I wrote this blog post when I was feeling very low after experiencing sexual harrassment whilst hitchhiking. This post is not meant to scare women, and I hope that you will find the comments section at the bottom useful, as a number of people have commented.
I have previously written a lot about Turkey, gushing about the people, the culture, the nature. And whilst I still love Turkey, it is certainly a country of deep contrasts. There is super-traditonal next to super-modern; hideous five-star hotels close to poor farmers´ houses; modern women walking alongside the traditional women who wear headscarves and baggy Turkish trousers; a generosity and kindness that I have known nowhere else, and yet a huge amount of racism towards Kurdish people.
And I have experienced contrasts with the men, too. I have hitchhiked hundreds of cars here, and I have always encouraged women who want to hitchhike alone, as most people think that we shouldn’t do it. However, I want to list my bad experiences here, because sadly they are starting to add up (BUT the good experiences far outweigh the bad).
– Yesterday I started hitchhiking alone since sadly parting with my friend, Julien. One of the last things I had said to him was, ‘I am not looking forward to the hitchhike along the Mediterranean coast because last year I got offered money for sex.’ Sure enough the conversation in the FIRST car went like this:
man: ‘do you like whisky?’
‘do you like Turkish men?’
‘I don’t understand you. I speak very little Turkish.’
‘do you like sex?’
‘NO. Stop the car now. I am going now.’
‘no, no. If you don’t want sex, no problem’.
(Ten minutes pass)
man: ‘sex is a good way for a woman to make money.’
‘stop the car now.’
‘no, I don’t want sex, I am just saying.’
This was between the towns of Adrasan and Antalya on the south coast.
– Last year, on the same coast, a young man offered me 500 Lira for sex. I angrily got out of the car.
This happened close to Alanya.
– On the Black Sea coast, a man told me that he would take me hundreds of kilometres out of his direction, and then started asking me inappropriate questions. Again I angrily got out of the car.
– Close to the Turkey-Bulgaria border my truck driver got out of his truck to help me with my luggage. As I stepped down from the truck, he grabbed my arse. When I shouted angrily at him, he replied, ‘but I have sorted you another truck ride!’ (Because he had called a co-driver to take me over the border and therefore felt he was owed something).
– Hitchhiking between Ankara and Istanbul, a long-distance bus took me for free (which is not unusual in super-generous Turkey). However, for the whole journey I had hassle from one of the workers on the bus, who asked me inappropriate questions.
– My worst experience has been between Manavgat and Antalya, also on the Mediterranean coast. I DID NOT follow my gut instincts, and you should always follow your gut instinct as a hitchhiker. I got in the car because it was getting dark and I wanted to get to Antalya. As it got dark, the man drove me off the motorway down a very dark country road, heading away from Antalya, and saying, ‘me and you have dinner together’. I said no, and he replied, ‘me and you go together’. I stayed calm and explained that I had a boyfriend who I loved very much. He saw sense and drove back to the motorway. This is the only time where I have thought, ‘I could be in trouble here.’
– On the road close to Kaş (also on the Mediterranean coast!) a young driver put his hand on my leg and took my hand in his. I ordered him to stop the car.
– In a car going down to Olympos (hoho, also on the Mediterranean!) a man in a car asked me if I had a boyfriend. I made up a Turkish boyfriend, and he replied, ‘so you can have sex with me. I am Turkish!’
There have also been maybe two or three more times when I have asked drivers to stop the car. And countless times where the driver has rubbed his two index fingers together. This is a gesture that most women travelling in Turkey will see. It can mean many things, but more often than not it means sex.
However, like I say, Turkey is a country of contrasts, and although I have had these bad experiences, the amazing experiences have far outweighed the bad ones. I have had many invites to drink tea with lovely people, invites into family houses and eaten dinner, bus drivers taking me long distances for free out of kindness, men paying for bus tickets for me because they are concerned about my safety. I have slept in drivers’ houses with no problems. I have met so many amazingly kind people through hitchhiking.
I have also written a more positive note on hitchhiking in Turkey here.
I will still hitchhike alone in Turkey, but I thought I should write about these experiences for other hitchhikers. None of my bad experiences have ever been physically threatening and the driver has always stopped when I demanded strongly. I just think women need to develop a thick skin in Turkey. And there are obvious precautions I take when hitchhiking: I follow my gut instinct and am not afraid to say ‘no’ to drivers who stop. I say ‘no’ every day in Turkey. It’s better to be overly precautious. I don’t really wear makeup, and I wear baggy clothes. I never get in a car whose reply to my ‘where are you goıng?’ is ‘where are you going?’
