Istanbul Is Not That Cool

From an October 24th article in the New York Times about some Turkish scholar who gives tours of Istanbul:

The journey begins in Europe (part of the city is in Europe and part in Asia), not far from Dolmabahce, an Ottoman palace built in the 19th century when the empire was already in deep decline. The balconies, Mr. Belge said, were brought to Turkey by European designers.

First of all, is the anecdotes included in the article are any indication, getting a tour of Istanbul from one of Turkey’s foremost historians is like taking a tour of Manhattan with Cindy Adams.  ‘That’s the place where Ivana Trump first said “The Donald”.’  Pause for a photo-op.  Move on to Justin Timberlake’s restaurant for a Big Apple Martini.

But actually the thing that awoke the sleeping giant of my ire tonight is the phrase “The journey begins in Europe (part of the city is in Europe and part in Asia)”.  Now rest assured, I am very aware that part of Turkey rests in Europe and part of it lies in Asia.  This may as well be the only thing I know about Turkey.  I am also aware that half of Istanbul is technically in Europe and that the other half is located in Asia

What does that even mean?  I mean, call me ignorant, but what in God’s name does it mean that half of Istanbul is located in Asia, or that part of Turkey is technically in Europe?  Does that make any difference to anyone’s lives?  Does it even matter to the Turkish people who live in the part of Turkey that’s in Europe?  Do they think they’re better than the Turkish people who live in Asia?  Do the European Turkish people find the Asian Turkish people exotic?  Does that mean that Turkey, by virtue of the fact that it controls land which  is located on a landmass known as Europe, is different from or has things in common with any other country?  I’m asking because I am pretty sure that every single time the country has been brought up in my presence since my very early youth this fact has been pointed out to me, and yet no one has ever stated in any meaningful way why this piece of information bears repeating.

Panama, part of which is located in South America and part of which is located in Central America . . .
Egypt, part of which is located in Asia and part of which is located in Africa. . .
Ukraine, part of which is located in Europe and part of which is located in Asia . . .
Russia, part of which is located in Europe and part of which is located in Asia . . .

What I’m getting at, here, is that this little meme is classic non-information.  it’s an intellectual attractive nuisance.


~ by Joshing on October 29, 2008.

5 Responses to “Istanbul Is Not That Cool”

  1. Hello Joshing Gnome,I’m reading your blog from İstanbul.I live in the Asian side of İstanbul.I am Turkish by the way.Part of İstanbul belongs to Europe continent,the other part belongs to Asia continent.But of course we are the same people.The reason why people tell this fact all the time is that culturally when you enter Turkey from Bulgaria or Greece;not when you enter the Anatolian side(we say Anatolian side of İstanbul,instead of Asian side),you see very different culture from Europe.It’s just a metaphor.For centuries we were the Orient for European people.And in some ways we still are,and for the governers of the Ottoman empire invading and making the European side of İstanbul,a part of Ottoman Empire was a big thing.But now for Turkish people the two sides of İstanbul means we have to find a peaceful way for two different cultures(European culture-Western culture and Islam-Non Western culture)to live side by side without hating each other and a beautiful scenery full of history,we sometimes feel like we have to be like those 2 bridges on the Bosphorus which connects 2 sides peacefully.I was born in İstanbul,I’ve lived here all my life and whenever I pass the bridges by car,I still feel mesmerized by the beauty of Bosphorus.So it’s a metaphor for Western tourists and for us.Also for some tourists,it can be interesting by walking on a bridge you can be in Asia in 10 minutes.

  2. Pisipati,

    Thanks so much for your great explanation. I assumed there was a good Turkey-internal reason for this info tidbit’s popularity, and what I was objecting to is the way that people don’t usually say any of the other things you said, and yet I’ve heard about the country being in both Europe and Asia about a million times. My beef is with the way that, in general, relatively interesting but complex information doesn’t get transmitted while relatively simple information does get repeated, no matter how inane.
    It’s really about memetic selection.

  3. It’s obvious you don’t understand Turkish culture from this post and I think you should respect our ancient turkish culture as bridge to Asia and hub of middle-east. I’m writing this from Istanbul and I think your tone shows that you are typical arrogant American who want everything to be same as in America. You should respect our culture more and we don’t want eat your big Mac and if you want to keep distorting our history you should go home and flip burgers and stop dating Turkish girls.

  4. Hello again,as a Turkish girl I’ve found your comment so funny Roboseyo,everyday I check your blog too.
    Hello Mr. Mondello,you’re right about your observation.As we all know,tourism and pop culture can easily mix together,and also marketing strategists don’t like complex information

  5. Hilarious Rob. You had me going until I read Pisipati’s response

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