Day 26 of 32 – The Familiar Strange

9 Dec

After spending over three weeks in a (culturally) foreign land I found myself surprised by how accustomed I’d become to my surroundings. This (mild) shock revealed itself when I left Istanbul after 24 days and arrived in Luxembourg. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this county, it’s a smaller Switzerland minus the mountains and the Italians.

The first thing to hit me was the language. I went from being able to understand nothing to understanding almost everything being said by the people around me. The locals in Luxembourg speak a mixture of German, English, and French. Back in Istanbul (even after three weeks) I remained unable to perform even basic identification of the Turkish language. If a given conversation on which I was eavesdropping did not include their most popular word (tamam; means “good”) I was defeated.

Turks (in general) look like Turks. Brown or black hair, dark complexion. Beards on the men. They don’t look Arab. They don’t look Greek. They just look Turkish. You’ll understand what I mean after about five minutes observation of the hordes of people that are constantly marching up and down Istikal Street. But there are some exceptions. I met one Turk who looked like he was from Norway. Often times the women dye their hair blond – this makes identification more difficult.

I did develop some scene-specific workarounds. In my favourite pub in Istanbul if one of the servers was talking with a customer who did not appear Turkish, by default the customer was probably Turkish. I was able to deduce this from that fact that most of the people who worked at this bar spoke Turkish.

But to be fair they could have been speaking Armenian or Kurdish. Most likely Kurdish (on my last day there my favourite server informed me that she was in fact a Kurd). There are lots of Kurds in Turkey and their situation is not the best. I was doing some research for a project and I discovered that the Kurdish alphabet (the latin one) has a bunch of letters that aren’t in the Turkish one. But the thing is, the “extra” letters were not officially recognized / supported by the Turkish government – effectively limiting parents from naming their children certain ethnic Kurdish names. This situation has since been corrected.

Anyway, after visiting Luxembourg, this got me thinking – how is it that Luxembourg exists and Kurdistan does not? From what I can tell Luxembourg should be part of Germany or France. It’s main industry is banking and tax avoision (i.e. it has no actual industry – basically – all graft, no host). They speak German and French. Plus there are only like 100,000 Luxembergers. There’s more Kurds than there are Canadians yet there is no Kurdistan proper.

The Basque people must be scratching their heads in amazement (or bombing things in anger) that stupid Luxembourg gets to exist as an independent self-governing state and Basque does not. I know my training as an engineer doesn’t really qualify me to comment intelligently on these topics, but I think my position as an empathetic human who has traveled extensively to many countries gives me some leeway.

The other things that surprised me after arriving in LUX were the existence of women’s arms and necklines as well as the physical contact (general touchiness) of people I’d just recently met. When I first got there I stationed myself at the bar of Kafe Konrad for 5 hours while Dan went to “work”. And the server (Sylvia) was wearing a black sleeveless tank top with a… generous(?) neckline. And I thought: “Holy crap. I have not seen a woman dressed like this since I left Canada”*.

Istanbul is a pretty liberal city and the women dress well, but there’s a modesty to their appearance. They always look good (makeup, hair) and they wear tight clothing but they use the layer system. Also, it’s winter so there’s practical reasons why they choose not to show off a lot of skin.

So when Dan came to drag me away (thanks buddy) from my new favourite place in the whole world (by virtue of my awesomeness I got a free, giant cookie, a free glass of Gluhwein, and a free bowl of Thai soup), Sylvia gave me a big hug. Compare that with the pub in Istanbul where I went every day for 24 straight days and the servers were very contact-free with the goodbyes before I left for Paris.

To drive the point home, the next morning when Dan and I were leaving his place, we bumped into Sylvia (by coincidence she lives next door). When I saw her I started to laugh because she’s exactly one of two people I know in the whole, tiny county. So she was laughing too and I went in for the hug but (being Spanish) she went in for the kiss. In my culture the man has to cook a seven-course meal for a girl on the seventh date after seven weeks before he get’s a kiss (it’s called the rule of three sevens). Apparently this rule does not exist in Spanish Luxembourg. Or if it does, it’s not enforced.

Look, you can see her arms and my bewilderment.

Look, you can see her arms and my bewilderment.


I returned to my favourite Istanbul pub to publish this post and say final goodbyes. I was treated to some delicious, spiced potatoes (deep-fried). I love this place.

*What I was actually thinking was, “Holy crap! I have not seen a woman’s boobs or arms since I left Canada.”

2 Responses to “Day 26 of 32 – The Familiar Strange”

  1. Jill Bates December 10, 2014 at 01:27 #

    OK, Jason – what is it that you DO to be able to travel so much!? I want your job… though maybe travel with three little monsters wouldn’t be practical… anyway – just curious (read: jealous!) Jill

    • Die Hard Three December 25, 2014 at 10:08 #

      It’s cause I’m not working that I can travel 🙂 you just have to look for the seat sales – the flight YOW to IST was only $647 CDN

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