The 2 dangers of living in Turkey as a foreign​ woman

13938555_1247243605309163_822962642739573736_nAs an Istanbul-based blogger, I get plenty of emails from potential expats asking me for insider tips about living in Turkey.

Where to live, what to budget for, and how to get an ikamet (resident permit). The list of questions is long.

And, I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but people do love to focus on what could go wrong in the world, rather than what could go right.

People – particularly now – are more interested in the dangers of being in Turkey, rather than hearing about the wonderful experiences people can have in the country.

There are plenty of expat blogs out there that tell you what to look out for, but on reflection, not one of them talk about the two most difficult aspects of living in Turkey – especially as a foreign woman.

1  Meeting a yabancı teyze

The first danger to be aware of is meeting a “yabancı teyze”.

In Turkish, yabancı means foreign.

Yabancı is a word you’ll hear a lot. Usually whispered to people around you.

Order food or ask for a table at a restaurant and you’ll hear at least one waiter whisper to their colleague: Yabancı. You’ll probably grow to despise the word because it’s used to describe anything foreign – from aliens to expats.

In Turkish, teyze  means aunty.

Turkish teyzes (or teyzeler to be correct) are generally mature ladies in age. The unsung heroes of Turkish society. They’re the “eyes on street” for keeping law and order in lives of those around them.

They keep an eye on their young family members, an eye on the elderly and an eye on their neighbours – who wish the Turkish teyze next door would turn a “blind eye” and mind her own business, sometimes.

But, from what I’ve seen, they tend to wear the pants in a sometimes male dominated society. Yep, the Turkish teyze can be handy to have around in troubled times because they’re built tough…real tough. Stand by one in a crowded tram and no man will stand close to you.

The yabancı teyze is somewhat different.  She generally fits one or all of the following:

  • She’s an expat woman who’s been living in Turkey for a while. Ask her how long and she’ll snap and say: “Please don’t ask me that. I hate it when people ask me that!”
  • She is or has been a yenge. Meaning, they’ve been a serious girlfriend or wife of a man in Turkey. And, she secretly hoards deep-seeded anger towards that ex-lover – or any man for that matter.
  • She knows everything there is to know about Turkey. Just ask her.

You can find a yabancı teyze, simply by posting a question – or an opinion (if you dare) – on one of Turkey’s many foreign women Facebook pages.

At first, you’ll be keen to befriend a yabancı teyze. After all, new friends in a foreign land and someone to show you the ropes does help to navigate the obstacles of assimilation. And, of course – let’s not generalise – not all foreign women who live here a long time are yabancı teyzes. Most foreign women do use their experiences for good, not evil.

You’ll know when you meet a yabancı teyze usually by the end of the first meeting.

They’re nurturing, helpful and upbeat but when you start talking about your hopes and dreams for your future in Turkey, they’ll cut in and recite horror stories about their tough times here.

Talk about the  boyfriend in Turkey, you’ll hear: “Just be careful. They’re all the same!”

Expat blogs in Istanbul

Your reaction: No they’re not!!!

 

Talk about wanting babies with that boyfriend in the future: “Oh my, wait until you have children with him. It all changes….”

Best blogs in Turkey

Your reaction: Ne? (Say what?)

 

Say you love Çemberlitaş Hamamı and get: “Oh it’s sooooo touristic. It’s not as good as mine.”

Istanbul blogs

Whatever…

 

The only thing you can do is look on in disbelief as they squash every inch of passion and hope you had for your life in Turkey.

The thing is, no matter how negative they can be, they actually love Turkey. They can’t possibly return to their hometown because they’re so in love with their lifestyle here. They know they’ll miss the drama. The hospitality. The 10 things to miss about Turkey. So they feel stuck. Which makes them frustrated, and they take that frustration out on you. The new fresh-faced yabancı in the ‘hood.

Yes, she can be like a Mary Poppins with a bag full of difficult and awkward stuff you really don’t need in your life. But, the good news is, you can overcome that sour taste you feel when you meet one by handing them a ‘spoon full of sugar’.

Tap into their positive experiences and that’s when you find the gems they have to offer. Because as much as things have gone sour for them, there’s plenty of sweet things they’ve experienced in Turkey. Otherwise, why are they still here?

The hidden rooftop bars.

The best beaches near the city.

Where to buy sweet potato or coriander.

And…..how to get that ikamet.

In fact, the best way to deal with one yabancı teyze is to see two of them in action. In the same room, or on a Facebook forum. That’s when you can sit back, eat some popcorn (or cekirdek) and watch as they battle it out in a supreme fight of “I know more about Turkey than you.” It’s a true battle of the egos that will leave you feeling good about yourself. Until….

2 Recognising when…

The second danger to be aware of is recognising that moment when….

…you become a yabancı teyze yourself!!!

Speaking from experience, don’t panic.

Apologise to the person you annoyed. Know it is you and not them. Realise everyone has their life and life lessons to live. Get off Facebook if you have to. Take a walk by the Bosphorus. Deep breathe.

You’ll be ok.

But, do know you have been warned of the signs and symptoms of becoming a yabancı teyze in this blog.

You’re welcome.

 

Thanks to Turkish Memes for some of the images above. Go like them on Facebook.

Is this what it means to be beautiful in Turkey?

A light-hearted reading from Istanbul’s Spoken Word on April 12, 2016.balik etli

*************

This is a story about one woman’s struggle to come to terms with beauty in the eyes of the Turks.

Well, the truth be known it’s actually my own struggle.

I just spent three months in Australia where I performed in a dancing show. With a month of intensive rehearsals in the heat of an Australian summer I naturally lost weight – about three kilograms.

Though, when the curtains came down on the show, “weight” was definitely not on my mind.  I was, “get in my belly” with chocolate, burgers and biscuits for a few weeks as my dancing feet rested. Binge, binge, binge. Nom, nom, nom. I no longer had to watch my waist line because I am happy with my curves – and I enjoy food!

