Doth he protest too much?

This is the story of Turkish men overcome by English women and of English women overcome by Turkish men. Some women can't get enough, some men say it's too much. By Annabelle Thorpe
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Paula was slim, elegant, in her late thirties and a headteacher in a comprehensive school. At least, that was what she was in England. When I met her, in the small Turkish village where I was living and she was holidaying, Paula was in love. She was having an affair with Ercan, a local waiter, and for Paula it seemed to be all her fantasies come true. He was handsome and charming and each night he would untether his cousin's boat and they would sail out across the silent sea and spend the night beneath the stars.

She looked like a teenager as she sipped her raki and it struck me that she was much further away from her life in England than the distance travelled by the aeroplane. She was in another world, living out a dream that bore no relation to her life at home. And when I asked her what she talked about with Ercan, she laughed out loud and told me that they did very little talking.

There are thousands of women like Paula every summer, who fall for the charm, the accent, the physique and who, for two heady weeks, shrug off the repression and restrictions of being English to indulge in an affair with a stranger that they will probably never see again. "For many young - and middle-aged women - part of the script of a good holiday is some sort of sexual adventure," says psychologist Patrick McGhee. "Women underestimate how much their behaviour at home is restricted by the attitudes and perceptions of other people. When they go on holiday they feel an incredible sense of liberation and freedom to live out their desires."

But what of the men they choose to live out their fantasies with? All too often men who work in tourist resorts are condemned as lecherous lotharios interested only in sex - or envied for the constant stream of compliant females that flow in and out of their lives. Either way, there is little perception or thought given to the men who live permanently in the transient atmosphere of these resorts.

Murat Can carries tourists on his boat each day, to the hidden inlets and coves of the Turkish coastline. He has worked in tourism for six years since completing his National Service, and he has had enough. "At first when you come home from being a soldier it feels like a reward - all these women just desperate to sleep with you. But after some time you understand there is no life, no feelings. They want to do something exciting, something to tell their friends about at home. I am not Murat Can to these women, I am just a Turkish man - tall and foreign and different."

Patrick McGhee backs up this theory. "Many English women are still very repressed, in spite of the supposed new honesty about sex. There is an enduring set of images about liberation on holiday - and women are not looking for an intimate relationship - rather an experience that is set apart from their normal lives."

Of course there are many men who have equally little interest in anything besides sex, but there are plenty, like Murat, who feel used and then discarded. There is a growing disillusionment with tourism - and tourists - in certain areas of Turkey and a very strong sense of distaste of the women that come.

"It is hard to have a good opinion of English women," says Ali, who runs a small cafe. "I would say that 90 per cent of single women come to Turkey for sex - how can you respect a woman when she makes herself so available? It's not nice - and often women sleep with two or three different men. That is just not acceptable in Turkey and can cause trouble between friends. Last year there were two English girls who came and caused so much trouble in our village. They would go to a bar with one man and leave with another - this is just not done in Turkey, we think it very rude. There were fights over them and bad feelings. One of them got involved with two men who were cousins and they do not speak to each other any more. When they left we cheered as they got on the coach. They will go home and say that Turkish men are trouble, but it is their behaviour that caused the problem."

When I lived in Turkey I was outraged by some of the opinions held about English women, and I would argue against the generalisations and the condemnation of us as sex-mad women who simply didn't care. But after two seasons my opinions had little passion left - so many women have no regard for the fact that they are in a different culture nor care that there are codes of behaviour that should be adhered to. Mass tourism has come relatively late to Turkey, and it is increasing rapidly. Visitors from the UK alone are expected to rise by 20 per cent this year from 758,000 in 1996. Society has adapted to accommodate this tourism but it cannot reinvent itself - it remains an Islamic country and expects women to behave with dignity. The sad fact is that they do not. Neither do they care about these men who opened up their fantasies for them and accompanied them inside.

"Many women promise us things," says Murat, "that they will write, or that we can stay with them in the winter. But they get home and we never hear from them again. There have been a couple of women that I really cared for, that I would love to have seen again. But as soon as they are back in England they forget about us. We are no longer real for them."

According to Patrick McGhee it has to be like this. "Women want the sexual adventure, but because it is so out of character with their normal behaviour they have to be able to justify it. So they put up a boundary between life on holiday and real life and they do not allow the two to cross."

This is all very well for women like Paula, who had her confidence boosted by her affair with Ercan and has photos and memories to prove that there is more to her than a sensible schoolteacher. But for Ercan, for Ali and Murat and many others, there is little pleasure in remembering affairs - on the contrary, they can often bring serious trouble.

"Most of us will marry Turkish women in the end," says Murat, but it will be much harder because we have been with English women, who are more open and knowledgeable about sex. And when we are married we still work in tourism, and the problems are worse because we have wives to think about."

"Western women can cause huge problems," says Ali, in the resigned tone of one who knows, "particularly in more traditional resorts where arranged marriages occur. Many of our fathers disapprove of foreign women - and families do not want us to marry their daughters if they know we have had many affairs. English women come to our village to have fun and they do what they want because they are only here for two weeks. But we must live here always"n

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