
- Hospitality remains generous. We received invitations to join in on
weddings everywhere. We stopped at a gas station to use a restroom without
buying gas and asked if they had tea, thinking we’d at least buy tea. We
had our tea and the man was adamant that he served tea as a matter of
hospitality and not for pay. He refused to take any money. And there
remains the genuine warmth--even in this age when polls show mostly hostile
feelings about the U.S. among Turks--that I felt when complete strangers
approached me on the street and said, "Basin sagolsun!" in the days after
The above does not do the subject justice. Just sharing a few observations.
It was great to go back and find Gazi Egitim Enstitusu still in place and to
re-visit the Ataturk Anit Kabiri. Yes, there has been a lot of change. Some
of it clearly good for the inhabitants. Some not. Some of it necessary in
the 21st century. Fortunately, some important things have not
changed. Wonderful people. Great sites to visit and sights to see. Excellent
fruits and vegetables and plenty of everything good to eat. An ever
improving infrastructure of hotels, services, transportation. No better
place for a vacation and so many options for where and how to do it!