That said, about a week before flying back to Istanbul I began to feel apprehensive about my weight. Because, I knew I had to face my Turkish friends. And, I knew EVERY TIME I land in Turkey I’d get an honest opinion about my weight:

“Hello my friend? How are you? ………..Have you put on a little bit of weight?”

In Australia, you would NEVER, EVER say: “Have you put on weight?” To say such a thing would be highly insensitive, perhaps even insulting to anyone insecure about their extra kilograms.

But no, no, no – not in Turkey. Apparently to say: “Have you put on a little bit of weight?” could actually be a compliment. (But, more on that later).

I bet there’s a few people right now sizing me up as they read this. Maybe thinking…”it sounds like she’s carrying a few extra kilograms”…is she balık etli!?

What does that mean? Some of you may ask. Well let me tell you.

I was introduced to this term six years ago when I came to Istanbul.

I met a Turkish guy at bar in Taksim. He was in his mid-30s. Had dark long locks and kept himself fit. We exchanged pleasantries – all in English, because my Turkish was terrible. He was kind of cute and charming. I was enjoying the conversation – right up until he started looking me up and down, and said, “You look like…”

He gazes at me with “sexy eyes”.

Sexy eyes (2)

I hold on for a compliment that will make me swoon for this dark-haired, dark-eyed beauty.

Perhaps he will say I look like Reece Witherspoon. Because I used to get that all the time – when I was thinner. Or may be he thinks I look like Ginger Spice – the mid-1990’s, curvier, union jack sporting version of “Ginger Spice” – because I used to get that too.

He repeats himself and pauses, contemplating his words: “You look like….

……balık etli.”

My eyebrows raise. I’m speechleess. I’m stunned as I interpret those two words in my mind to:

Fish meat!

“I look like fish meat!?” Ne! (What!?) I shifted uncomfortably with the anger resonating in my body. My western brain that would never compare a woman to fish concluded this guy was rude and insensitive.

Although, to give him the benefit of the doubt, perhaps I did not hear right, or perhaps my Turkish is more average then I thought. I asked him, “Pardon? Did you just say I look like fish meat?”

I gasped when he answered, “Yes.”

What does that mean?? My mind went berserk as I searched for words to respond. I mean, what fish could I possibly be?

Am I hamsi (anchovies)? Short and slender. I do have pale skin. Maybe I was shining under the lights of the bar?

Hamsi

Am I hamsi (European anchovies)?

 

Am I çupra (sea bream)? Chubby in the face and mid-section. Skinny  in the “legs”.

Seabream

Maybe I’m like cupra (sea bream)?

 

Or perhaps levrek (sea bass)? Sleek and in proportion.

Seabass

Perhaps I’m like levrek (sea bass)?

 

Oh my! Am I turbot!? Flat, round, bumpy and rather unattractive to look at (but pleasant to devour).

turbot.jpg

Turbot, with a face only a mother could love.

 

Seeing the disgust on my face, my new friend at the bar was quick to explain what balık etli meant to him.

Apparently, in Turkey, to be “balık etli” is to be voluptuous. To have curves in the right places, and Turkish men do love curves (he reassured me several times).

His confident explanation soon had me believing that I had indeed just heard the most oddest compliment ever received.

But since then, many people have said otherwise. That perhaps when people say: “You’re like balık etli” it’s actually a warning to avoid that next chocolate, burger or biscuit!

Regardless, given this experience and many others I’ve had in my travels, I do feel beauty is defined by the culture and society we live in.

Do you like your ladies lean, voluptuous or lumpy and bumpy? Like your preference in fish – beauty comes down to personal taste – largely shaped by the society you live in. What’s attractive in one society may not be in another. And, as long as I enjoy my food, and I enjoy my curves, and Turkish men find balık etli  “tasty” I guess I’m not moving to another country anytime soon!!!

…..So….. who’s up for a spot of fishing? <insert cheeky bream grin here>

Skinny-Mirror

(Balık etli kadını sonunda bulduk = Finally we found the balık etli woman)

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2 ways to love in Turkey

Love Life Istanbul 3I recently caught up with an ex-boyfriend. A Turkish guy I had an on-again / off-again relationship with over four years. Whilst we couldn’t make it work as lovers, he remains one of my closest friends and confidants. We have a mutual respect and support one another in times of need.  He’s my go–to guy to help interpret the Turkish world around me. He’s been excellent at this role. That was, up until now.

You see, our last meeting at his house  slid into a conversation about our former relationship, which broke up over a year ago.  We questioned what went wrong and what went right. He eventually asked me, “Do you think we would have made a good couple?”

“Do you?” I replied encouraging him to dive in to the topic first.

“Well,” he paused, “I guess, I really, really liked you. I didn’t love you.”

My Western-made heart dropped. A heart that understood love as everything we had experienced in our relationship. It plunged into a pool of anger deep in my gut that could have splashed him with a wave of expletives.

Love to me was this: 10 lessons about love. That’s what we had.

Nonetheless, I snapped, “What do you mean you didn’t love me?”

“I really liked you.” He responded.

“No, that’s not possible. What do you mean exactly?” I snapped again, never satisfied with his brief answers whilst my heart was furious. I started to roll off the names our mutual male friends from my spiteful tongue. “I like Serkan. I like Erhan. But, I don’t love them like I loved you.” We both paused, with him looking as though he realised our difference of opinion.  I added, “So are you telling me that for four years I was I just a friend?”

He cut in trying to save himself. “No, no, no. That’s not what I mean. You don’t understand. Like is better than love. Love is really romantic. Love is where you don’t see each other’s errors.  Where you’re passionate all the time. You’re not confused.” He even closed his eyes mimicking the words, “Love is when you’re blind to each other’s errors.” He then added, “We saw each other’s errors. We weren’t romantic all the time.” Now sensing my growing resentment, he cut himself off and concluded. “Trust me like is just better than love in a relationship.”

