You know I mentioned my estate agent? I begin confidentially, as I set my lunch tray down next to a colleague’s in the school cafeteria. Friendly guy, very kind, very helpful. She nods, noting my flustered expression as I sit down.
He’s trying to sleep with you now, I suppose? is all she says.
That instinctive response pretty much sums up my experience of male-female relations since I’ve been here. I’ve never encountered anything like Turkish men in my life. As soon as they meet a foreign woman, they automatically try to have sex with her. I was rather flattered at first, not being someone who tends to get hit on a lot, but within just a few days I had already heard the same lines so many times that I knew they were meaningless.
These men, for some reason I have yet to establish, desperately want sex with a foreign woman. Any foreign woman. Looks unimportant, personality not required, no conversation necessary. I honestly believe I could have open, oozing sores on my face, a bad case of pinkeye, rotting teeth, and nothing to talk about but the colour of the wallpaper, and men would latch on to me as soon as they heard my exotic accent. Their goal is simple: sex with a foreign woman.
I have met one or two exceptions to this rule, and I am increasingly keen to build good friendships with them as I discover how unlikely that is to happen with the majority of Turkish men I meet. The majority have no desire to chat and be friends, as helpful and generous as they are – the conversation can only go so far before they swamp it in tired, meaningless lines. You have the most beautiful eyes I have ever seen. Your lips look so soft. You are very beautiful. Are all people from your country as nice as you? I want to spend all my time with you.
I’m learning to roll my eyes and make a polite escape at the first opportunity, because they really, really mean that last one. I went for dinner with the guy I met on my first day here, the one who approached me on the bridge and showed me to the fish boats. He was nothing but chivalrous, insisting on paying for everything we did, and showering me with compliments, and I was admittedly enjoying the attention. Within about 2 hours of meeting me, however, he was trying to hold my hand as if we were an established, smitten couple. TWO HOURS!
I agreed to see him again, but found myself suddenly besieged by messages from him in the meantime. What are you doing? Where are you? Why didn’t you reply earlier? Did you meet another guy? I don’t want to lose you. Lose me?! I wasn’t even sure I’d recognise him next time I saw him. Seriously unimpressed, I decided to keep my word about meeting him again, but cunningly invited him to join me at a Couchsurfers’ party in a crowded bar. I’m going there to meet people, I told him. He seemed to have no concept of this. I will go only to be with you, he said devotedly.
When he arrived, he pulled me aside to a table in a dark corner, where we sat in total silence, surrounded by chatting groups of people who would never approach us because we looked like a couple having a bad date. Every attempt I made at conversation was met with a nod or the briefest of brief replies. I don’t understand it, I exclaimed to a friend a few days later. They become obsessive and clingy, and yet when they’ve got you there they seem to have no desire to talk to you. It makes no sense!
Eventually, I made the excuse of going to the bar for another drink, and tried to get lost in the crowd, whereupon two of the lovely, rare, genuinely friendly guys I mentioned earlier asked me to join them. Upon seeing me having a light-hearted conversation with them, Saygin slammed his drink down on the bar and stormed out without a word. It was like a whole relationship, marriage, and divorce in the space of 72 hours, and I don’t think he even asked me a single thing about myself. Unbelievable – and totally the norm, from what I can tell.
I don’t know if it’s that Turkish women are less outgoing, or that foreign women have a reputation for being easy, or what. I am on a mission to discover the mentality of the men here. Gorgeous, dreamily handsome, attractive men whose eyes would make you melt if the effect wasn’t spoiled by the frivolous words that accompany them – and often shameless groping or other unnecessary physical contact. Why do they do it?! They must know they’re ruining their chances. They must realise that they could easily get a girl if they behaved more appropriately. I’ve heard more than one woman say that if the latest guy had just chatted with her and asked her out on a date, she would have said yes. If he’d just been… you know, normal. A nice, friendly guy showing a sane amount of interest in a woman. I had one man follow me for about an hour without ever approaching me, and another one refusing to leave me alone as I walked down the street, despite the fact that we didn’t speak a word of each other’s language.
And now my estate agent is trying to seduce me. It is mental, I’m telling you. The thing is, I do like him, I confide to my colleague. He’s very reliable and generous, and I actually enjoy talking to him despite the monotony of constantly steering the conversation away from sex. He’s likable, in a cheeky charmer sort of way. But…
But if you try to be friends with him, he’ll see it as a challenge to bed you? laughs my colleague.
I stretch out my hands, exasperated. It’s ridiculous! I thought he was a safe bet because he’s married. But nooooo…. as soon as the wife’s out of sight…
I used to be envious of the slim, beautiful, glamorous, confident girls who complain about wolf-whistling and constant flirting. That’s not something I’ve ever had to deal with, and I always wistfully thought it must be nice to have such incessant male attention. Well, to any wallflower like me who feels the way I did, I say this: move to Turkey and I give you a week before you change your mind. It’s exhausting, and extremely annoying once the novelty wears off and you’d just love to have a decent conversation with a man.
I have set myself a rule. I will refuse to meet up with any Turkish man unless he can tell me at least 5 things he knows about me (other than the ridiculous, empty, recycled chat-up lines, of course…. yeah, sure, my eyes are beautiful, but what colour are they, huh, and what’s my favourite TV show at the moment?!).
Apart from the estate agent, because I actually need him. I do have fly swatters that I use for flashcard games with the kids, though. Might take one home with me.