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“It gets worse every day.”

 

That’s what the head waiter at an upscale restaurant — ‘Gastro Bistro’ ‘foam on the menu’ etc — told me in Antalya. I saw him in the summer and before that in the spring, business, he says, had been in steady decline.

“On the weekends we still do okay business,” he continued. “But the weekdays… nothing.” There was some grey at his temples I had not noticed in the summer (forgive the hackneyed anecdote, it is true). He speaks perfect English, French, and Turkish, with some Russian, German, and Spanish at his disposal as well. Those are just the languages I know he speaks.

This is one of the saddest parts of Turkey’s story right now. Antalya is a European riviera city on par with Nice. Alcohol is openly for sale at every corner. There are historical sites you can simply walk right up to, as with Hadrian’s Gate (which I walked through most days of my recent stay), a mountainous landscape behind you, and a long, well kept beach. The bar, cafe, and restaurant scene in the old city is not unlike the warren of Barcelona’s gothic quarter. But it has taken noticeable steps back in the past two years.

Turkish is a language simpler than French and Spanish, like Italian, but tourists hardly learn it. Instead it is the waiters and hoteliers of Antalya who learn German, Russian, English, and French.

That is a certain demarcation line in the world, it occurs to me, where those involved in tourism in Germany, France, Spain, Ireland, or Norway, say, would hardly ever think to learn another language just for domestic business — the tourists should stumble in their language. But of course for less fortunate places, Peru and the Dominican Republic come to mind, those wishing to excel in tourism toil on their English and others. Turkey is in such a position now, having to work harder for less, with an exchange rate that should be driving throngs of tourist, while the opposite is afoot.

If there is one thing that has come out of this to my benefit, it is the appreciation with which Antalyans and Turks in general have for my willingness to give them business. A few years ago Antalya was quite busy and not everyone had time for me. Now they have too much time.

It could be said that some of the marketing of Antalya hasn’t been ideal — there are huge resorts sitting empty along the coast — “That’s all the Turkish economy is really good at, building, building, building,” said one İstanbullu to me recently. While advertising the rich biblical sites along Turkey’s coast to Christendom is perhaps a more artful marketing (or less lazy, if you prefer) task than advertising beach chairs and open bars to pale and frigid Russians, the volatility of the former market certainly is lower than the latter.

 

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