Where is Turkey? For me, it’s eight-and-a-half hours from New York, due east. That’s how long it took for my Turkish Airlines flight to skirt the American Northeast, cross the Atlantic, traverse southern Europe and land at Ataturk International Airport.
But I felt as though I was in Turkey long before my flight left JFK. While on the ground, one of the first things a flight attendant offered me was some Turkish delight. This was simple enough but a clear sign of the culture to come. And it got me thinking: how many experiences offer you delight the minute you take a seat?
This brings me to one of the basics of modern air travel. You see, some airlines have got so good at taking seat pitch (jargon for leg room) and peanuts away, that when they give back the smallest hint of service or chewy indulgence, you’re hooked. Like a schoolboy who has spied his first crush in the playground, I was hooked all because of a chewy, powdery confection. And the leg room wasn’t bad either.
But it’s about more than sweets. Turkey’s struggle to align its traditions with the rest of the world is arguably a sticky situation. No matter what the outcome of the ongoing protests in Istanbul’s Taksim Square and elsewhere in the country, this place and these people will forever be reconciling the old with the new. Turkey, like any country finding its footing in the world, will have to face the same criticism and lessons that other developed nations have faced. In the age of social media and CNN, protesters and governments alike need to understand just what first impressions the world is seeing.
So again I ask: where is Turkey? It’s stuck between Europe and Asia and wedged between old and new. The people here are proud of their culture and want to share it with the world. And, if you talk to anyone who’s been here long enough to know, they’ll tell you that you might have to get onboard and sit through a few sticky situations before you can expect to find delight.
Tristan McAllister is transport editor for Monocle.