Yesterday was a pretty nice day, considering it is so near to Christmas and the rest of Europe is buried under snow. A friend and I decided to make use of Izmir's new inter-city train again. It's difficult not to feel warm and cozy and modern-like when you step in. Turkey is certainly advancing toward equality with Europe, I stood there thinking.
As we stood at the station, the sun was beginning to set and with the amber light peeking under the clouds, I took out my camera because I wanted to remember the moment. The picture was wonderful. The reflected light on the platform. The wide curve of the tracks. The use of perspective was really beyond words.
It was a very nice photo. But, I cannot show it to you.
Right after I took the photo, a man- I can only assume he worked at the station- sauntered up to me and told me it was forbidden to take photos. "Oh, really? Is that right.. well, I.." I muttered. There were no signs anywhere so I was surprised and I apologized putting my camera away. Then he stood there, looking at me expectantly. When I didn't get the message, he ordered me to delete the photo. He refused to leave until I had shown him the camera- sans photo.
When things like this happen, I'm usually too stunned to say much. But the more I thought about it, the angrier I became. It's not that I have any problem following rules. I was aware that taking photos around any military site, for example was an absolute no-no. (I made that mistake once. I suddenly found myself in the middle of a Benny Hill skit. Blame the sunset again.) But this seemed quite different, This was an open public place.
Don't misunderstand. I can play a sheep when I see, at least, some logic behind the rule. Or when the rule is uniformly enforced. Or even when an inane rule is brought to my attention in a sympathetic way. That's enough for me. But when a stranger saddles up to me and starts giving orders, I do not take it well. I seethe. I fume. It turns me into a rebel. A little.
The station attendant marched off, presumably rather pleased with himself. His world was put right again. As I stood there, thinking about it, I looked around the station at all the apartment buildings and thought, "From any of the balconies from any of these apartment buildings, one could easily take a photograph." Again, from the bridge, one could take a dandy photo of the train as it passed. Or, even more preposterous, it was even easier to take photos inside the train with your phone. Obviously the rule was totally unenforceable.
I turned to my friend and asked him why he didn't mention to the man that there were no signs. His response was typically Turk. "Look, you can argue with people like that if you want, but in the end, do you really want to make problems for yourself?"
Did I? Well, no, but on the other hand, a rule should make sense. And it should be publicly displayed. Instead, we find a station attendant strutting about the platform, feverishly trying to earn his salary.
Incidentally, the British have an excellent word for this type of behavior. It's called "jobsworth." The Oxford English Dictionary describes it as British colloquial, and defines it as "A person in authority (esp. a minor official) who insists on adhering to rules and regulations or bureaucratic procedures even at the expense of common sense."
In my years in Turkey, I have witnessed a lot of average people doing some pretty stupid and dangerous things. Things you see and wonder for a second or two if you were hallucinating. Women pushing their baby carriages on the exit ramp from the highway. Cleaning ladies dangling from the windows of a high-rises, in order to clean the outside windows. Deliriously laughing fathers with their precious babies in their laps as they drive. Entire families flying down the road on motorbikes, helmetless Mom and Dad forming a two-child sandwich.
You name it, I've seen it. I do the third-rate comic double-takes and think, Where is their common sense? After awhile, you just wonder if everybody has lost their wits. Most of the time nothing dreadful happens, although as a witness, it can give you nightmares. Other times, God is too busy doing other things and disaster occurs. Children die. Young girls are run over waiting at bus stops. Animals suffer and die. And nine times out of ten, these are events that could have been avoided.
But on the other side of this equation, too often in this country you find rules without meaning or purpose or explanation. Rules designed solely for the sake of asserting authority. Bus drivers- normally loving fathers, considerate husbands and dear friends, threaten and bully their passengers. Apartment building managers who feel endowed with limitless authority to dictate to anybody that enters exactly who does what, when and how often.
But the two things are likely to be two faces of the same coin. When rules lack logic or clear reason, then people take it upon themselves which laws they choose to obey and which they choose to ignore. They shrug and smile in that charming Turkish way, and proceed to do as they like. Maybe they'll get caught but probably they won't.
I don't mean to single out Turks. As I have told all the new arrivals: Turkey is really not any different than anywhere else. The only difference is everything is a little bit more obvious.
Like the apparent prohibition on photograph-taking, it was once forbidden to talk on the cell phones on the public bus. I guess it still is too. Inevitably on every trip I take, there will be somebody chatting merrily away while everybody else flings peevish looks in that direction. There was one time when this happened and somebody finally tapped a young woman on the shoulder and pointed up at the sign. The woman nodded and told the person on the other end, "I can't speak on the phone. So YOU go ahead and talk. I'll listen." (Yes, it really happened.)
So I suppose the moral of the story is this: Generally speaking. the more governments treat their citizens like children, the more the citizens tend to behave exactly like five year olds.
Later as we walked through the train station in Alsancak, we saw a young lady taking photographs of the historic station. We were blinded by the flash for a second. (This is what Lady Gaga feels like.) I looked over at my friend and he read my mind. We suddenly turned back toward her. When she saw us approaching, she tried to hide the camera for a moment. We told her that we had just been warned about taking photographs and she laughed and said in a mild conspiratorial way, "Oh, I know!"
As we left, she continued snapping away.