Monday, August 29, 2011

(Today, we heading out on a road trip for the bayram. My husband, Jason, decided he wanted to write a guest post as a prelude to this adventure. Iyi bayramlar!)

Hello to all Joy’s followers and readers!

If you’ve been a long-time follower of the blog, you probably know more about what I eat and where I travel than I do. I have been thinking about adding to the blog content for a while, but I have to admit…it is harder than I thought. If you don’t blog, it is far more time consuming than I would have guessed; and for those who do, you can probably appreciate the effort Joy puts into her work.

With that intro, I thought I’d try and tackle a subject Joy has limited experience in Turkey. In fact, until July, she had zero experience in this subject, but managed to tick the box when she was in Cappadocia. The subject I am referring to is Turkish driving.  

Yes, I drive in Turkey. Believe that.

Every day, I commute from Europe to Asia and back again. I realize that is a technicality, but if you get stuck in traffic for an hour or two, you would look for ways to justify it too.  

The other impetus for the blog is that we are about to head off on our most substantial Turkish road-trip to date. We’ll be driving from Istanbul to Ayvalık, a small, seaside town on the northwestern Aegean coast, to Ephesus and back in just 3 ½ days.

Generally, Joy is quite good at providing pictures for her blog. Unfortunately, I nearly caused three accidents and almost lost my iPhone attempting such coverage, so you’ll have to rely on text for this blog post. 
Facing the Dolmabache Palace: the best example of rush hour traffic along the shore road
I could find in my photo stash.
Drive on the Right Side
I guess I should start with the basics. In Turkey, people drive on the right-hand side of the road (i.e. how I learned in the U.S.). At the risk of demonstrating my ignorance, this is surprising to me given the British influence in the Middle East, following the fall of the Ottoman Empire. I thought I would be driving on the left side. That said, maybe the French helped me out here. If anyone out there knows the background, please e-mail Joy.

So, if you’re thinking about tackling driving in Turkey, at least you know which side of the street you’ll be on.

Now the rules of the road…they do exist, I’m just not certain anyone follows them.

It never ceases to amaze my Turkish friends and co-workers that I brave the mean streets of Istanbul. While the drivers are crazy, it is a kind of organized bedlam. Yes, you should stop at red lights, you should yield to oncoming traffic and you should be cognizant of other drivers.

Be Aware!
To be fair the only rule you really need to observe is to watch the other guy.  Basically you need to keep your head on swivel to make sure you are watching in front of you, behind you and to both sides.

Expect traffic to come from all sides at all times!

Be Aggressive!
Let me first address my term of organized bedlam. When you drive in Turkey, you should expect a certain level of aggressiveness. Will the mini-bus to your left try and cut you off? You best believe it.

Will there be at least three cars behind the ambulance to take advantage of the sirens? Of course!

Will the taxi driver attempt a “K-turn” in rush hour traffic, or drive down a one-way street in the wrong direction? Why not?

That said, if you try any of the same maneuvers, ones that may even get you shot at in the U.S., many Turkish drivers will understand and accommodate you. Occasionally, they will even give you a nod of respect if you pull if off with pizzazz.

4 Types of Honking in Turkey
Leading from that nod of respect is the second point - road etiquette. The first thing that comes to mind is the use of the horn. This can be both offensive as well as defensive, and you should be prepared to use it both ways. (In Turkey, there appears to be four types of honking.)

  • Angry Honk: For those readers from the US, do not be surprised if you hear the usual “angry honk.” You know what I am talking about. This is the one for the guy who just cut you off without looking or did some other equally inconsiderate action. Typically, this is a longer honk possibly accompanied by a string of profanities that only you can hear, but oddly justify your vigorous honk.
  • Polite Acknowledger: There is also the “polite aknowledger” which is when you honk to let someone know that you approve of the other illegal move they’re about to engage in is sanctioned.  Typically, this is mid-level honk accompanied by eye contact if possible.

  • Inquisitive Taxi: There is also the “inquisitive taxi” which is pretty much as you’d expect. As a pedestrian, you can be guaranteed that any taxi going in the same direction as you will give the slightest tap to the horn to see if you need a ride. This seems innocuous enough until the 15th cabbie honks at you when don’t see them, causing you to jump out of your skin.

  • I’m here!: While there are many horn voices, you also should be aware of the “I’m here!” horn. This is reserved for when a bus or truck attempts to occupy the same location on the highway where you currently are. I typically engage in a manic stomping of the horn while attempting evasive maneuvers. This also happens in the U.S. and U.K., but typically the larger vehicle attempts a gentle transition. Not so in Turkey…expect quick decisive maneuvers.
One of the major roads in 4Levent that often gets crowded during rush hour in Istanbul.
Shifting Gears
Quick and decisive driving leads me to the final point I’ll make on Turkish driving. Almost every male Turk I’ve driven with seems to channel their secret Indy One driver. So if you approach the Turkish roads as a race-track, it will make imminent sense.

One example is even how some Turkish drivers shift gears. I first noticed this last year when I had car service to and from home to work (those were the days).

I will do my best to describe it, but imagine you’re up-shifting from 2nd to 3rd or 4th to 5th. For most cars this means that the shifter ends up in the direction of the dash. Now imagine that as you up-shift, you develop an aura of superiority, you aggressively shift up into 3rd or 5th finishing by slowly lift your hand from the stick once it is in gear. This feeling and aura should last until your hand reaches the same level as the top of the steering wheel. At that point, your hand hovers for just a second as if you’re saying “yeah, that’s right, I up-shifted…” and should be accompanied by the prerequisite smirk.

So…should you brave driving in Turkey? Of course!! If you have the option and gumption, do not wuss out. Just give driving a shot!

(Disclaimer: Please note, driving qualifications are subject to the legal regulations of your respective country).   

Tagged: ,


Julia said...

I love driving in Turkey just because of the organised bedlam. You can't go wrong. ;) Safe travels to you two during the hectic Bayram traffic. Take care.

Joy said...

Hubby drove the whole time during bayram. Driving was interesting as many people don't pay attention so he always has to watch for everyone's moves! A little nerve-wracking on the many winding roads here!

Anonymous said...

Well my brother, it sounds to me like you found a whole nation of individuals that embrace the style of driving your were born with! ;) That said, I loved your post, it really gives the reader a sense of what to expect, or simply what it's like on the streets of Turkey! Well done and BE SAFE!

Joy said...

Thanks for your comment Adam! Wish you could come visit us! =)

Sheryl Sparks said...

I loved that -- It is so true -- My favorite horn honk is the three fast in a row which means . . . "get off the sidewalk, I want to park there!" Great job!

Terry said...

Excellent post Jason! My Turkish femal friends are amazed that I drive in Ankara. On my first trip to Istanbul for the marathon, we couldn't find a place to park near the start of the race. So I kicked myhusband out of the car and told him I would meet him at the finish. And that I did! You can imagine the difficulties with all of the road closures and my GPS wanting to take me back to the same bridge. The Istanbul traffic didn't even phase me at the time since I was concentrating on other things! Kudos to you for getting through that madness everyday and for an excellent post!

Joy said...

@Terry, I'll pass along your comments to hubby. Thank you. You are quite brave for driving here!