Intercultural Interview
Ebru Pelin, 35, English Language Teacher, Ankara, Turkey

Postscript: What do you feel are the advantages and disadvantages of living in Ankara?

Ebru: In comparison with other cities in Turkey, say, Istanbul, Izmir, Adana, Antalya and Bursa I think that Ankara is well-ordered in comparison. Ankara does not have much to offer the sightseer, but one gets that feeling of a political capital, where it all happens so to speak. The same feeling you get in being in London. Ankara is supported by a good transport system (although the roads remain dangerous, as elsewhere in Turkey), where the streets are relatively clean, plenty of shops, the postal and telecommunication systems are efficient, the tap water is OK to drink, and where the crime rate (violence/robbery) is at a tolerable level (lower than London, Birmingham and Manchester). Ankara also has a great number of quality restaurants.  The disadvantages of living here are more aesthetic than any thing else: the grey, concrete landscape, the noise (of four million people and over a million cars) and an uncomfortable weather pattern: cold and rainy in winter, and dusty and hot in summer.

P: You completed a Masters course last year in Manchester. You split your social time between Manchester and London. What were your impressions of these cities?

E: I was surprised how provincial Manchester is in comparison with London. London is truly an international city (and the former centre of the largest empire in history) whereas Manchester is not. The nightclubs in Manchester are good. The transport is OK and affordable, but I still got a feeling of provincial enclosure which I did not get in London. London for me is exciting, has good museums and some good public libraries, some fascinating history and many kind and courteous people. However, the price of accommodation is ridiculously high, including hotels/bed-and-breakfast establishments/flats, as is the price of eating out in a restaurant. The streets are too dirty in the centre of town. As a woman, I also have to say that you have to watch Englishmen (and Scot, Irish and Welsh) if they have consumed plenty of alcohol. They can become loud and aggressive. I don’t like travelling on the tube at night. Other than this, London remains a part of the globe where one continually gets the feeling that it is here where the movers and shapers of society hang out in their droves.

P: What would you see as major points of similarity between London and Ankara, aside from the fact that both are capital cities?

E: The one thing that immediately comes to my mind is that Ankara and London are extremely similar in terms of their internal differences. Diverse parts of Ankara, in terms of wealth, environment, and status nestle side by side as they do in London. In London I am thinking of the juxtapositions between Dulwich and Brixton, or Stepney and the City of London, or Hampstead and parts of Kilburn. Both are similar also in terms of their pollution levels, and on the other hand their green parks. Ankara also has its McDonalds and Burger Kings. But the similarities are outweighed by the differences: London has more historic buildings as Ankara is a fairly new city. The food situation is different. It is rather a big deal to go out for an evening to a restaurant in England; whereas in Ankara it is fairly normal. London is also more rule-abiding in terms of driving, queuing etc. and definitely more polite.

P: What do think of the reality behind the “cool Britannia” image, if any, in contemporary Britain?

E: Well, if you like British pop music, skimpy teenage indie clothes, liberal-socialism, crap weather, shit food, Hugh Grant, and The Full Monty you are in, so to speak. In truth, I think that such an image is a politician’s dream. Dig deeper, and you find the “old Britannia” of cardboard boxes and young displaced “beggars” on the streets, the haves and have-nots, class divisions. I find the reticence of British people in terms of social change both admirable and frustrating. But that is the British for you: they are both repugnant and irresistible at the same time.

P: How would you rate, finally, your chosen career, the TEFL field?

E: That’s a good question. If I were to be honest with you I would have to say that so far I am disappointed. I teach about twenty contact hours at a private college in Ankara and the pay is not really up to it. TEFL teachers are generally overworked and underpaid. I have also noticed the amount of “academics” that drifted into TEFL either because they are disillusioned in some way or another with the university, or that they could not make the grade, as it were. I am informed by one of my TEFL colleagues that either way, such people are perceived as “intrusive wankers”.

There are also too many unscrupulous operators in the field of TEFL (in Turkey and especially Britain, and in particular the West End of London). The whole field needs regulating. But I have made some good English friends in my college - I adore their “how are you’s” and “thank you’s” - and for this I am grateful.

Postscript, Summer 1998, 29:30