“I still don’t understand. Isn’t romance and passion, part of being in love? To me, we were in love because we did see each other errors and we worked to overcome them. That is love to me.”

I sat in silence, sulking, for a long time trying to think of the words to bring this topic to an end. I was facing a reality that after all this time – he just “liked” me! The feeling stirred in me for a while, but I noticed his body language was trying to reach out to me – probably in an effort to break my silence.  His forwardness and eventual assertion to invite me to stay to watch a movie confused me. I was now curious about these mixed messages. As he started the film and I contemplated leaving, a thought dawned on me. Was our conversation lost in translation?

I asked, with new-found hope, “Ok, so let’s just clarify. What is the Turkish word for like …for you?”

“Sevmek.” He replied.

“And what, is love?” I continued – although I knew the answer.

“Aşk.”

I decided to leave it at that. Knowing that later, as an avid researcher, I would seek out the difference. After all, I had seen loving words and phrases with sev and aşk used interchangeably in relationships, and to be honest, I never questioned their difference.

Seni seviyorum = I love you

Sevgilim = my love

Aşkım  = my love

Didn’t they all refer to, “love”? Now I was curious about the difference.

Later, when I got home, I did what any normal person would do lost in the language of a foreign world. I consulted Google translate.

I typed: Sevmek 

Like appeared on the screen.

Then I typed: Aşk

Love.

Dam! He was right. In defiance I concluded that Google Translate for Turkish and English was rarely accurate. I had to delve deeper. I Googled the corresponding nouns.

Love life Istanbul 1

Scanning through the results, I read things about sevgi being an affectionate love between friends or between parents and children, whilst aşk was a romantic love. My heart didn’t lift. So, I kept surfing in my quest to define love in Turkey.

Finally, TurkishClass.com had a forum where someone was equally confused:

Love Life Istanbul 2

My point exactly. “What?” I was struggling with Turkish, let alone Greek! So now, I’m more curious. I Google: “eros and agape” and I have a little breakthrough with this page:

Four Kinds of Love; Eros, Agape, Phileo & Storge on the blog, Eros to Agape: Moving more deeply into loving relationships.

On this page, eros (aşk) was defined as:

“A love felt particularly within the body (trembling excitement, elation, joy), coloured and underpinned by deep and beautiful procreative urges.”

“….Eros is a state of the heart and while it is intimately related to sex, sex can exist, and often does exist, without Eros enlivening it. It leads to children, family, joy and laughter. It is good and right, but it is usually not enough to sustain a relationship long term.”

Well that started off sounding nice but ended badly. So I read agape (sevgi):

“Agape – Is more of a parental, mature, sacrificial kind of love. The Thayer Lexicon describes agape beautifully when it says “to take pleasure in the thing, prize it above all other things, be unwilling to abandon it or do without it.” In a way it is as idealistic as Eros, in that it is a crazy love that will not let go. Agape loves, usually at cost to the bearer. Agape puts the beloved first and sacrifices pride, self-interest and possessions for the sake of that beloved.”

Oh! The penny drops. Agape does sound more like the relationship my ex and I had, and probably still have in that apparently we can’t do without each other. Our love was mature. It wasn’t fleeting. It wasn’t unfulfilling as the Eros to Agape blog defined eros. I knew that eros doesn’t last and that’s what made him different to other relationships I had.

I kept searching to validate this research, and saw sevgi referred to a love between lovers. Then these quotes sealed my new-found understanding:

Sevgi last forever even if aşk ends.”

And, my favourite:

“A man who says aşkım may be talking about his love for a pretty blonde, but not the blonde herself.”

Now, I get it. In Turkish, like (sevgi) is better than love (aşk). Aşk is more about lust. It’s an erotic love that ends – like a fleeting romance. Sevgi is a higher love. It’s unconditional and lasting. Whilst English doesn’t seem to have two words to differentiate between the types of love we experience, Turkish does.

My ex and I were lost in translation. Whilst he failed beautifully in his attempt to label our relationship using English words, the words in Turkish made complete sense – and were actually quite sweet. I completely saw his point.

With my research closed, I rang my ex. He re-confirmed the difference and how he felt. I joked, “Google Translate has a lot of explaining to do!” I apologised for my anger and, instead, thanked him for his honesty and kind “words”.

Hanging up the phone, I joked to myself:

Remind me never to aşk about love again!

A lesson on ANZAC Day

The 2015 Gallipoli Ballot has been drawn and 10,000 lucky Australians and New Zealanders now have their tickets in hand to attend a once in a lifetime experience – to be on Turkey’s Gelibolu Yarımadası (Gallipoli Peninsula) for ANZAC Day, April 25. The event will mark the centenary of the ill-fated Allied landings at Gallipoli during the First World War (WW1).

This means Istanbul is about to experience a ground-swell of “Aussies” and “Kiwis” during the latter weeks of April. In previous years, we would predict the coming of ANZAC Day by the sudden presence of casual board shorts in cold conditions, thongs flip-flops, freckled skin and profanity pounding the pavements of Sultanahmet.

Tank tops, tattoos, flags and a barbie (BBQ) - Australians in full patriotic bloom!

Photo: Tank tops, tattoos, Aussie flags and a barbie (BBQ) full of sangas (sausages) – Australians in full patriotic bloom!

But this year, we’re expecting a more refined crowd. More dignitaries and less backpackers. More veterans and less beer guzzling world travellers under the age of 25 – due to the ballot’s attempt to manage crowd numbers.

Whilst those attending are more likely to blend in, media attention and heightened security measures will follow as dignitaries and celebrities alike gather for a front row seat at the commemorations.

