Saturday, July 3, 2010

News on Turkish Noise

Here is an interesting bit of news from Hurriyet newspaper that surprised me a little.   The article reports how the new laws on limiting noise pollution in Istanbul, especially late night noise, are causing a sensation. Apparently club owners are up in arms and warning a loss of millions in revenue.

I suppose I just took it for granted that Turks have more of a tolerance to public noise than your average American. I just assumed it was an unchallenged fact of life and something that, as an ex pat,  I had to accept. Maybe not happily and not without some impressive grumbling.

After many years of grinding my teeth, I came to the conclusion that, for Turks, at least, noise meant happiness. The more noise we make, the happier we are. If you want the world to know how happy you are and perhaps to share that delirious joy, then, buddy, crank it up.. no, all the way!

Today I was sitting at a swimming pool with my MP3 player with the volume as high as it would go. Why? Because the music from the speakers not far away were playing so loudly I couldn't hear my own music. Suddenly I had that out of body experience where you see yourself as a lead in a low-budget comedy. It was like an arms race of noise until there comes a day when, with a look of bland simplicity, I am forever saying, "Huh?" to everything anybody says.

When it comes to noise, I am not speaking about the neighborhood celebrations, the wedding parties or the circumcision parties. It's cultural. It's a tradition. I finally got used to THAT particular brand of noise and it rarely disturbs me anymore. In any case, it is rare for those kinds of celebrations to carry on much later than midnight. (Apparently my hours are more in keeping with the elderly grandpa and the drowsy uncle.)

Another type of disturbance that I have adapted to is the post football-match celebrations. First time I heard the commotion, the honking of cars and the whistles and all that,  I whispered to myself, "Well, here comes the revolution." But no, Galatasaray 3 -Beşiktaş 2.

When it comes to noise, nothing can compare to the nightclubs with their speakers the size of tractor trailers. I'd think that a single blast from one would rip the flesh from bones. About four miles down the road where I normally reside, there is a newly built nightclub. It must be a pretty ritzy place where all the Lindsey Lohans and Paris Hiltons of Izmir go and spent daddy's money. Practically every night, there is the dull- nearly seismic- pounding of music. It generally begins at about eleven and carries on past three in the morning. The other night, sitting on my balcony, I thought I was going nuts until I realized that strange phenomena I was seeing in the sky was merely the flashes of an extremely powerful laser light show. In fact, my apartment isn't actually that close to the club and I really wonder what life must be like for the poor people who happen to live in the "kill zone."

Public noise is especially tiresome and annoying in the summer months when many people, in an effort to save money, have opened their windows and not left their air conditioners on all night. Pity the poor soul who has a disco and a mosque near their homes, because the disco could go on until 4 in the morning and the mosque begins just before sunrise. Add the growing number of fireworks displays in the late evening and you have the makings of a nervous breakdown.

Most people recognize that noise pollution is a quality of life issue but it is also a health issue.The World Health Organization has documented seven categories of adverse health effects of noise pollution on humans. These include, hearing impairment, sleep disturbance, cardiovascular disturbances and adverse effects on mental health.

I was rather amused how the article tried to specify differences between noise pollution. Noise from nightclubs( Bad). But amplified calls from prayers (Good).

Rüştü Sezgün, 73, said he already has trouble hearing the prayers coming from the local mosque and added that noise regulations should not be applied to mosques or churches because everybody has the right to worship.

After seventy-three years of noise, it is perhaps not surprising that this man has trouble hearing the prayers. Anyway, limiting public disturbance is not inhibiting anybody's right to worship. Unless, of course, one is worshipping public disturbance.  However, I suppose it is pointless to argue with that kind of thinking.  Ultimately it boils down to the respect for the public domain and shared spaces. (But that's another blog post, I think.)