It is also important to bear in mind that Turkey is by far the country where I have hitchhiked the most. I have taken hundreds of cars here, and so of course the odds of bad experiences are greater. Having said that, Germany is the country where I have hitched the most after Turkey, and I have had ZERO problems. I believe that the patriarchal society of Turkey and the beliefs about a woman’s role in life are responsible for the problems here. Turkish women would not usually travel alone, let alone hitchhike alone. Also, the fact that there are many package tourists does not help the image of foreign women in Turkey (but I am not blaming the package tourists for male chauvinism!)
I am having a break from hitchhiking here for a few days. I don’t feel positive enough right now, and I also had an uneasy experience with my Couchsurfing host, whom I had previously stayed with and trusted. It seemed to me that this time he was expecting to have sex. So I am getting buses for a couple of days! (And hurrah! I can now argue in Turkish with bus ticket sellers who try to rip me off! And I get my money back!)
I would like to hear other people’s experiences of hitchhiking alone in Turkey (and male hitchhikers, too, because men sometimes also get hassle).
I am very much looking forward to my trip back to Georgia and onwards to Armenia. I think I am ready for a break from Turkey for a week!!
38 thoughts on “An Update About Hitchhiking Solo As A Female In Turkey”
look after yourself darling Lisa!! xoxo
Some interesting thoughts. Being asked for sex always makes me feel a bit gross, but it’s been the same with me that whenever I have demanded the car to stop (in Turkey) it has stopped. My two most hitchhiked countries are probably Turkey and Spain and I can say that I experienced the same level of sexual harassment in each. In Spain one time the driver would not stop and I had to open the door of the car while it was still moving in order to make him stop. Fortunately, he stopped long enough for me to get my bag out from the boot.
I just got back to Armenia after 6 weeks traveling alone around Iran. I did not hitchhike alone much there – only 3km into town and back once, and I only rarely hitchhiked with other people, but the experience of traveling alone there was a lot more intense than in Turkey and I had a lot of (sexual) problems.
I don’t know what, if any, conclusions can be drawn from this. It does seem that in some countries it is more dangerous than others to travel alone as a female, but of course we all know that any situation could occur in any country. My own observations have led me to the idea that gender segregation tends to lead to an ‘othering’ of members of the ‘opposite’ sex, which can lead to a demonisation and/or mystification and eroticisation of the female sex by many of the men within that society. It seems to me that the more segregated the genders are, the deeper the problems could potentially develop.
How this explains my experience of Spain, I don’t know…
P.S. I would suggest for you to link to this on the Hitchwiki Turkey page, the Hitchwiki forum and the CS Hitchhikers Group.
Lıke I said, Turkey is a country of contrasts and here in Kars in the north-east, a man just paid for my dinner. He wanted no conversation, he didnt want to sit with me. He paid for my food and walked out of the lokanta and the lokanta staff told me he had done it 🙂
Thanks for the sharing, I am cycling/camping through Turkey now and I find all this helpful as I sometimes end up in random situations in the middle of nowhere. After being harrassed by a man in Albania I am now a lot more wary.
I lived in Cappadocia Turkey for a few years, hitchhiking locally was no problem at all, I’d get a lift within minutes and the drivers always very polite and delighted that I could converse with them in Turkish. However hitchhiking as I did from Ankara up to the Black sea and other locations was a different experience… I always cover and speak both Turkish and some Arabic… I could have had a tape recorder.. It would go like this I would get in the truck or car, ‘Merhaba, Where are you going… Oh you speak Turkish… etc then within about 10 mins oh sen cok guzel.. your very pretty, your nice.. sen ben sex yapiyorus… you me we have sex!! No.. you have wife, oh yes I have wife your wife is like my sister,, ‘astufurullah haram’, ‘God forbid, you are a Moslem’ this is haram. Are you not afraid to speak like this? If they continued I would say in Arabic ‘Oh Allah protect me from the shatan’!! They would first be shocked that I knew this expression in Arabic and secondly feel embarrassed. No more would be said and from then on they were polite and made sure I reached my destination! On one journey in which I felt particularly uncomfortable, bad energy … I told the guy that my son was shortly arriving in Turkey that he was a high ranking policeman etc He ended up having previously been trying to chat me up and with night time approaching said he was staying with his sister and her baby and I could stay with them,(a ploy to make me believe it would be safe) Anyway he later suddenly stopped his truck and left me on a busy road miles from the city center in the dark! Turkish men like these are on the whole quite child like they think western girls are up for it ( in truth a lot are!) In the tourist areas like Goreme Cas, Fethiye etc young girls arrive get drunk and have few morals in their sexual behaviour. Men can have a different girl every week or two its so easy… They are not on two week holidays for many it is a way of life for at least seven months a year! Within their own culture they are fiercely protective over their girls/women.. I found the Arabs that I hitched with far more polite and respectful in Syria, Lebanon Sinai etc.. The bedouins however have become corrupted as they survive off tourism..
Experiences do vary! I have lived around 3/5 years in Turkey and I ve seen a lot of stuff trust me. If I was a girl, personally I would not hitchhike alone (I am not saying that rest of you should not, but just to be safe).
