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Friday, 14 September 2007

Dinner at the Drive-In in Istanbul

By Pat Temiz who writes a community information website, Fethiye Times, for ex-pats living in southwest Turkey.

In 1969, I went to Istanbul as a newly-qualified teacher, aged 21, to teach maths in an English-medium school: the English High School for Girls. I arrived in late November knowing nothing about Turkey and somehow, in the months that followed, survived my first teaching post, finding an apartment, furnishing it and living alone for the first time in my life.

And I fell in love with Istanbul which in those days looked like the setting for every film noir ever made. If you have read Orhan Pamuk’s Istanbul you would recognise the city as I knew it then. Very black and white, with huge 1940’s and 50’s American cars dominating the traffic, hardly any packaged goods or ready-made clothing on sale and a historic monument, usually ruined, around every corner.

In September 1970, three new teachers came out to the High School, two of them driving out from the UK. One of them, Dot, had made the journey alone in a tiny red Mini car. The four of us soon become firm friends and one day we heard that a drive-in restaurant had opened on the road to the airport and, unbelievably, it sells hamburgers.

Food in Istanbul at that time was almost exclusively Turkish save for the restaurant at the Hilton Hotel, the only international hotel in existence, where apple pie could be found. The idea of eating burgers and chips in a drive-in restaurant seemed very glamorous and we duly set out in Dot’s tiny red Mini.

We find the place and it looks just like an American drive-in as we have seen in films – a block-like building presumably housing the kitchens, with a huge car park dotted with round tables on tall stems, on each of which sits a small microphone on a lead.

It is totally empty, we are to be the only customers. We park next to a table and realise that the whole place has been designed to accommodate the huge American cars that are so much a feature of life in Istanbul. The table is taller than our Mini. But this is a drive-in, we’ve all seen the movies, and we are determined to order and eat without getting out of the car.

I am in the front passenger seat, as I am the designated Turkish speaker who will actually do the ordering. I wind down my window, extend my left arm to the top of the table and manage to grab the microphone. It won’t reach into the car so I push the top half of my body out of the window and manage to order, “Burgers and chips with colas for four”. By the time I replace the microphone and settle back in my seat, my friends in the car are giggling uncontrollably.

Eventually a waiter, dressed in red and white with a natty little hat on, emerges from the block-like building carrying a large tray on one hand at shoulder height – he’s seen the movies, too. He puts the tray on top of our table and hands the bill in through the window. We pay the bill and he returns to the building.

In the movie, the hero sits with the window wound down and casually passes food and drink from the table to the heroine on his right. In this movie, I yet again have to contort myself out of the window and, as I fill the space once out, carefully pick up one item and then slowly retreat into the car to the point where I can pass it to Dot for internal distribution. Then repeat the contortions.

There are twelve items in total and it takes time, though I do get quicker with practice and even, daringly, manage two bottles of cola, one in each hand, on my final manoeuvre. My friends don’t point out until I am yet again settled in my seat that the entire staff of the establishment, from our viewpoint seemingly a small crowd, are lined up behind the front windows of the building watching my performance.

We eat and leave – I admit defeat and get out of the car to put all the wrappers, empty bottles and napkins back on the tray on the tall table.

We never go to the drive-in again, but do dine out on the story for some time in Istanbul.

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


I can just visualize your contortions, Pat. Being the original Klutz, I'm sure I would have spilled the cokes.

However, I do envy you getting to live in far-away places with strange sounding names. From earliest childhood I have dreamed of foreign travel and didn't get to fulfill that dream until late in life. I never made it to Istanbul and do envy you the experience.

What a wonderful story, I hope Pat that you continue to write as I'm sure you have probably a books worth of similar anecdotes to share! Do you remember which film it was you saw? Your website, www.fethiyetimes.com looks fantastic - you are obviously a true Turkophile.

Hello Pat,

I laughed all the way through your story. It was so well written and descriptive.I could just picture the four of you in that little car passing food around, and the staff of the drive in finding it as amusing as I did.

Especially humorous was your observation that the waiter carried the tray at shoulder height because "He had seen the movies,too"

Great story!!!!

I love stories of faraway places in the olden days. I lived in Austria in 1969, and the one time we had hamburgers I think they may have been made from an alien meat.

I loved the story Pat. The best part is imagining the onlookers lined up to watch you. You have many more great stories to share from your early days in Istanbul. My favorite was heaing about your last minute packing decisions. You'll have to share that here some day.

Interesting story Pat ... I was a pupil at the English High School for Girls (Primary School) in the good old days of Miss Thompson (mid fifties to late fities), our headmistress. Still looking for one my teachers, Miss Lenthall (Mrs Güran??)

I travelled from Fethiye to Olympos with www.privatetoursinistanbul.com in July of this year and loved it. We spent 4 days and 3 nights on the boat, just relaxing,eating, drinking, swimming in the beautiful bays and enjoying the sun. It was heaven.

Our captain and crew were great, even made a special stop.Food was all delicious and fresh,we even enjoyed a barbecue on the boat.

Would definitely recommend doing this cruise and even planning on taking a group pf friends back again next year.

We highly suggest and recommend !!

Great memories of Istanbul and EHSG in the 1950's, thanks Pat! Miichael, would it be possible to contact me? I was a pupil at EHSG from 1958 to 1964. Ms Lenthall was only there for two years I think, so we were probably in the Same form.
Would love to hear from you.

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