Prince Charles and (swoonworthy) Prince Harry will be in town. So too will Russel Crowe, who returns to Turkey after doing a sterling job on entwining Australian and Turkish WW1 stories born of the Gallipoli Campaign in, The Water Diviner, known in Turkey as Son Umut (2014).

Prince Harry is hot

Photo: Will having a sign like this earn me a hand in marriage high-five from Prince Harry?

If you’re not an Australian or a New Zealander, then ANZAC Day may be a foreign concept to you. ANZAC Day is like your Veterans Day, Memorial Day, or Remembrance Day – our day “down under” to patriotically honour the men and women who served, fought and died for our countries in the military missions throughout history.

So important is this day, that it’s a declared a national holiday in Australia and New Zealand. In most cities and towns, governments will host memorial services and marches to honour the significance of the day in defining our national identities.

ANZAC Day itself commemorates the crucial events on Turkish soil when the (then) young countries of Australia and New Zealand first engaged in battle on an international front. This occurred in the early hours of April 25, 1915, when a long-awaited ground invasion of Allied forces stormed the Western shores of the Gallipoli Peninsula in an attempt to conquer the Dardanelles – the strategic geographic gateway linking the Aegean and Marmara seas.

Gallipoli

Photo: Location of the Dardanelles and the landing area for ANZAC troops labelled with  “ANZAC Cove”.

Approximately 4,000 ANZAC troops of the 3rd Brigade were first ashore near Ari Burnu as the Allied “covering force” around 4am. By nightfall over 20,000 ANZAC, British and French soldiers were ashore in armed combat on the Gallipoli Peninsula* against the army of the Ottoman Empire, that included one Colonel Mustafa Kemal.

The British Empire, leading the ANZAC troops, believed defeating the Ottomans over the Dardanelles would provide passage to the capital of the Ottoman Empire – Constantinople (today’s Istanbul). First take the land-based forts and batteries lining the Dardanelles, then sail the Royal Navy down the strait to the capital. The strategy, envisioned through rose-coloured glasses, assumed a multi-pronged victory; Capture of the supply routes to Russia via the Bosphorus and Black Sea, and create a new frontier from the east to support existing battles on the Western Front in Europe.

The landings on April 25 were a follow-up to the unsuccessful Anglo-French naval charge to Constantinople at the head of the Dardanelles on March 18, 1915. Victory by the Ottoman Army that day is now celebrated annually in Turkey as Çanakkale Victory Day or Martyr’s Day.

The Gallipoli landings and subsequent nine-month campaign evoked a series of well-documented heroic stories, but, the Gallipoli Campaign in truth was a military failure for the Allies. Many mishaps were brought on by poor planning or execution and an underestimation of the full strength of the Ottoman forces.

The major error pertinent to the ANZAC’s campaign involved their landing boats on the morning of April 25. The pinnaces towing the “covering force” ashore drifted further north than their intended targets at Gaba Tepe and the 4,000 ANZACS troops landed at the foot of soaring sandstone terrain adjacent to the areas now known as Ari Burnu, ANZAC Cove and North Beach. The landscape alone was not the issue, the majority of the covering force troops were greeted by snipers and heavy machine gun fire – many did not survive.

Gallipoli Peninsula

Photo: The terrain that greeted the ANZAC troops.

What followed was utter confusion, dispersed battalions and an abandonment of original plans to take Mal Tepe on the high ground by the end of day one (April 25). Over the following months, soldiers fought largely on foot over the cliffs, ridges and plateaus of the peninsula. Many hours were spent digging trenches to protect soldiers and enable supply routes through the treacherous terrain. The amount of tunnelling and digging that took place earned the ANZAC troops the nickname, “the diggers,” which is a name you’ll hear today to describe Australian armed forces.

Lady luck rarely struck the Allies on the peninsula for the remainder of the campaign.* By November 1915, with deteriorating weather conditions and an increase in Ottoman strength, the British Empire finally succumbed to the enormity of the target and ordered a mass evacuation involving over 140,000 troops, horses and artillery. The majority of troops were evacuated over four nights in December with the last of the British and French soldiers leaving the peninsula on January 9, 1916.  The evacuation to the Aegean Sea was met with little resistance and causalities were minimal – a rare military success in the whole campaign.

Leaving in its wake, an estimated 392,856 causalities of Allied and Ottomans soldiers (130,842 deaths and 262,014 wounded). Almost half of these were Ottoman casualties.  As for Australia, of the 50,000 men who made it to Gallipoli, over half of them were casualties of war (8,709 deaths and 19,441 wounded). New Zealanders, with a smaller contingent of around 14,000 men also suffered a high causality rate with 2,779 killed and 5,212 wounded (almost 8,000 casualties).

Also in the wake of the campaign were thousands of Gallipoli legacies. Stories of Australian and Turkish heroes and of “mateship” that formed across enemy trenches – just metres apart. Stories of bravery and tragedy etched in diaries and letters of those who were there. Photos preserved from the past that tell their own story. Legendary stories of ceasefire days (to bury the dead and collect the injured) where the “Johnnys and Mehmets” (ANZACs and Ottomans) exchanged cigarettes, chocolate and played football (or cricket – depending on which side of the story is told). These words and these legacies, along with the acknowledgement that the Gallipoli Campaign was a bloody battle that should have been avoided, is what binds Australia, New Zealand and Turkey today.

My Australian uncle recently asked me, “Why don’t the Turks dislike Australians? We invaded their lands and killed their people.”  The words of Gallipoli’s Colonel Mustafa Kemal who went onto become Atatürk – the father of modern day Turkey and first President of the Republic of Turkey – came to my mind.

Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives… You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side now here in this country of ours… you, the mothers, who sent their sons from faraway countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.

The ANZACS are Turkish sons too are words of great forgiveness. And, when respected leaders show great forgiveness, their people will follow and friendships are formed.