I hitchhiked couple of times to Greece and I will bring an example of my last voyage( one girl and myself). First three drivers (until we reached Greek border) were the best people ever! 1st man gave us food and drinks, offered money and took us really far(beyond his destination) just so we could reach Greece in time. 2nd man also drove us in the same manner, third Truck driver took us all the way to our destination Thessaloniki, paid like 3 meals that had cost over 20euro, gave us his bed in the truck to be comfortable, we used his internet, we staid in touch through facebook etc..golden guy seriously.
On the way back…total contradiction. First truck driver from Thessaloniki to the Ipsala border, he was a older pervert. Dozen of porno movies scattered across his cabin, rude and loud, when I slept due to exhaustion he was grabbing the girl’s legs, showing her the tongue and asking for sex. I can only imagine what could have happened if I wasn’t there and if she was all alone (and she is quite small and does not posses strength do defend herself).
People on the street were awkward as well, they kept asking us are you crazy, are you refugees, where do you ago etc…
so bottom line is that you are never sure. There is like 50-50 chance, either you will get the nicest driver who will feed and shelter you, give you money, food, map and supplies or you could bump into sex crazed guy who will drive you off somewhere/be very rude and violent and cetra.
Hey lisa, thanks for sharing your experience. i lived and travelled in the Middle East for about 2years, and most of my travelling (in fact 80%) was via HH, alone or in rare cases with a partner
In Georgia, i HH alone, and it came natural for me, knowing Georgian i think sort of helped and people usually took me home to their families and even made follow up phone calls to see if i was okay
I lived for 6months on the GEORGIA – TURKEY border, and whenever i was leaving BATUMI, my driver was almost always TURKISH, and the experience you described is so familiar. You get the turkish driver that just wants to offer you food and tea, i got the one that grabbed my ass in an attempt to ‘help me’ into the truck, and one who was insisting we go to Turkey together so refusing to stop in BATUMI and driving on out of town when it was already midnight
I HH in armenia, had no problems but was offered so much booze i am almost always drunk when HH in Armenia,
Azerbaijan, slightly smiliar story to Turkey, including a driver who told me off for wearing long and baggy pants. He said, ‘all the foreign women travelling in Azerbaijan wear this, (gesturing half way up his legs) but why are you dressed like this, in long trousers’..i said it was a choice!
Offers for sex for laughable amounts of money (50manat), not that i would do it for any amount
You never get much redemption in IRAN, like you said ‘never get in a car with someone whose answer to where are you going, is where are you going’, the one experience i had was a driver who insisted on splitting up my friend (a guy) and i. They were transporting oranges from the coast along the caspian sea. So he was like, my friend is driving behind me, if you want more space we can get one of you to ride with him, but you (meaning me) come with me…
warning signs went on, and i was like, i think i’ll ride with your friend, but he insisted ,’the police will catch us’, i didnt know what the police had to do with who rode in which car. The other driver was an oldish guy, looked like a family guy, so i went with him, and my friend went with the driver that was insisting i go with him
When we get to our destination, shocker, my friend tells me the IRANIAN guy had been inappropriate with him all throughout the ride.
I HH alone a couple of times in IRAN, twice at night, in really remote places, and i would like to think that speaking some farsi helped the rapport with my drivers, but again i can not say.
once i went with 2 guys who were really nice they got me to where i was going, and once with a guy that kept massaging my thigh regardless of how many times i slapped his hand!
Do these experiences ever make me want to stop HH? never
In IRAN i also had my first ever negative couchsurfing experience, soneone insisting that i sleep with him because his previous female guests did! but ofcourse in all my years of Cs, it was bound to come, but i brushed it off and just became more cautious,
All these experiences make us the strong adventurous female solo travellers we are, and i would never change it for the world
I’m taking on the horn of africa this summer, and with or without a travel partner, i’m gonna be thumbing it all the way
I am glad you are speaking this out loud, all female travellers know these kind of stories. If I mentionned every time I was harassed by some random men (not only hitch-hiking, in general), I could easily fill more paper than the bible. Yet the consensus sometimes seems to be, we should shut up about it because this is just the way the world is, and who are we to complain if we come and travel so far this direction…
good luck girls 🙂
wish u all great hh experienceswithout any proplem
Celil, you could be the best person to ask in this case, what has been your experience as a turkish guy hh within and outside Turkey 🙂
A lot of people who talk/write/complain about this tend to have a very unilateral, black-and-white, or selective view of the matter… you don’t, that’s really nice to see 🙂
Oh, Turkey. Feared and loved. As a girl-friend of mine once said: At any given point in Turkey you’re either being fed or being molested – and she has a point. I haven’t hitched in Turkey all that much, and I’m a dude, but even hitching with a girl from Bulgaria to Georgia has yielded a number of highly interesting experiences – ranging from my friend’s butt being groped by random men in the street to a guy who hosted us and tried to talk us into a threesome in a rather funky way to a full-blown attempt at rape escaped only with an almost unbelievable amount of good fortune. Travelling alone, I’ve also found the Turkish men to extend a certain amount of attention to me personally 🙂
The most intriguing part of this, after swapping all the stories, is of course wondering about the reason why certain things are the way they are. I’ve talked to a lot of people, and I’ve formed the impression that Turkish culture is somewhat over-stretched right now between the ideals of traditional patriarchic Muslim society and modern western life – and of course some people will only take the worst of both worlds, i.e. the male dominance from the traditional way and some things from the West that I find hard to summarise without sounding like an 89 year old but that I find rather well exemplified by the horrible clubbing music that people are listening to and that would give the impression to anybody that Europe is nothing but one huge orgy. Ever wonder where the stereotypes about Western girls come from?
