Out of Turkey: Where cabbies don't take you for a ride

ISTANBUL - My taxi-driver must have wondered who he had got in the back of the cab. After riding half way across Istanbul silently contemplating a book, his passenger searched his pockets, declared he had no money, offered his regrets, but he could not pay.

'Never mind. Maybe another time,' the driver said, with a sigh of resignation. 'But that's not all,' I replied. 'I need you to give me a loan.' It was true. If I didn't catch a waiting ferry across the Marmara Sea to the Princes Islands, I would miss interviewing the Armenian patriarch. And I didn't have a Turkish lira to my name for a ticket.

'How much do you want?' the taxi driver gamely said. I asked for 50,000 lira (pounds 3). 'Are you sure you don't need 100,000? It's no trouble at all.' I gave him my card, he gave me the money and his phone number. His name, Sefer Yildirim, did justice to my sense of gratitude: translated bluntly from the Turkish, it means Journey Thunderbolt.

Perhaps one finds this degree of trust in many places, but I doubt it. Istanbul taxi-drivers are a forgiving lot, considering their 12-hour shifts in flocks of box-like, Turkish-built yellow Fiats. Even though there have been recent improvements with lights, the traffic is also still some of the world's most polluting and dangerous. About 15 people die in Turkish road accidents each day - more than in the insurgency in Turkey's mainly Kurdish south-east.

No group of people is perfect, of course. A few jackals plague Istanbul's tourist districts and the international arrivals sections of Istanbul airport is mostly milked by monolingual cheats whose unroadworthy vehicles have been assigned there by one of Istanbul's many mafias.

One reason is that a taxi with a licence costs about pounds 60,000 and is generally bought as an investment by merchants or professionals. The drivers themselves are often uninsured journeymen on their first job in the big city, thus ensuring an almost total ignorance of the Istanbul's cartography.

Even experienced chauffeurs say there is no way they can get any 'knowledge'. Many streets do not have names and the concrete sprawl of Istanbul now measures about 100 miles from east to west to cope with a population that has grown to 10 million in a matter of decades.

But I am writing about the silent majority of taxi drivers. And everybody in Istanbul has a story of some extraordinary act of taxi honesty in the school of 'my aged mother's lifetime collection of jewels were returned after we left them in a bag at the back of the taxi'.

The phenomenon is all the more extraordinary when compared to the dishonesty of public officials, building contractors and city grandees, as well as a general get-rich-quick rush of conspicuous consumption by the wealthy elite.

Most Istanbul taxi-drivers now start their meters correctly. They rarely expect a tip. When giving change, they habitually round the fare down. One friend is never asked for payment by his local taxi-driver, an act of gratitude, apparently, for some past favour.

I thought I had done well when a taxi-driver in Ankara returned my wallet and identity cards by post, although without the money. Then my wallet fell between the seats of an anonymous taxi as I got out at an Istanbul hotel. I had not even noticed until, an hour later, a page-boy interrupted a press conference to call me outside to where a driver, after a long argument with the hotel staff, finally handed me back my wallet with hundreds of dollars intact.

He accepted the reward I pushed hastily into his hand. But the man who saved my trip to the Princes Islands, Mr Yildirim, was even more scrupulous when he dropped by to pick up what I owed him the next day. I had left a 50 per cent tip, but he refused it. He simply wanted his due.

Life and Style
A teenager boy wakes up.
Arts and Entertainment
Critics say Kipling showed loathing for India's primitive villagers in The Jungle Book
filmChristopher Walken, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johanssen Idris Elba, Andy Serkis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett and Christian Bale
Life and Style
food + drink
Life and Style
Playing to win: for Tanith Carey, pictured with Lily, right, and Clio, even simple games had to have an educational purpose
lifeTanith Carey explains what made her take her foot off the gas
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
A still from Duncan Campbell's hour-long film 'It for Others'
Turner Prize 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hadley in a scene from ‘Soul Boys Of The Western World’
musicSpandau Ballet are back together - on stage and screen
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Ed Stoppard as Brian Epstein, Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Elliott Cowan as George Martin in 'Cilla'
tvCilla review: A poignant ending to mini-series
Life and Style
Bearing up: Sebastian Flyte with his teddy Aloysius in Brideshead Revisited
lifePhilippa Perry explains why a third of students take a bear to uni
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Alan Sugar appearing in a shot from Apprentice which was used in a Cassette Boy mashup
artsA judge will rule if pieces are funny enough to be classed as parodies
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Trust Accountant - Kent

NEGOTIABLE: Austen Lloyd: TRUST ACCOUNTANT - KENTIf you are a Chartered Accou...

Geography Teacher

£85 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: randstad education are curre...

Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Group: You must:- Speak English as a first lang...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£17000 - £18000 per annum: Randstad Education Group: If you are a committed Te...

Day In a Page

Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

Inside the E15 'occupation'

We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
Witches: A history of misogyny

Witches: A history of misogyny

The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style