One of the benefits of living in Turkey as an Australian is hearing the Ottoman side of the war and forming a greater view of what the war meant for all our countries. What most Australians don’t realise is that all three countries began to form their modern-day identities – their national identities – in those eight months at Gallipoli in 1915. It wasn’t just a defining event for Aussies and Kiwis – it was also for the country we now openly visit and love (and call home) called, Türkiye (Turkey).

The thousands of Aussies and Kiwis due to land in Turkey this month will carry their own stories with them. Some may even hold the possessions or replicas of those who fought or served at Gallipoli. I will be joining them and my Turkish friends, some of them descendants of the campaign, are keen to meet them. I will be at Canakkale proudly baring the replica medals of my great granduncle, George Albert Fearn, who was part of the covering force with Western Australian 11th Battalion, B Company.

George came ashore in the second wave of landings – the wave that came under the heaviest fire once the Ottomans were alerted to the ANZAC arrivals. Many of the men he landed with did not make it to the beach, yet he survived the entire campaign, and for this I am extremely proud to represent him and my family near Gallipoli among my friends – the modern day Johnnys and Mehmets – who will be with me as the sun rises behind the peninsula signifying 100 years since our ANZAC “fathers” first touched Turkish soil.

Lest we forget.

* For more information about the whole campaign, including the role of the British, French and other Allies visit the excellent websites: www.gallipoli.gov.au; www.abc.net.auwww.awm.gov.auhttp://discoveringanzacs.naa.gov.au; and www.anzacwebsites.com.

Come back tomorrow to read, 16 tips for visiting Istanbul for the ANZAC centenary– a post for Aussies and Kiwis coming to Istanbul for the ANZAC centenary.

74 Lessons from 5 years in Turkey

one-does-not-yc1utmI hit my five year anniversary of living in Turkey this week and so, in my moment of reflection, I brainstormed all the memories and things I learned since arriving. I normally write about my lessons from Turkey, but really – they mount up – I can’t keep up! These lessons are obviously skewed to my gender and neighborhood, so feel free to add yours in the comments section below.

  1. Having an excellent Turkish vocabulary does not mean your Turkish is fluent.
  2. Attempting to speak a new sentence with your çok az (very little) Turkish will fail 99.9% of the time.
  3. Six months will be spent waiting to apply and receive your ikamet (resident card).
  4. Several hours will be spent learning to pronounce: Yabancılar Şube Müdürlüğü (the place where you get your resident card).
  5. Getting your ikamet can be a convoluted process, but still somewhat easier and far cheaper than most other countries.
  6. Most mornings will involve checking your Facebook and Twitter accounts by switching on your VPN.
  7. You know what a VPN is. You didn’t before moving to Turkey.
  8. Your friends and family back home are also learning what a VPN is and are considering getting one too.
  9. Fleecy pazar (street market) pants for 10TL are the best pants you’ll ever wear while you work (from home).
  10. Allowing the greengrocer to pick your fruit and vegetables means getting the goods with the mold.
  11. Once the greengrocer knows you’re “local” this will stop.
  12. You can’t find self-raising flour in the shops (but you can find the recipe online to make it yourself) .
  13. You can find coriander in the local street markets for 2TL.
  14. The location of sweet potatoes is still a mystery.
  15. Everything else you seek is generally found at Eminönü – between the Spice Bazaar and Grand Bazaar.
  16. An environmentally friendly canvas bag at a check-out in a supermarket will earn you awkward looks.
  17. Bruce Lee reflexes and speed are required to pack a shopping bag at the supermarket before the next customer starts packing theirs.
  18. It is possible to pick the nationality of someone just by looking at them.
  19. When there are no prices on items the seller will judge your income by the way you look and price accordingly.
  20. There is such a thing as yabancı (foreign) tax – it’s when you’re charged more for being obviously foreign.
  21. Yabancı tax is high on apartments on Craigslist.
  22. New foreigners to town will still pay it unaware of the prices on sahibinden.com
  23. Hairdressers in expat-dense neighborhoods may also be guilty of yabancı tax.
  24. Hairdressers will almost always be male.
  25. It’s possible for two men to work on your hair, with one woman doing your pedicure and another woman doing your manicure – all at the same time.
  26. Pushing and shoving people to get off a tram/train when people are trying to get on is perfectly acceptable behaviour.
  27. It’s possible that Istanbul bus drivers are in fact retired F1 drivers in disguise.
  28. It’s possible to drive a dolmuş (shared taxi) whilst on the phone, collecting money and smoking cigarette (simultaneously).
  29. Dolmuş literally means “stuffed”.
  30. Figuratively speaking a dolumuş is also “stuffed”.
  31. A taxi from Taksim to Sultanahmet is about 15TL max…never 20TL.
  32. Transport across two continents is as little as 1.65TL (60 US cents).
  33. Wearing headphones whilst walking near the tram line on Istiklal Street is not a good idea.
  34. Zebra crossings are for cars to speed up – not to slow down and stop.
  35. The Metrobus is possibly the densest “person per square meter” space you’ll ever experience in your life.
  36. Unless you find yourself at Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi coffee shop in Eminönü on Saturday afternoon.
  37. The Sirkeci Marmaray line is possibly the deepest Metro station you’ll ever visit.
  38. The Metro lines should not be taken when tear gas is flying around upstairs.
  39. Tear gas certainly does tickle.
  40. The answer to, “But don’t you feel unsafe living in Turkey?” is still, “No.”
  41. The probability of being attacked by a drunk or a person on drugs in the West (or shot at in the USA) seems far greater than being attacked in Istanbul…in my opinion.
  42. Reporting a crime at a Turkish police station can earn you a police report.
  43. … and a friend request on Facebook the next day from the officer who took your report.
  44. You can sign up to online dating websites with no photo and no description and still get 100 likes overnight.
  45. Most of them will be married.
  46. Men will stare if you’re a blonde, brunette, or redhead – covered skin or uncovered.
  47. Ignore it – that’s generational stuff you’re never going to solve in your time here.
  48. Being a blonde in Aksaray is a beacon for Russian speaking sellers and businessmen wanting to “take you out for tea”.
  49. Nine out of 10 relationships that started in Sultanahmet will not work out.
  50. “Tsk” doesn’t mean you offended a friend, it can simply mean, “No.”…I think.
  51. “Allah Allah,” can be used to express anything from, “You annoy me,” to, “You’re hilarious, yani.”
  52. Yani does not mean, “my friend.” Nor is it a person’s name.
  53. At dinner time, it’s polite to always serve bread to Turkish friends.
  54. …even with Asian noodles.
  55. Saying, “I live in Fatih,” is met with a long and puzzling pause, followed by, “Why would you live there?”
  56. Saying, “I live in Cihangir,” is met with, “My god, that must be expensive. Why would you live there?”
  57. Someone is reading this list and asking, “But what about the Asian side?”
  58. Moving into a new empty apartment with lots of men delivering furniture and switching on services can be mistaken by conservative neighbors as, “The yabancı next door is a prostitute.”
  59. Internations expat only events are actually a great way to meet other foreigners in Istanbul.
  60. Those Internations twinkles from “Indian pilots” are still annoying.
  61. To understand the diversity of people in Turkey, you do need to ask questions about those taboo topics.
  62. Ask more than one person to get a balanced view…and ask in private situations.
  63. Explaining the fascinating facets of your life in Turkey to friends back home is almost impossible to do.
  64. But, doing so will have them booking a ticket to come experience the country themselves.
  65. There are far more people in Turkey willing to help you, rather than take advantage of you.
  66. Travelling to other parts of the world will make you miss Turkish hospitality…
  67. And the food…(ciğ köfte and kaymak – but obviously not served together!)
  68. And the hamams (Turkish bath)…
  69. And the hairdressers…
  70. And everything I listed here.
  71. It’s possible the friends and experiences you have in Turkey will become the fondest memories of your life.
  72. Istanbul is unlike any other city. She pushes you away and pulls you back in. She nurtures you and challenges you. She may in fact, with time, be your greatest love in life.
  73. Even Napoleon Bonaparte believed Istanbul should be the capital of the world.
  74. And maybe it should be!