Of course it also has to do with cultural misunderstandings – in Turkey, you’ll be seen as flirtative for behaviour that by European standards is just basic every-day friendliness. By looking a driver in the eye, and smiling at him, you might already be making a statement saying that you’re interested in him… the same goes for accepting the early compliments like ‘sen cok guzel’ etc. with anything, be it words, a smile, eye contact…
Turkey can be a totally safe country to travel once you get your head around differences between your culture and their culture… unfortunately, this takes a certain amount of exposure first, and its during this time that a lot of bad things happen and bad impressions get coined. Knowing some Turkish is always good, especially if you can appeal to old-time ethics by appealing to Allah or to their honour as a Turk/Muslim/whatever strikes your fancy. An interesting detail is also that in general as a girl you’ll fare better being a ‘virgin’ than having a ‘boyfriend’ – virginity is a lot more respected in Turkey than the notion of having had sex before but wanting to not have sex with the guy you’re talking to.
I’m hopefully going to be back in Turkey in some months, and I’m already looking forward to it. It’s always good for an adventure 🙂
live dangerously, travel safely!
Thanks for all the replies.
i agree that it’s important to learn about the subtle cultural differences. When in a car in Turkey, i gradually learnt that I should not smile too much at the driver, and that I should not ask him too many questions about himself. I have learnt how to keep a distance without seeming rude.
You would probably be more respected as a virgin, but how do you bring it up in conversation? I would never want to say to a driver “I am a virgin!” It’s easier for me to say that I have a boyfriend and that I am meeting him in the next city (although I am annoyed that I need to lie about this in order to feel more safe).
But Turkey is still an intriguing place to visit. You are more likely to meet someone who is genuinely kind than a man who gropes you.
I think all of these comments, where we share our experiences, enable women (and men) to make an informed decision whether to hitch alone. It also makes me think about patriarchal society, the segregation of sexes, how much shit women have to put up with, and the injustice of it all…
Lots of interesting stories here, very educational.
As a man I’ve had some weird experiences too, though like Jo I’ve also had them in Spain. I think you’re reception in Turkey (and anywhere else) has a lot to do with the way you present yourself, as well as your gender.
When I first entered Turkey as an 18 year-old, long-blonde-haired European boy I was instantly a target for these kind of people. I had a guy in a car asking me to come to a hotel with him for sex (he actually didn’t do the finger rubbing, but rather a disturbing variation of the finger in the hole gesture). I said no, and when he persisted I flipped out a bit (unexpected as it was) and got very aggressive with him, telling him to stop the car, he looked very shocked and slightly hurt, and pulled over. I didn’t speak any Turkish at this point, not a word. But it was pretty clear what I was trying to say.
Then the next day on the road between Izmir and Aydin a Truck driver did a similar thing, laughing and showing me his very yellow teeth. I refused and tried to ignore but he continued to harass me. I was strangely reassured by a knife that was in a cup between us, which I would confident I would be able to grab before him, should anything get nasty. But he stopped when I shouted at him and that was that.
I even had a pair of junky kids, (one 16 y.o, the other around 10 maybe) wanting to have sex with me in Aydin, behind a MacDonald’s when I was cooking up some pasta. I’d imagine they’d had their share of sexual abuse…
But I’m sure if I’d had a beard and darker hair I’d have had far less hassle. My solution in the end was to wear a turban, which reduced these encounters drastically. And yes, I’ve turned down rides too.
But yeah, it’s easy to get put off, reading all these stories. But despite these troubles I haven’t met anyone who’s actually stopped travelling there because of it, which shows what a wonderous land it truly is. These things happen all over the world and are perpetrated by a distinct minority of the population. Watch a mans eyes before you get too close, listen to your insides.
I had some experiences with my girlfriend too, but there’s been a lot of female experiences already and my fingers are tired. Just wanted to give a guys perspective. I’ve met very few male hitchhikers who haven’t been propositioned for sex once or twice in Turkey and beyond.
