It's a Big Old Goofy World...
30 September 2009 | Yacht Marine Marina, Marmaris, Turkey!
There's an old joke about Canadians that goes something like this:
Question: How do you get a crowd of Canadians out of your pool on the hottest day of the summer?
Answer: Say "Could everyone please get out of the pool?"
This is meant to say that Canadians have a bit of a reputation for being tediously polite conformists. Some people have gone so far as to accuse us of being boring. While the Americans believe in "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" and the French ascribe to "liberté, égalité, fraternité", we Canadians have taken "peace, order and good government" as our motto. It's a bit embarrassing, but there it is.
So, you can imagine my mortification yesterday, when a very angry man with a strong Germanic accent accused me of queue-jumping in the marina office. Which was ridiculous. Of course I wasn't queue-jumping. There are no queues here. The Yacht Marine office is a confusing place, with four desks manned by marina staff around the periphery of the room and several armchairs in the middle. If everyone is busy, you take a chair and wait. But how do you know who came in before whom? Any more than four people in the chairs and things deteriorate. My preferred strategy is to find a comfortable armchair, settle down with a good book and wait until someone decides that it's my turn. To improve my chances of eventually being helped, I look up and smile hopefully at a staff person from time to time. My strategy must have worked better than the angry man's, because I got called before him. He was certain that he had arrived before me, and he was furious. Even though both I and the marina agent instantly and simultaneously agreed to let him take my place, he would not be placated. Maybe he was just having a bad day. But by then, thanks to him, so was I.
After a long hot day of working on the boat, we cheered ourselves up with a nice swim in the marina pool and then took in the "end of summer" party in the marina restaurant. A huge buffet with lots of Turkish treats, complementary wine and beer, and a performance by traditional Turkish dancers... it was great! Except that just as we were starting to eat our dinner, another man (who would have gotten along famously with the angry guy in the office) came up and accused me of stealing his seat, while his wife berated their friends at the other end of the table for letting me "get away with it". Twice in one day!! So in the middle of our meal we had to pick up our plates and cutlery and find new seats. Fortunately, it all turned out well in the end, because we met some very friendly people and had a nice evening. Little did I know that my next faux-pas was just over the horizon.
With two very large bags of laundry to be washed, I decided to pay the extra to have the laundryroom staff do it for me. I couldn't believe my good fortune when the price they quoted me (25 TL) was actually less than I had paid to do two smaller loads in the self-service last week. I wondered why anyone ever used the self-service, but it all became clear when I returned to pick up my laundry. Was it my imagination, or did the staff person look a little annoyed with me? She passed me my bags, then motioned me over to a sign on the wall. "Washing of underwear is self-service only". Oops. I scurried back to the boat to look up "I'm sorry" in our Turkish phrasebook. Then I unpacked the laundry, and found that our underwear had been washed, but not dried, and separated into little "his and her" mesh bags.
It's funny how little experiences like these can make us feel like we are a very long way from home. And it got me thinking ...travelers, fairly or unfairly, become unwitting ambassadors of their countries. We need to be constantly aware that our behaviour can colour people's impressions of our home countries, and that cultural differences affect how people react in certain situations. Customs and actions that are usual and acceptable in one culture may be considered rude and unacceptable in another. In Turkey it's considered impolite to cross your legs, to show the soles of your feet and, apparently, to expect a stranger to wash your undies. So perhaps, in certain northern European countries, there is a strict and mysterious protocol for assigning places in queues and seats at parties.
In any case, I've vowed to be on my best behaviour for the rest of my stay. But when I go for my swim this afternoon, don't even think about asking me to get out of the pool!