10 lessons about love

Love

For 32 years of my life I was a hopeless singledom. Bridget Jones was my idol.

In my twenties, I chose the unavailable commitment phobes like Daniel Cleaver and grieved when it wouldn’t work out. I would rush head strong into relationships that fizzled as the excitement soon wore off, because I had thrown everything about myself to them in the first two weeks. Mark Darcy-types never got a look in because they were ‘safe’ and the Daniel Cleavers of the world seemed far more exciting.

In my early thirties I believed love wasn’t possible for me. Love was a privilege for other people and so I decided to just be with me and love me – and enjoy that. That’s when I met my Mark Darcy and he taught me lessons in love.  Years later, these are the 10 things I have learnt about love:

1. Love is taking a risk and changing your life to complement the needs of another.

2. Love is tender, respectful kisses on the forehead.

3. Love is lying in green grass in the sun, with no words – just holding hands.

4. Love is by your side in times of trouble and not walking out the door. Love stays.

5. Love is shedding a tear when the other is in pain.

6. Love is having your absolute worst, most embarrassing moment – that you wish no one would ever witness – and you hear, “I love you!”

7. Love is revealing your beliefs and inner soul, that could be controversial or disliked, and you hear, “I like that about you.”

8. Love is phone calls with some text messages – not text messages with no phone calls.

9. Love doesn’t mean you have to hang from the chandeliers… all the time.

10. Love is revealing one page at a time about yourself to keep them reading.

No one can know what happens next, but these are lessons that will stay with me for life. What are your lessons about love?

A lesson in spontaneity

Spontaneous

Spontaneity is the spice of life and Istanbul, located on the old Silk Road, is naturally full spice. When you whip spontaneity and Istanbul together you get an extra spicy life! Or at least that’s what I have learnt.

At the end of my first year here and looking for a job, my Turkish-American friend says, “I have a friend who needs oriental dancers tomorrow morning for the Seda Sayan TV show. There will be other English-speaking dancers. It should be fun. Are you in?”

The quote from Eat Pray Love and my background in oriental dance had something to do with what happened next.

Eat Pray Love

The next morning, giving into this quote and believing this adventure may somehow lead me to my future, I found myself in down-town Balat. Balat is a poor neighbourhood in Istanbul renowned for having a large Roman (gypsy) community. In this community lives a Roman fashion designer.

With my make-up and hair done, complete with false eye lashes and bouffant hair-style, I stand on an urban street. I look around for other dancers. No one arrived and I grew more and more nervous as I watched one loud costume after another being loaded into a truck. Think organza, think tulle, think sparkly gem stones, think bright feathers, think huge hoop satin skirts dotted with glistening sequins, think…am I going to wear that?

Children and teenagers were then loaded into the back of the truck – I thought I was to be next. I grew claustrophobic and thought for an excuse to leave but then,”Haydi, haydi,” (c’mon, c’mon) was said as I was shuffled into the front of the truck where I shared a single front bench seat with two adults and three restless children.

I was beginning to regret my quest for spontaneity and my friend’s reassurances of safety. No one spoke English and I had no idea where I was going or what exactly I should do for this TV gig.

Arriving to the studio, I was ushered to the change rooms where I was met with the stares of 20 young Roman girls aged between 10 and 15. A chorus of whispers of, “Yabanci” (foreigner) broke out. I was out of place. Why was this mid-30 year old, fair skinned, blonde haired woman back-stage? For her quest for spontaneity that’s why!