Hitch hiking in IRAN, my friend (a guy) got propositioned by our driver, i don’t mean to laugh but watching the shock, revulsion, confusion, and all the emotions you can think of that my friend expressed, i was laughing so hard,
this was maybe his first experience of a guy asking him for sex (i don’t know) but it took time for him to calm down, lol
It’s obviously not a laughing matter, but we got talking about this especially since the night before the driver had tried gropping me while my friend was driving (yes, he asked my friend to take the wheel, and we never saw through the whole charade)
Oh I forgot to say. When the truck driver on the way to Aydin dropped me off, he asked me to kiss him on the cheek before I got out. I gave some kind of discusted retort and he laughed some more.
I just thought this was interesting as it’s the kind of behaviour that women more commonly experience, i.e. ass groping etc.
But you must understand that I did look very feminine in those days, even from my own perspective. He might not even have realised I had balls, who knows.
You know that thing Turkish people do when they are saying goodbye (i think) where you know your heads together, like 2 goats locking horns?
I witnessed my syrian hitchhiking partner exchange this with our turkish driver, and i didnt mind locking horns, so i proceeded to do so, which our driver thought was hilarious! no groping involved and i thought “what a weird, strange but funny tradition”
P.S..No kissing was involved in this exchange 🙂
I have heard also that European guys can expect extra attention from drivers in some places
>Of course it also has to do with cultural misunderstandings – in Turkey, you’ll be seen as flirtative for behaviour that by European standards is just basic every-day friendliness. By looking a driver in the eye, and smiling at him, you might already be making a statement saying that you’re interested in him… the same goes for accepting the early compliments like ‘sen cok guzel’ etc. with anything, be it words, a smile, eye contact…
Yes, my standard recommendation for hitching as a woman in Turkey (besides taking lifts only with women in the car) is “when a car stops for you, do not excitedly run after it as you usually would, go slowly and do not smile at all as you ask where the driver is going. Say where you are going very dryly and if it is ok that the person stopping give you a lift. If you do this very dryly they usually understand what you are looking for is transport, not ‘work’.
>Turkey can be a totally safe country to travel once you get your head around differences between your culture and their culture…
Yes ! I blogged about two Indian girls getting harassed every day in a place where I feel super at ease:
I also find that people do not take the clothing differences serious enough. For example – sleeveless in many places is totally ok, but not spaghetti-straps. Foreigners do not seem to get this vital differences between these items of clothing and the message that local men think they send.
Most of my problems in Turkey have been when i am dressed with baggy clothes, have a massive backpack on that states TRAVELLER (NOT PROSTITUTE !) ….but if i was wearing tighter clothes, would i then be to blame for sexual harrassment? I worry that it’s similar to victim-blaming?
I didn’t know that about accepting cigarettes! (see link from last comment). i am so happy that i don’t smoke because i am offered cigarettes by every man i meet in Turkey!
First of all I have to say, I’ve never been in Turkey but I met lots of Turkish people and as an Iranian I feel lots of similarities between Turkish and Iranian traditional cultures. (modern subcultures are totally different I think!)
so my point of view can be very helpful or totally wrong 😀
“when a car stops for you, do not excitedly run after it as you usually would, go slowly and do not smile”
–> the first thing after reading this sentence that came to my mind was: it’s exactly what prostitutes do! (at least in Iran! I have no idea about prostitutes in Turkey. but I know that there are quite similar semiotics in both countries)
the point is, if you believe that the man is going to see what you want and what you don’t want, you will have no problem. he might ask for sex and you say no and he understands!
the problem is that many men all around the world believe “women say no, but they mean yes”
and I guess these men who you have problem with, belong exactly to this group!
so.. even if your way of behaving in Turkey works, I don’t understand at all why it should work? why shouldn’t you behave like all other hitch-hikers? (as Lisa said people know hitch-hiking in Turkey and it’s not something strange)
I know that a big backpack and travellers clothing make it obvious that you are traveller and not prostitute. but what in the mind of the driver goes, might be different. even if you give only one small wrong sign, and if he likes to think in that direction, he would ignore the other signs! that’s what human brain always tries to do! and it would be worse if he believes “no means yes”!
my suggestion is: offer something to the driver before he asks for something. for example chocolate, a sandwich, or anything. (of course not something like a present 😀 .. just share something with him to show that you are thankful about the drive) then he would probably shame to ask you for sex!! (sharing food is something important in middle east. Persians say “we have eaten each others bread and salt” and it means “we have respect, or we are like family”)
it makes more respect from him to you. it also makes you in the same level as the driver. because you both already offered something to each other.
