Time in foreign country teaches new values

Manal Salim

Infographic by Jennifer Stanley
Strolling down a cobblestone path in downtown Istanbul, my family and I were enjoying the afternoon of our summer vacation with ice cream cones. Scarfing down our desserts as quickly as possible was no easy task in competition with the melting power of the blazing summer sun.
To my dismay, I watched a dollop of chocolate slide off my cone toward the ground below. My eyes couldn’t help but stray away from the mess I’d made to a lonely iPhone 4 amidst the green grass.
After I had drawn the attention of the rest of my family to the discovery I made, my “good American citizen” instincts kicked in. I’m not going to lie; I wanted to show off. I yearned to prove that being from America, I was ethical and had been raised properly enough to return a valuable item in a foreign country. Simply because the Turks were a different nation of people, I naïvely expected that they wouldn’t act as morally as I in this situation.
I picked up the phone and planned to return it to a nearby police officer coincidentally patrolling the area. Swelling with pride, I handed the officer the phone and explained the situation in the best Turkish-English combination I could muster. The officer’s face contorted to a sort of mocking state, then he grinned, and the next words he uttered left me without any.
“Just put the phone back where you found it,” the officer said. “No one takes anything that’s not theirs around here.”
I returned to my waiting family, incredibly stunned by the answer I had received. Istanbul is a large city and had a population of more than 13 million people in 2011. How could the officer be so calm and certain in trusting that the majority of these individuals would choose to do the righteous thing? Humans are humans. In my experience, even a police officer in the U.S. would confiscate the merchandise to ensure security.
I’ve always loved growing up in Columbia. But, even in such a lovely town, there are thefts, crimes and not-so-kind individuals. In fact, according to gocolumbiamo.com, 45 percent of all crimes in Columbia are a sort of theft. But I always looked past all that here. I usually expected that these crimes and evils are inclinations of some people in life that society is obligated to put up with.
That  said, I didn’t expect that I would find such honesty in a country separate from the life I was normally accustomed to. This was all just because Istanbul wasn’t Columbia, Mo., and just because the Turkish people spoke a different language and practiced a different culture. On top of that, the people were definitely nothing like most strangers I came across back home, but I should have realized that wasn’t necessarily such a bad thing.
The Turks displayed integrity not only with the iPhone incident, but also after our purchases in either shops or restaurants my family and I visited on our trip. We were never, not once, cheated or scammed of our money. Big cities are famous for their conartists and scammers, but every individual my family and I encountered treated us as equals. We weren’t alienated, and no one looked down on us for being the “typical American tourists.” I found thousands of long-lost family members in Istanbul — people I never knew existed – but treated my family and I with such exemplary compassion that we could have fit right in with everyone else.
The Turks engulfed us in their warm embrace, as they displayed hospitality and honesty to others that I never dreamed of finding somewhere foreign to my normal experiences.
However, my trip this past summer taught me several important things. One, flying on airplanes is just not my thing. Two, Turkish food is absolutely phenomenal. And three, I learned to not always expect the worst in people or places outside of my comfort zone. Sometimes, I just have to let my pride go a little, and accept that there are places and people in the world that are better than what I am used to.
A fresh experience somewhere different, with someone new, taught me that if what I am accustomed to is seemingly ‘perfect,’ it doesn’t mean that somewhere out there, I couldn’t uncover something so much better.
By Manal Salim
This opinion piece is labeled as such on the desktop version.