Posted by: thebylog | December 29, 2008

Trusting Strangers You Can’t Understand

When Amy and I were in Istanbul we had little trouble communicating, but there was that one time at the fancy restaurant on the Asian side of the Bosphorous.  We had set out along the waterfront in an uncomfortable drizzle in part because Amy had read about the good fish that could be had in the little eateries in the vicinity.  We passed a couple of places which in retrospect must have been the little eateries, but we had a ridiculously small amount of cash and the fish was too expensive.  We kept on but soon our hand was forced by the call of nature which encouraged us to find SOMETHING with a bathroom.  Eventually we found a nice restaurant and we approached, bedraggled, though it was pretty obvious that we would have to resort to credit card to pay for our food.

On the plus side, they did have restrooms.  On the negative end of things, little English was spoken or understood by the staff.  After several exchanges, we did get food brought to us in several shifts but unfortunately we ate things we didn’t order.  When I saw the bill, I was not particularly happy as it cost much more than it should have, based upon my calculations.  But the head waiter-dude didn’t understand the problems, which were that a) we were being charged for things we hadn’t ordered (but had eaten in our confusion) and b) we were being charged for things we didn’t get. However, he seemed to be growing agitated with us but because of the language barrier, complete clarification was not possible.  In the end, he knocked down the total maybe 10-15% and what could we do but pay it?

This leads to another point.  I don’t trust strangers.  Whether it is an inheritance of my father’s skepticism, a subconscious insecurity, or an explicit lack of faith in God, I don’t know.  But I have the insatiable desire to lock my car and pull the keys, I’m pretty much obsessive about guarding my laptop, and I generally assume that any stranger I meet will fleece me if given the opportunity.

In this case, the credit card printout indicated that we owed something like 47,000,000 lira, and the waiter-dude tried to explain that it was just a remnant of the Turkish attempt to control inflation (“Oh, it costs 10,000,000 lira to take a taxi?  Ok, we just do away with six zeros and now it costs 10 lira!”).  I was of course very suspicious and imagined a credit card statement with a charge so astronomical as to be impossible to pay. 

This never materialized and I am left with a question: Is this assumption about the badness of strangers a character flaw of mine?



  1. I think not trusting strangers is simply being wise as serpents. In contrast we have my parents who are harmless as doves and trust everyone. Believe me the latter is more scary than the former.

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