The part about the harassment is this:
“The girls were three days in the country and had accumulated an annoyance a day having to do with dodgy guys. The last happened with some man who offered them a cigarette not far from here when the two were strolling in the autumn sun. They then followed his invitation to the teagarden, where with extremely intrusive behaviour he irritated the hell out of them. Although a lot of local women smoke in the house, accepting a cigarette from a man in public is basically a code for answering in the affirmative the question whether you are a loose girl, sad but true. It is weird how I find that so natural when being in more conservative regions by now. Personally, I still do what I want, I drink and smoke in public, but while doing so, I avoid eye contact with anyone of the male part of society, and if anyone dares to be so impudent as to offer me a cigarette, I for sure send them away with a hostile remark!”
>….but if i was wearing tighter clothes, would i then be to blame for sexual harrassment? I worry that it’s similar to victim-blaming?
I am not victim blaming, but we are also not talking about rape.
We are talking about pragmatics here, right? You yourself said you learnt to smile less when hitch-hiking and ask less questions about the driver.
I would love to go around and be as smiley as I usually am, in the same manner that I would like to wear spagetti-straps, but both are frequently understood in a wrong manner.
With the spaghettie straps I am obviously not talking about hitch-hiking, I realize most hitch-hikers do make that particular effort (baggy clothes).
Btw, guys the systematic annoyances in some areas and especially with truck drivers are not just because those men are assholes. It is because there are actually A LOT of prostitutes working in certain areas -the Eastern Black Sea Coast, the large roads around Istanbul and Ankara. You see women without bagpacks at the roadsides getting into trucks, mostly in short skirts or extra-tight jeans.
(I wrote about it before:
That is the reason why trucks stop for you that are going the other way on the highway. There were times when I was hitch-hiking with another female friend, and we had just walked up to the road together, not even trying to stop a car, when two lorries and a car had pulled to the side for us, expecting us to rush to them (this was very near the Azerbaijani border).
>Oh, Turkey. Feared and loved. As a girl-friend of mine once said: At any given point in Turkey you’re either being fed or being harassed – and she has a point.
There is also the fact, that some men will act very kind, invite you to their family home, show you around, all while acting extremely gentlemen-like, but eventually they just have a stab at trying, maybe they get lucky with you. They are both being extremely kind, and disgusting.
There is some things we cannot do anything about – the cultural misunderstandings on their sides. One guy gave me a lift down to the mainroad from his village – I was not even hitch-hiking then, there was just no dolmuş and I talked to villagers arranging to get away from there. The guy told me about his wife and three kids, and made a list of all the places he would show me next time around (I had told him I came to the region a lot). He asked me ‘for sure you do not plan on getting married?’, to which I prudently answered “of course I am, and next time we already planned, I will come with my boy-friend”. His facial expression fell with disappointment.
Another time I complained about a hotel worker who in the evening before had said to me”If you are cold tonight my bed is in this room” (btw, I did find that knowledge of Turkish can decrease harassment elsewhere, esp. hitch-hiking, but when staying in hotels, unfortunately it increases it -these guys do not speak English or other languages, they would never be able to ask a non-Turkish speaking foreigner such a thing).
Anyway, another guest at the hotel, a bit older, who had lived 30 years in Germany and spoke intermediate German, said to me ”here you complain and in Germany your guys act like this all the time!” I mean how can he live that long in the West, and he still did not understand anything about how these things really work??
this post is about Turkey but because there are comments about Iran too, Lisa asked me to copy this here 🙂 (anyway I think there are only few differences but big similarities between these two cultures. specially between drivers and generally working class)
I think you should also think about cultural semiotics.
an alone woman on the road, in traditional Iranian (and probably
Turkish) semiotics means that she offers sex instead of money, food or
maybe a free drive.
there is no place for prostitutes in Iran as it’s illegal. so they wait
always on the side of streets. and there is not even an special street
for them (like illegal prostitutes in Berlin) because if everyone knows
where they are, the police knows too! so they can be everywhere.
of course the modern or educated part of the society understand it
easily that you are a Traveller and not offering sex. but the drivers
are mostly traditional, conservative and not educated. so they just feel
that you are strange! you are not like prostitutes, but what are you if
so I guess when a driver asks you if you will have sex with him, he
thinks that you actually offered it first. (or he thinks at least that
you might have meant that)
trying to rape someone is definitely an other story.
I do totally agree with Jo that gender segregation dehumanises the
I would like to add, even in Germany or Scandinavian countries, many
women get raped by their husbands.
I’m thinking about it. if many husbands are the men who are able to rape
someone, why it happens more that they rape their wives and not other women?