The awkward moment was broken by an older woman opening the door and placing a large bag of make-up on the counter. A flurry of activity broke out. Whispers turned to screaming and squealing as the girls scrambled and fought over lipsticks, blushes and eyeshadows.

Judging by the level of commotion, I thought it was time to get ready. I opened my make-up case. A few of the girls notice and look at it like it’s a chest of gold. They swoon. Now I’m promoted from yabanci to, “Abla! Abla!” (Sister! Sister!)  as they help themselves to my case. Turkish words were thrown at me. I did not understand a word. All I could say was “Pardon, Türkçe çok az biliyorum!” (I know very little Turkish! ). They just giggled and continued to explore the yabanci chest of girly treasures.

The door opens again and the designer himself gestured me to follow him. The girls gave back my make-up and another chorus of, “Bye, bye, bye,” ensued amongst giggles.

I was escorted to the TV station’s hair and make-up studio where I sat shoulder to shoulder with the TV stars. Fantastic! Pamper time! Professional hair and make-up like a star – yes please! Spontaneity was starting to show some fruit.

Pimped and primed – I felt good. Now I needed a costume so I returned backstage. Backstage was chaos. Multi-coloured flouro feathers flew in the air. Sequinned costume bits were strewn from one end of the room to the other.

Someone hands me a purple plume of organza and strips me down and zips me in. Wollah! My costume is on. I am transformed into Ms Ruffles Galore.

The light purple organza bodice with embroidered gold flowers was matched with a light purple organza skirt that came up to my thigh in the front and extended into a long train at the back – completely covered in organza ruffles.

I did not plan on wearing a dress that exposed my legs – oriental dancers wear long skirts – so I had brought black shoes to dance in and, since this was a last minute gig, I didn’t bother to wax my legs.

Horror! There I was about to make my TV début on National TV – one of the most watched daytime TV shows in Turkey – and I was wearing light purple organza ruffles with hairy legs and black shoes! I would give yabanci’s a bad reputation furry legs and poor colour coordination! Needless to say, I didn’t take any full length photos in the costume.

One awkward moment after another made me nervous. Where were the other English-speaking dancers?  Why am I getting special treatment? Am I to ‘star’ in the show? Will I dance by myself or will I just walk in show the costume, smile and consider my gig is done? If I exited the building right now would anyone notice?

The music started. It was showtime – but the music was not oriental – it was the Romany 9/8 rhythm. I can’t dance the 9/8 rhythm! I’m clumsy and uncoordinated dancing to it. I’m fair haired, blonde, wearing a plume of organza and now I have to pretend to dance Romany style …did I mention this was live TV!?

Panic stricken, I asked TV program staff, “Do you speak English? Do you know what I am to do?” No English, no answers. HELP! I was about to make a fool of myself on LIVE NATIONAL TV!

The music continues and about 15 girls walk on stage before me. I relax a little. I think I am just a back-up dancer with the young Roman girls…I think. I’ll just follow them and stay behind them so no-one sees that I am an imposter!

But wait! It’s obvious I’m foreign, what happens if Seda takes an interest in me and asks me a question? I can’t say “Türkçe çok az biliyorum!!!” How uncouth! I’ll be on YouTube as a joke! Especially with my hairy legs and black shoes exposed!

Deep breathe…was I about to live a nightmare?

The music builds up and I’m gestured to move on stage. I pick up my train and composure and step out to the cameras. Hello, National TV – I made it…just.

There’s Seda to my left, a live band to the right and a live audience of Turkish housewives  in front of a group of Roman dancing girls. I thought to myself – you’ll be fine –just move your hips to the rhythm and pound your fist to your chest couple of times – just like a Roman dancer. No feet – just hips and fists!

The girls all gathered around. This is when I relaxed for the first time that day. I started to dance like a pouting, powerful Roman girl with attitude.  I hid behind the younger girls who were hungry for the camera and who thankfully shielded my legs from the crowd. I loved the song so it was not difficult to enjoy the moment. A few more gypsy fist salutes and hip bumps – the music finishes and we go to ad break.

I receive applause from the band, from the designer and my fellow dancers backstage. I had made an impression. I was part of the dancing Romany sisterhood! I felt good! I was smiling and laughing with my new friends. I hadn’t failed – infact I had fun and I had lived a dream many dancers dream of – I danced on National TV (and in a genre unfamiliar to me).

The whole experience taught me that sometimes we get stuck in ground hog day. Sometimes we stop taking risks. Sometimes we forget to laugh at ourselves, we forget to let go and have fun because we fear failure.

Sometimes we should just be spontaneous and enjoy the spice it adds to our life. It certainly makes for a good story to tell your friends!

A lesson in abundance from Turkey

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I am contemplating a move back to my hometown in Australia, but – to be honest – I’m nervous. You see the longer I live in Turkey, the more I resent the lifestyle I led in Australia and I fear going back to it.  I wish to share a story – a defining moment for me in how I choose to live my life now and in the future.

Before I moved to Turkey, my friends and I used to gather once a month in my hometown to break bread together and to reflect on our busy lives whilst intending for better days. We called ourselves the intenders circle – a group of like-minded spiritual people who over an hour or so, would eat together, and later, we’d form a circle by sitting on plush cushions. We’d  close our eyes and meditate – visioning for a better world. Then we would we would share the things we were grateful for and intend for things we wanted like ‘abundance’.

Usually we wanted abundance in love, in money, in success, in health – abundance in anything we thought we were lacking. We thought, if we were lucky to attain this abundance – we’d be happy. But since moving to Turkey my thoughts on abundance have shifted thanks to grounding experiences like the one I had in 2012.

