On a recent business trip, I visited Istanbul. For those non-geographers out there, that’s on the North-western tip of Turkey, between the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara. Istanbul straddles the continents of Europe and Asia and is currently preparing itself for full membership of the EU. Whilst you may initially associate EU with long lunches, Brussels in the Summer and farming subsidies, for the Turkish people it actually means rather a lot of work and a fast pace of change to get laws aligned with those of the EU. Lunch has been postponed.
At the risk of sounding like a travel guide, Istanbul is a bustling cosmopolitan city, contrasting the very modern with the ancient – you may recognise Byzantium and Constantinople as its ancient original names. We happened upon the Grand Bazaar – an ancient sprawling complex of 3-4000 shops – and the Spice Bazaar, a much smaller arcade of shops devoted to spices, Turkish delight and beach toys (yes, I did say that). I have not seen quite so many huge mosques all in one place before either.
As a western European used to queues and fixed prices in shops, it was unsettling. Almost no shop displayed prices. The shop keeper set the price according to who you were. If I can get a learning point out of that it’s changing the message for the listener but I think I just paid too much. But there was also an awful lot of ‘try before you buy’. You were invited to sample to see how good it was before you purchased anything. With Turkish delight, the real thing is quite different from the jelly-like poor relation we mostly see in Western shops. Things are not always what they seem.
Anyone who travels will experience the joy that is a taxi journey. In Istanbul, one or two were like dodgem car races. The narrow lanes, heavy traffic density made us all glad we’d packed extra underwear. I am not sure how we got to where we were going but we witnessed no accidents along the way (we did have our eyes closed).
The tourist guides would portray Turkey as a romantic land where everyone travels by camel. But it is modern and moving forward at a tremendous rate of change, driven by the political agenda for full EU membership in 2013. This rate of change carries great challenges, opportunities, the potential for confusion and increased risk. Clearly it needs safety professionals who can adapt quickly and apply new thinking to old situations.
The taxi has arrived and we have survived.