I guess they just feel that they are allow to rape their wives because
they are married but not others! (I know it’s a stupid idea, but they
are probably stupid people too. and you can’t ignore the power of
society. the image of a rapist who rapes someone in the street is far
worse than a man who have sex with his wife even if the wife doesn’t
like it. many people don’t call it even rape!)
the same thing can happen with the driver who misunderstands you.
he might be not a “professional rapist”!. but only like many European
husbands. he just thinks that he is allow to do that with you the same
as the husband who rapes his wife.
so it’s a “sexism” PLUS “cultural misunderstanding”.
and I’m not sure really how bigger the sexism part in Iran in compare to
other countries is. because there are also other factors which show more
sexism in countries like Germany. (for example number of girls in
different majors in universities. in Iran there are generally more
female students and you can find them in all classes. but in Germany if
you go to physics department, you see 1 girl between 50 or 70 guys!!)
anyway, sexism in Iran and in Europe are in two different ways maybe.
(of course I’m separating the governmental sexism in Iran!)
I know almost nothing about Turkey. but I guess it can be the manner of
semiotics there too.
there is also an other thing;
the Iranian government always tries to save the Islamic culture from
influx of European culture.
they try it also always in totally wrong ways!!
Iranian media always tries to show that Europeans are immoral people. in
Europe anyone can have sex with anyone, people can be naked on the
streets, young girls get pregnant without marriage, families are weak
and so on.
and a part of the society are really influenced.
so it would be a possibility too that a driver thinks if someone comes
from Europe, it’s ok to have sex with her!
I’m really pleased at how interestingly and intelligently this conversation is going. It’s so important that we talk about these problems and share strategies for dealing with them.
cyaxares_died and I were talking yesterday about various strategies, some of which we disagree on. For example, she advises never to get into trucks, whereas I feel fine in a truck – often more than cars – but often I will start talking immediately about myself, saying I am a tourist from England and I have friends waiting for me in ___, etc. So far I never had a problem with a truck driver, though of course I know other people who have. The thing for me is that I know these truck drivers are at work and they are going somewhere, whereas I have been in cars where it suddenly becomes clear they have just been driving around looking for some adventure and when they see me, they think they’ve found it.
I think in general it’s good to have a lot of different strategies and do what feels right at the time. Also, I think my biggest strategy is to draw out (as in lengthen, if possible) the “where are you going?” conversation, to get as much of a feel for the driver as possible.
I’m also interested to hear if people carry pepper spray or other weapons with them, and if they think they would use them. So far, I’ve always said my biggest weapon is my awareness of the situation, ability to hold the conversation steady (as in, away from dodgy topics) and use the verbal techniques already discussed… but now I’m starting to wonder if some pepper spray might come in handy someday. I think my biggest concern is that if you pull out a weapon of any kind, you have escalated the situation significantly and there’s no going back to the ‘steadying the conversation’ techniques.
I also feel safe in trucks. For a start, you sit about one metre away from the driver. And they have a schedule that they have to stick to. And they know the concept of hitchhiking, as many of them travel to different countries and see hitchhikers everywhere.
My only problem with trucks is that they are so slow!
My CS hosts in Antalya gave me some pepper spray because they were so worried for me. I carried it in the bottom of my rucksack for a year, and to be honest, most of the time I forgot I had it. The only time that I have had the pepper spray in my pocket, ready to use it, was on a one hour walk in the dark in the countryside in outer London, when I was coming to meet you at Clacket Lane, Jo!!
Really interesting discussion… I’m reading it as I plan to go back to Turkey (East of Turkey to be precise). I’ve never hitchhiked there, as I most of the time, don’t hitchhike in countries, outside of Europe, I don’t know the language. But I hitchhiked a lot, had some bad experiences (mostly in Italy). Now it’s become “normal” (sadly) for me to be asked for sex from time to time, but most of the time, only saying no and talking about something else is enough to stop harassment.
I really like what said someone on this thread : “offer food so you’ll be at the same level”. I’ve not done it all the time, but since I understand better “Eastern mentality”, which has some similarities from the Balkans to Armenia, I know that sharing food is really something important, and I try when I can, to buy some chocolate or any other sweet for my drivers when I stop in a gas station.
I have to mention that even if I haven’t hitchhiked in Turkey, I was asked sex twice by turkish truck drivers. Once in France. He politely asked once I got in the truck, I said no, and he never mentioned it again, and was actually very nice all the way. The second time, the driver gave me a ride from Greece to after the turkish border. He’s been nice all the way, even offering me dinner, we got nice discussions in serbian (that was the only language we had in common, funny !). And just before the turkish border, he asked me for sex. I was really, deeply disapointed and sad, as I truely trusted him to that point. When I told him that I was shocked by his demand as he knew I was married (which was true), he felt very bad and didn’t stop to apologize until we arrived, then he offered me a soup in a restaurant and arranged for me to make a bus stop to take me to Istanbul, as there was no bus stop in that place.
I have to say that Italian and maybe Greek drivers are similar to Turkish drivers, and I think the exact same advices apply for these two countries. Nearly ALL the Italian drivers that had stopped for me while hitchhiking, asked me for sex at one moment or another. The last one was a truck driver in France (I’m french), didn’t ask me directly but wanted to invite me to the restaurant in the evening and I understood that was not only to be friendly.
