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Cappadocia, Turkey; Jun 18, 2005

speedy banana

Most of the travel books and sites make a big deal warning you to be very careful while driving in Turkey. (Frankly, it seems to me that one should be very careful no matter where in the world you’re driving seeing as I’ve never really understood why more people don’t all meet their early demise hurtling around in these metal boxes, but that’s a topic for another time.) So, as advised, we were being careful. And yes, Turkish drivers are somewhat reckless, especially when it comes to passing on curves and hills. And driving in the cities is a bit harrowing, but in general, it didn’t seem all that bad. Especially out on the empty highways where 99.9% of the things we're passing are mountains (and they happen to be set back from the road quite a bit).

the view out the car window

We’re on the way to Konya (from the coast). Highway speed limits are either 90 km/hr or 120 km/hr, depending on what kind of highway it is (unless, of course, otherwise posted). We don’t know what kind of highway it is, so after a few hours of compromising at slightly over 100 km/hr, I decided that pushing it to 120 would probably be fine. After all, there really were so few other vehicles out here that it didn’t seem to matter much. Oops.

We rounded a corner, slowing down for what looked like a small town and saw a policeman flagging us down. We pulled over. He asked for our papers, which we produced, along with my California Drivers License and my International Driving Permit (it costs about $10 to get one of these through AAA, and while most people say you don’t need one, we figured it was probably worth the $10). The policeman did not speak English so a long, confusing conversation took place (we seem to be having a lot of these in Turkey). Eventually, we started to grasp that he was trying to give us a speeding ticket. Apparently, the speed limit was 90, and he had caught us on radar. I tried playing dumb and apologizing and saying that I thought it was 120 and I wouldn’t do it again, but the effectiveness of all these ploys were greatly reduced (or completely negated) by the fact that he had no idea what I was saying. Nonetheless, I figured if he didn’t understand us, it was still possible to get away unscathed by pretending that we simply didn’t understand that he was trying to give us a ticket.

our gift banana with speeding ticket

Our conversation was then interrupted by his partner who began yelling something from the police car. I figured that the second officer had lost patience with our charade and was planning on just giving in, but before I could do that, our officer ran out to the road, waited for a bit, and flagged down the next car. Two out of two – pretty good. Two Turkish guys got out of the second car. The driver seemed annoyed, but resigned to his fate. The passenger, however, immediately struck up a friendly conversation with one of the officers. He spoke some English, and while this sabotaged any hope we had of playing dumb, we could hardly blame him. In the next 15 minutes, he accomplished all of the following: 1) explained to us that we were being given a speeding ticket, 2) wandered over to the radar device in the police car and chatted with the second officer about it for a while, poking at the buttons and looking at the display like any self-respecting, gadget-interested grown man would do, 3) gave bananas to anyone who was interested, including us and the two policeman. To him, this was simply a social event that happened to transpire on his journey from point A to point B.

In the end, we drove off with our speeding ticket, but not until we had all shaken hands and smiled and said goodbye. Somehow, we had been made to feel that this had all been a good thing and we should be happy about it. Hmm. No wonder the Turkish are considered good negotiators.

© 2004-2012 susan & grace, all rights reserved

-- comments from readers --


Yes, being stopped on the way home, threatened to receive a ticket for speeding, being drunk (I dont drink!) or having the wrong license is a normal occurrence here in Istanbul. But believe it or not I have never, until I saw your picture today, seen an actual traffic ticket. Normally the ticket is issued only if you fail to produce a banana or a watermelon. Offering a small amount of money tends to help as well.

But what you should never do... never... never... is to bring down your pants and "moon" to the officer. My friend Baris has done that a couple of times with very unfortunate results (he now uses the bus!).

I agree with... People drive [terribly] here. They really do. (Ivan didn't acutally use the word "terribly," but chose something a bit more colorful - we have edited his phrase to protect the ears of the innocent, but we certainly agree with his sentiment.)

--Ivan (Istanbul, Turkey); Nov 28, 2005