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.

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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

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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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5 events you can’t miss this winter in Istanbul

The outdoor events on warm summer nights have come to an end, and the evenings are getting colder and longer. The temptation to stay at home, cooped up in your onesie to binge watch HBO TV shows…is… well…tempting. But alas:

Winter is coming!

And, there’s some fantastic events  in Istanbul that you must check out to warm the cockles of your heart.

Ladies and gentlemen,  I present the five events you can’t miss this winter in Istanbul.

1. Spoken Word

SpokenWord

Spoken Word‘s promotional image for the November 11 event.

 

Spoken Word is where words happen. It’s where writers, poets, stand-up comedians, musicians, actors, activists – anybody and everybody – can take to the stage to recite creative works of their own, or of others.

The rustic setting at Arsen Lupen (Miss Sokak, 15/4, Taksim) provides an intimate setting for people to perform for up to eight minutes, in any language, to an uber supportive crowd.

The open-mic format kicks off around 8pm and promises a few laughs, some intrigue and thought provoking performances by Istanbul’s bravest souls (a.k.a. public speakers).

The last two events were graced by some impressive orations. One of which was by Mariah K. Hamang, a poet with an enormous talent for crafting words that touch the heart. She, like so many of the performers, captured our interest and fascinated the crowd from the get go.

I won’t publish all her work here because it’s worthy of publishing in a medium far greater than my little blog! But, here’s a few lines from one poem – an example of the talent at Spoken Word, and a snippet of Mariah’s touching work that sticks with me even today.  To read more of Mariah’s poems visit BlazeVOX or Otoliths.

Screenshot (115)

For details of the next event, follow Spoken Word on Facebook: www.facebook.com/SpokenWordIstanbul

(Get there early for a good seat!)

 

2. Take Me Up The Bosphorus

Take me Up the Bosphorus

Asli Akbay, stand-up comedian and creator of Take Me Up the Bosphorus

 

“Take me where?” you may ask inquisitively.  Yes, this quirky, mischievous and somewhat suggestive title offers a tease of what’s to come at Istanbul’s newest stand-up comedy night.

There’s plenty of fun and frivolity to be had and the good news is (for us expats who are yet to master Turkish) – it’s in English. And, if the stand-up acts at Spoken Word by creator, Aslı Akbay are anything to go by, the comedy nights will certainly tickle your fancy!!!

Aslı started doing stand-up comedy when she lived in London and thankfully, for us comedy-cravers of Istanbul, she continues to tread the stage here.

Take me up the Bosphorus brings Aslı, and fellow rib-tickling Turkish and international comedians together in venues around the city. As Aslı confesses: “Stand-up really is something that you cannot shake off when you start.” On reflection, I think that statement goes for the crowd and performers alike!

Those interested in English stand-up comedy in Istanbul can follow the event page at: www.facebook.com/takemeupthebosphorus

 

3. IWI Christmas Charity Festival

Christmas Charity Festival

The International Women of Istanbul (IWI) have once again prepared a Christmas extravaganza of activities that will take place on November 29, 2015 at the Hilton Istanbul Bosphorus, Harbiye. The festival is open from 10am to 5pm to anyone and everyone seeking some pre-Christmas cheer.

Go along and do a spot of shopping, keep the kids amused with children’s entertainment, and indulge in the international food court, raffles, and other activities. There’s even caroling, gifts for kids from Father Christmas, and a mistletoe to tug your Christmas heartstrings right in the centre of Istanbul.

Christmas Charity Program

The  loveliest gift of all is, the IWI Charity Christmas Festival raises money for those in need. All net proceeds go to the IWI supported charities. For more details and to buy tickets for the event visit:  www.facebook.com/events/1655445834731049/

 

4. Cheese & Cheers

It’s back! The Four Seasons Istanbul at Sultanahmet have recommenced their popular Cheese & Cheers wine tasting night every Friday, from 7pm to 10pm.

Hotel guests, Istanbul visitors and residents are all welcome to chill out in this five-star hotel’s elegant lounge that’s set against a lush winter garden.

Over several hours, you can gastro-travel through a selection of Turkey’s best local and imported wines accompanied with a buffet of cheeses produced from the far reaches of Anatolia.

A different winery is featured every week, and a wine expert is on stand-by to explain the wines you’re drinking and the regions they’re grown in. And, for a very reasonable price of 65TL per person, it’s the ideal setting to enjoy a little indoor luxury on those cold wintry nights.

For more information visit: www.fourseasons.com/istanbul

 

5. Internations

Expat only

The next Expat-only Internations event is at The Raffles Hotel Istanbul, Zorlu Centre on December 8, 2015

 

An old faithful, and responsible for creating many new friendships, Internations has a plethora of socialising opportunities – all advertised on their website. The free-for-all Internations party is a huge gathering for all nationalities and walks of life, though if you’re an expat, the expat-only Internations events offers a quieter vibe.

