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By John Meade

You Don’t Know Me At All, Do You?

    While I was in Istanbul I decided to partake in a tour of the Bosporus waterway.  The tour takes a group of site-seers up the strait by ferry and the entire process takes about two hours.  As I boarded the ferry I realized that there was great diversity in the people on the boat.  There was a large group of Japanese tourists, several British families and couples, a group of Indian men, a large gathering of Spanish adolescents, and also a great many Turkish people as well.  I’m sure that there were other nationalities represented, but those were just my initial observations.
     The tour itself was very stimulating, but more exciting than the tour itself for me was watching the people on the boat.  I was walking around taking pictures of the shores, but in reality I was listening to conversations.  Often they were in languages that I did not understand, but I could really feel the multiplicity on the ferry.  After a few minutes of observation I decided to approach a younger man, probably in his thirties, who was sitting by himself on a bench smoking a cigarette.  I sat down next to him and casually introduced myself. 

     He asked me where I was from and he seemed almost surprised when I said that I was American.  I asked him his nationality and he laughed to himself as he told me that he was from Syria.  I wondered why he was laughing and he must have sensed that I was confused because the next thing he said was, “you Americans…you don’t know Syria…I’m sure that you know Israel, but you don’t know Syria”.  I was shocked.  I tried to explain to him that I did in fact know Syria.  I wanted him to know that I was not just another ignorant American.  After a minute or so he became embarrassed and explained to me that he was not trying to be offensive.  He was just frustrated with the support the United States gives to Israel when they seem to ignore the rest of the Middle East. 
     I’m writing about this experience to illustrate the point that the opportunity to learn new things about people and culture is always around.  I never would have expected to get this kind of insight into a Syrian man’s perspective on a tourist river tour, but I did.  Michael Angrosino mentions in his introduction to Doing Cultural Anthropology that ethnographic fieldwork can really be any means of data collection that gives the researcher information that leads to a better description and understanding of a people.  This was especially true for me on my tour of the Bosporus.  I thought I was just having a casual conversation, but when I reflected on it later I realized that I had learned something very insightful about another cultural point of view.

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