Also wanted to say, even if a bit off-topic, that in Armenia for example, the clothing you should choose is the exact contrary that was is expected in Turkey. You’ll be much less harassed if you put some make-up, look feminine and wear “close to the skin” clothes. This is because a lot of the U.S girls they see there, wear “dirty” clothes (they see it as dirty because it’s not feminine, not “beautiful”), so if you wear baggy trousers they will more likely harass you.
I think the best is to look how women dress up in the country you are in, and try to dress similarly.
I would agree with Siavash, I immediately thought it sounded like prostitute behaviour to walk up slowly without smiling. That’s what all the prostitutes I saw in Turkey did, anyway.
I do feel, like Lisa said, that showing yourself as a European tourist/traveller is the best thing to do. But admittedly it often doesn’t work, and possibly the most important thing IS to make sure you are acting as unflirtatious as possible. It may be ‘prostitute behaviour’, but it’s also more similar to the behaviour of local women in some respects.
It’s been really interesting hearing the views of some Iranians too. Thanks for your input! I think the only thing you can really do is learn the dynamics of the culture as intricately as possible, and try to mirror it.
Let me chip in again as to why I think truck drivers in Turkey are not adviseable, although I did not read everything that was said here in the meantime.
I am convinced that ALL truck drivers think they might be able to buy sex when a foreign woman or foreign women get into the vehicle. Once they see you are a tourist, most of them can turn out just fine. This works better the less you actually speak Turkish.
To exemplify this let me repeat what I wrote in a private mail before:
There is also the thing that the better your
Turkish gets, the more dangerous it gets to hitchhike in Turkey. It is
just easier to play the nice and naive thing overwhelmed by the beauty of
turkey whom drivers do not want to disappoint, when you speak little of
the language, than when you can explain exactly all the details what you
And it is also more difficult to just ignore insulting details/coming on
to you in what they are saying to you… Just ignoring it and glossing
over it with innocent questions like “SO your family” works pretty well
for people who speak the langauge a lot less than me.
I think foreign prostitutes speak quite somewhat more of the language than
tourists, so the drivers lay this parallel with you and them even more
But this will take too much space. I wrote about it in the piece about
when we hitched with Jo… will send it at some point. People found it
easy to understand Jo was “just a tourist”, but they kept asking me
questions, it seemed suspicious I spoke the language so well…
I also blogged about our `exemplary´ lift with a truck driver together with Jo here:
She ended up saying: “”Actually, all the Turkish truck drivers with whom I had a wonderful time were Turkish drivers abroad.”
I am still adamant that i feel more safe in the trucks!! the drivers are usually very aware of the concept of Europeans as hitchhikers. the distance between me and the driver is about a metre so he can not touch me. and they usually have a job that they have to get on with. i understand that not knowing the language very well might mean that i lack a true understanding of what a driver means…but this is true in both trucks and cars. 99% of the hassle i mentioned has been in cars.
BUT HAPPY HITCHHIKING, everyone! please don’t let our discussion put you off hitching in Turkey 🙂 Most of the drivers you meet will be wonderful and treat you to lots and lots of tea, bread, tomatoes and oranges!!!
As a CS host in Australia, i will not accomodate girls if they say they are, or have been hitchhiking..
hehe :)) good for them.
Why not let them decide for themselves. You come across as patronising and chauvinist!
Look darling, you swim in very dangerous area 🙂 In turkey there is no any woman who hitchhiking. keep in mind. only hookers stay on roads.
Thanks for your comment 🙂
Please don’t call me darling!
cyaxares_died wrote this comment earlier:
“the consensus sometimes seems to be, we should shut up about it because this is just the way the world is, and who are we to complain if we come and travel so far this direction…”
This is what you are doing, Murat. Why aren’t you questioning the way that men act towards female hitchhikers and talking about how awful it is, instead? When you say that women should not hitchhike because only prostitutes hitchhike, this is not challenging male behaviour. Instead it upholds patriarchy and sexism. It would be better to challenge men who are sexist or patriarchal in their actions or speech. Women should be supported in trying to break free from the chains of patriarchy and oppression.
It’s perfectly normal that you face more problems on the southwestern and southern coasts of Turkey, because around those regions you will usually come across temporary workers, especially in the summer tourist season. These seasonal workers mostly migrate from the inland and southeastern regions. They can be said to be “less modernized”, if you will, and since also they have the state of mind that “they have nothing to lose if they try”, as they are temporarily there and can easily get off with whatever they do, they behave more barbarically. They may be doing it even intentionally. Their wives, daughters etc would never discover whatever shit they are doing. And you will be rarely offered a ride by locals in those regions as they have understandably become sick of both the barbaric seasonal migrants from the eastern regions of the country, and the western tourists who consume everything 100x an average homo sapiens would normally need.
Just my f. 200$.