Lately I thought I noticed that the call for prayer from the mosque across the road had increased in volume and in duration. Had I got all sensitive suddenly? But, no, my Turkish friend said the same thing. Louder and longer.  It really seemed overwhelming at times and just about the time you'd say, "Wheew!" you'd realize that it still wasn't over. It stops for a second or two and then the old man clears his throat a bit and off he goes again. Lest anybody think I am anti-Islamic, I would probably feel the same if I lived near a cathedral if it rang every morning before sunrise and then four more times during the day.  Bells ringing all the time would have me frothing at the mouth just as easily as the adhan.

AS far as the nightclubs.. on the weekends I can grudgingly accept the noise with all them whippersnappers doing the jitterbug and wahtusi all night. Why,dangnabit I was young once too. Booties are to be shaken and not merely stirred. And, despite the impression I may leave, I have always been in favor of fun. Fun.. good.

But, like a lot of people, I have to draw the line during the weeknights. Even though, as a rule, summer in Turkey is not a time of excessively hard work, quite a few people must keep the pretense alive by waking up early and commuting to the offices, etc. So my heart does go out to them as they lay in their beds, forced to listen to the ominous throbbing of bass.

And Turkey is by no means the only country. It's something to do with the Aegean culture maybe, because the Greek island of Chios was the same. All motor scooter owners were definitely under the impression that mufflers were optional. Every conversation had to be shouted. It really (REALLY!) became so bad that the port city became uninhabitable after sundown when the noise-loving vampires ruled. 

In other news, scientists in New Zealand have found a solution to the noise problem so it looks like we can dance and worship and whoop it up without fear of becoming stone deaf at the age of forty.

ScienceDaily (July 2, 2010) — Researchers from the University of Auckland, New Zealand, have discovered that a potent new drug restores hearing after noise-induced hearing loss in rats. The landmark discovery found that injection of an agent called 'ADAC', activates adenosine receptors in cochlear tissues, resulting in recovery of hearing function.                               

Hurrah! Does this mean I can toss out my ear trumpet now?



  1. I feel your pain. When I lived in Uruguay we lived near a soccer field, fans cheering, an amphitheater, a golf course directly across the street that would have thumping music playing till morning at it's club, add a mix of loud mopeds, trucks and buses passing by. I slept with ear plugs in many nights.

  2. I'm with you all the way on this one. I'm so intolerant of noise, and after all these years I still can't get used to the Turks being the noisiest race I've ever encountered. We've lived in tourist areas, in spitting distance of the night clubs with their noise and laser shows. And even when we haven't we've lived in apartments whose balconies are close to the next block, and always seem to consist of people sitting chatting loudly until 3 or 4 am.

    I have got used to the mosque though. I lived opposite one in Göreme and it didn't bother me. Even though I'm a light sleeper, it's the only thing I seem to be able to sleep through, strangely enough. Maybe I've been lucky and haven't really experienced a very loud one at close proximity.

    This "quiet" village also has the noise of the animals of awful lot of them! Again that doesn't really bother me. The woman living just down from us with learning disabilities, does bother me though. She loves the sound of her own voice...and I'm pretty sure it's affecting my mental health. I do know now that it's OK to tell her to shut up though...when I've had enough...and she will for an hour or so!

  3. The funny thing about the mosque is I never had much of a problem with it until recently. I think that's because it has become the "new and improved" call, which mean it can last about twice as long as the original. With lots of starts and stops. And starts. And stops.

  4. I think inside cities they should ban loudspeakers on mosques if there are other mosques within a certain radius. Make the muezzin do it the old-fashioned way of shouting from the minarets. The concrete helps sound carry just fine, and when all the mosques went off in chorus, everyone would hear it just fine.

    I'm so glad I don't live near any clubs. I do live near a municipal something or other where they have a lot of concerts and noisy political rallies during the summer, though. At least 5 nights a week, it's continuous shouting, music, drums, and whistles until about midnight. And then it's the fireworks. Who the hell thinks fireworks are cool when they go off *Every Night*? Here in the US for 4th of July everyone got all excited about fireworks and firecrackers, and I was all "Meh."


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