Autumn of that year, I was walking through one of the poorer neighbourhoods of Istanbul –Zeyrek in Fatih. Zeyrek is one of those areas modern Istanbul seems to look down on because it’s like a village in the middle of the city on the edge of the Golden Horn – slightly conservative and somewhat gritty. Ultimately. it’s like time has stood still. But it’s full of decaying wooden Ottoman houses and old Byzantine churches that were turned into mosques by the Ottomans. It’s an area of the city I’ve grown to like because of its old world charms.

On this particularly evening, the sun was just setting and I could hear some soulful Middle Eastern singing in the distance and so, me being a big fan of Middle Eastern music, I walked towards the sound. I was curious to see who could be making such a beautiful noise in the quiet streets at dusk.

I came across a tiny playground on the corner of a paved street near a mosque. The playground was barricaded by a high iron fence encasing two swing sets, monkey bars and other equipment that on this evening created a performance platformsfor about 10 children under the aged of 12. They were singing and tapping wooden sticks from the nearby tree against the steal playground equipment – creating a rhythmical sound.

One of the boys in particular had a vibrato so clean, so mature it was utterly captivating. I felt both joy and sadness tuning into his voice. His mates seemed to be his band and he was the ‘rockstar’.

Completely mesmerized, I listened to them outside the gates of the playground. Soon others joined me for the impromptu performance. The children were unaware they were now entertaining a small gathering of the neighbourhood outside the gates.

The children were in singing in Arabic and they didn’t respond to comments made in Turkish or Kurdish from the passersby – so I suspected they were Syrian.

As I watched them, it dawned on me. It was a cold night and there I was dressed in a warm winter jacket, boots, scarf, new jeans and I had my Iphone and camera with me. All these things I thought gave me abundance and happiness in my ‘western world’, yet, despite my belongings I was feeling a little low. I can’t remember why…whatever it was I was feeling sorry for myself.

Meanwhile, these children singing were dressed in one layer of dirty clothes, they had no shoes and it looked like they hadn’t washed in days – but there they were smiling, laughing and creating such joy for those now listening.

I was standing by myself – a little separate from the small gathering. The boy with the vibrato spotted me and ran from the playground equipment, stepped up on a ledge and lent over the fence towards me. He sang to me. Soon all of the kids followed. There was now a choir of children hanging over the fence, singing to me. All of them tapping their sticks on the steal gates. They were intrigued by me as much as I was intrigued by them. Now I – the blonde yabanci (foreigner) in a conservative neighbourhood – was part of the entertainment for the crowd and passersby.

When it was time to leave, I waved goodbye to them and with huge smiles they all waved back. We had connected over their beautiful organic music and they so innocently taught me a lesson in abundance.

What is abundance if I can be dressed the way I was – abundant in warmth and comfort –and yet feeling sad about life. And they can have so little – a layer of dirty clothing, no shoes – and be so happy. If they were from Syria, what had they experienced before this impromptu playground performance? But yet, there they were delivering joy to others with few possessions and making the most of what was around them.

Should asking for abundance be about wanting to be richer in love, money and success? The experience led me to conclude that abundance should perhaps be measured by what we need to survive. Do you have food in your fridge? Do you have clothes on your back? Are you warm? And most importantly do you have friendships with like-hearted people that support you to sing loud and proud? If you say, “yes” to all of these, then you have abundance already. Anything beyond this is perhaps a luxury – a want. Not a necessity for happiness.

I have reduced my list of wants since living in Turkey because I realize I have abundance  – I’ve had it all along. I don’t want for as many luxuries here that my friends in the West want and that’s why I’m nervous to return to the ‘abundance’ as defined by the West. I have less here in Turkey then in my hometown but yet I feel richer…because I have the bear essentials for survival and I’m surrounded by like-minded people who sing to the beat of my drum, and I hopefully they know I sing to theirs. I’ll have to say, “no” a lot to the luxuries on offer if I do return to my hometown –- to keep Istanbul’s lesson in abundance with me. Because: When our want becomes less we do become richer.

A lesson about beauty from Turkey

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The way in which Turks deliver compliments has always made me giggle…at least after I get over the initial shock.

The chilly winter is making way for warmer spring days and so, the layers of winter clothing are starting to peel off – uncovering the extra love handles beneath.

In the west, a couple of kilos will go unnoticed. But not here in Turkey.

In the west, people would say, “Hello? How are you? You’re looking good.” If the person looked like they had put on weight we would never mention it. We have grown to dislike weight gain in the west – it’s evil and we beat ourselves up for gaining a little here and there. To acknowledge a friend’s extra weight (especially unprovoked) would be considered insulting.

But in Turkey, acknowledging weight seems to be a compliment and “Hello? Have you put on some weight?” is akin to saying, “You look great!” or, “You look healthy!”

I never bought scales in Istanbul, I just rely on my Turkish friends for their ongoing assessments. It took me a long time to accept this and I almost learnt the hard way…

Three years ago I was introduce to a Turkish man at bar. Within 10 minutes of exchanging pleasantries he said, “You look like…balik etli.”

Stunned, I translated the words in my head to – fish meat.

Fish meat! What!? I shifted uncomfortably in anger and looked for an exit from the conversation. What a rude man. I did not know what to do. Perhaps I did not hear right? Or perhaps my Turkish is more average then I thought so I said, “Pardon? Did you just say I look like fish meat?”

I gasped when he answered, “Yes.”

Sensing my disgust he was quick to explain that to be balik etli in Turkey is to be voluptuous – to have curves and the Turks do love curves. His confident explanation soon had me believing that he did just indeed compliment me on my body shape.

I have been labelled balik etli three times since and I am always met with the same complimentary explanation.

So fast forward to yesterday when I bump into a young turkish friend. Pointing to his belly he politely said, “Sister, have you put on extra here?” I giggled.

I smiled and said, “Yes I have. Thank you for noticing. Thank you for the compliment. You’re right – I do feel great!”