Sunday, July 4, 2010

Society, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Dolmuş.

I just wrote loads of pretentious stuff on the breakdown of society in England as compared with Turkey, but then realised that it was pretentious, besides as I have neither any sort of social studies qualification nor any rounded experience of anything outside the two major cities of the two countries, I'm not really best placed to be making sweeping statements about such things.

So, let's just cut to anecdote and be done with it.

I was on one of the interweb boards that I pretend I don't frequent the other day and there was a debate going about the announcements you get on London buses - "This is the 298 to wherever, the next stop is, Awkwardly Pronounced." The argument was over was it an unnecessary annoyance to the majority seeing/regular passengers for the benefit of the few blind/newbies, and should the latter just ask; or is unfair that certain sectors of society should be put at a disadvantage and be reliant on the good will of others (if it indeed exists in the first place - 'public transport in London' and 'goodwill of others' not a couple of phrases you'd naturally put together) to conduct their daily existence.

In Turkey, hoo-ah. It's not so much that goodwill extends to the hard-of-whatever here, so much as the fact that everybody helps everybody All The Time in these little ways - and as a result it's just no big deal to anybody.

There are a gazillion examples of this, of people just on a day to day basis being kind and helpful to strangers and generally spreading the love. But to take just this specific detail of transport as an analogy, let me tell you about the turkish institution of the Dolmuş. These are these genius things which are basically taxis except they go along popular routes (think for eg Southend High Street after chucking out time along London Road) and are SHARED. At the start of the route people get in until it's full, and then off you go, dropping people off along the route and picking up others as and when they wave you down.

Many of these are mini-bus sized. So you get in, sit wherever. At no point does anyone actually do anything as formal as *ask* you for money, just at some stage in the journey you sling some cash in the general direction of the driver. If you're behind him you give it to him personally, if not well you give your money to a passenger who is nearer than you, and they pass it on up the bus to the driver, who sorts out the change and passes it back again. If you don't know the price, you ask. When you want to get out, you ask.

It is all very, very simple. And utterly unimaginable back home. For a start, people willing to give up their space to share a taxi. Second, not having a pre-known established fare that is written in nice accessible fashion and with its own fecking twitter feed. The lack of ticketing to give formality to the transaction. Third, oh my god actual human contact in the processing of the exchange - no oyster beep eyes front lets make this as impersonal as possible. Fourthly the imposition of like, having to actually ask to get out. We'd have an individual bell each, no doubt.

Anyway, that's just a very very small example, but really this sort of thing is everywhere. What I'm trying to get at - people here seem to be capable of being in the presence of other people and interacting with them and it's not the end of the world.

And it's *nice*. My british reservedness is probably too engrained for me to fully do as the locals do, but it's a relaxing feeling being in that sort of environment anyway. And I am thawing slighty - I'm more likely to ask directions, or is this the right boat, or make small talk to strangers here, despite the dodgy turkish, than I would in my own backyard.

Anyway all this prompted my beard stroking musings on 'society'. Which, like I say, I am underqualified to write about, and probably really means big things like employment percents, and childcare arrangement statistics, and the effect of disaffectedness on anti-social behaviour, and I don't know what. But on the microscale, what I reckon is, that if there is such a thing as society - it probably ought to include being able to ask the person next to you where to get off the bleedin' bus.

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