The name of the game is: how many people can you possibly cram into one area?!?!  That was pretty much the thought that came to mind every time another person attempted to sit at our table or a table near ours. It was Saturday night in Taksim and all the bars were packed to the point of overflowing into the streets and the street didn’t offer much more room to the voluminous patronage. Music was blaring so loud you couldn’t possibly hear the person next to you and there was an elbow or and ear or a shoulder in every direction. This, my friends, was nightlife on the Istikal. Everywhere you looked were bars, people, live music, and billowing clouds of smoke.

The bar that I found myself sitting in last night was called Mr. Bliss, however, my idea of bliss and their idea of bliss differ immensely. Seeing that I am not a drinker, I sat there asking myself how I had ended up sitting there shoulder to shoulder with four guys that pretty much spoke no English (and who were far younger than I) and four of my classmates. The answer? I guess I wanted to prove to myself that I’m not a complete old lady yet… Not sure if I actually succeeded in doing so, but I tried. Honestly, there were moments with some of my classmates that were absolutely priceless but the rest, I probably could have done without.

I did, however, get to see an interesting side of the Turkish youth that I do not think I would have ever seen had I not attempted to brave the nightlife. Previous to last night, I have really only seen the quiet side of the young people here in Istanbul. There is an interesting juxtaposition in Istanbul of centuries of tradition and the ever changing values of the newer generations. The old traditions, which some of the youth might find oppressive, are all about respect and the “proper” way for one to behave. It is not uncommon to see an elder shush a boisterous youth on a tram or a bus, or some other public place. Young people are expected to give up their seats on buses, trams, an benches, to elderly, women with children, pregnant women, and disabled people, although it is sometimes done begrudgingly.

I asked the student that has been interpreting for me during my interviews about how she felt about the “guidelines for acceptable social behavior of young people” that exist here in Istanbul. She said that a lot of the time, young people don’t want give up their seats on trams or endure the shushing of their elders and yet they endure it because that is what is expected of them. Knowing this, my experience last night, which apparently was a typical night for these guys (perhaps minus the company of American women) I almost felt like I was watching the youth let loose in a way that they could not in their everyday lives. The crowd was a sea of dancing and signing men and women, with people dancing on chairs and benches throughout the bars that lined the tiny side street.

Since I’ve been here I have been acutely aware of the social differences between here and home. Los Angeles, in my opinion, is primarily a “me” community where people go about their daily lives without much concern for or interest in the existence of others. Where as here, it is not unusual to make friends on a tram or a bus and end up having lunch or drinks with that person. In a city that is as densely populated as Istanbul (population is approximately 13,300,000 people), it seems that people are essentially forced to consider those around them, making this what some might call a “we” community.

Last night was a perfect example of this “we” community in action. With so many people crammed into one small area pleasantries and cooperation were at their best. Beers were passed back and forth, cigarettes were shared, men lit smokes for the women, and chairs were passed over the crowd so that newcomers might sit and join in the festivities. Merriment was present in the faces of all who attended as the young people of Istanbul drank, danced, and laughed into the wee hours of the morning.

Peace and Love

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