Internations also has a range of special interests groups you can connect and mingle with. Groups for bowling, running, eating, partying, travelling and more are available. Take a look. There will be a group just for you to discover more of this amazing city and the people in it.

Visit www.internations.org for more information.

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Don’t forget events around town are also published on reliable websites such as The Guide Istanbul, Timeout Istanbul, MyMerhaba and my personal favourite, Yabangee.com. Biletex is also a great site to browse and buy tickets for major events in the city.

If you have an event you think the expat community need to hear about in Istanbul this winter (or next year) then do drop me a line:  expatinistanbul@gmail.com

 

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!

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!

Registering a foreign phone in Istanbul

Register phone in TurkeyChances are whenever the latest iPhone or Samsung Galaxy are released you’ll want to get your hands on one as soon as possible. But, when you’re living in Turkey, the cost of an unlocked handset for these state-of-the-art babies is likely to blow the budget. Chances are you’ll be buying them duty-free or asking a friend to bring one back from America where the prices are considerably less.

However you procure the phone, you’ll find the unlocked device becomes locked and unusable within days or weeks of putting a Turkish sim card in it and switching it on. Turning it on and off again, won’t solve the problem this time.

To avoid this inconvenience, you’ll need to register the mobile phone within 120 days (as of October 2015) of entering the realm of Turkish telecommunications. It will cost you approximately 165 – 205TL to do so depending on your telecom provider.

So what do you need to do to register a phone? Read on to find out..

1. Decide which telecom provider is for you

Turkcell, Vodafone and Avea are the dealers to choose from to get a pre-paid sim card for your unlocked foreign mobile phone (CEP) in Turkey. They all offer promotional packages (kampanyalar) throughout the year with calls, sms and 3G for as low as 35TL per month. Just shop around to get the best deal. Make sure you get a package with 3G – you’ll need it to GPS your way through the maze of Istanbul streets and to keep in contact with friends when you’re stuck in Istanbul traffic!

I use Avea and for 28TL a month I get 2GB of internet use, 5000 sms and 500 minutes of calls. I got it on a promotional deal three years ago and never use up the credit. Other friends have Vodafone or Turkcell and pay more per month so shop around to find the right package for you.

Know that, whilst the telecom provider websites are not in English, most stores have English speakers. So you don’t need to use their websites to add credit to your pre-paid sim card. After you buy your sim you can top-up credit at stores, or buy “top-up” (kontrol) cards at confectionery kiosks around the city, add credit via your Turkish bank account through internet banking and even (my favourite) add credit to your phone at Garanti Bank ATM/cash machines around the city without needing a TC number (Turkish citizen identification number).

2. Ask the telecom provider for the price to process the registration of your phone

When deciding your telecom provider, ask them how much they charge to process the registration of your foreign phone. In 2014, when I went through this process, Avea charged 35TL, whereas Turkcell has been reported to charge up to 70TL. You don’t pay this until after a trip to the Tax Office. This fee is in addition to the actual registration fee charged by a Tax Office.

3. Visit a Tax Office to register your phone

To register your new foreign phone you need to go to a Vergi Dairesi (Tax Offıce) with your passport and pay 135TL (price as of May 2015) over the counter. If you have an ikamet take that with you. I believe you can also visit Ziraat Bank to register your phone too.  Four things to be aware of at this stage:
1. Your date of entry to Turkey in your passport must be within the last 120 days to be able to register a cell phone bought overseas. If your arrival date is beyond 120 days you cannot register your phone and will have to wait to re-enter Turkey again to complete the registration process.
2. You can only register one foreign mobile phone every two years.
3. If you’re a tourist (i.e. you have no ikamet/resident permit) registering your phone will keep the sim/phone unlocked for six months. If you’re a resident or citizen registering gives you access indefinitely on that handset and sim.
4. The handset is registered to that sim. You can’t easily change telecom providers/sim cards after registration.

You can find the address for your nearest tax office by Googling, ‘Vergi Dairesi adres’ and your district.  Avoid visiting them at lunchtime as they close usually from noon to 1pm.

When you pay the tax office the 135TL they will also take the IMEI number of your phone. Dial *#06# to get this. The Tax Office will give you a receipt / Certificate of Registration to present to your telecom provider. Keep this somewhere safe.

4. Go back to your telecom provider

Once paid up at the Tax Office, go to a store of your telecom provider. It doesn’t need to be the same one you bought your sim card from. The store may say they can’t process the registration for you, but ask for the address of their nearest store that has the authority to do so.

When you find yourself in the authorised store, give them your receipt from the Tax Office or PPT or Ziraat Bank and your passport so they can take a copy of your last entry stamp. Finally, pay the fee they charge for processing the registration for you.

5. Use your phone

The telecom provider will process the registration and usually within a few days your Turkish sim is activated so you’ll be whatsapping and Facebooking again from your new handheld device.

Please note, there’s rumors that the system is changing. If I get any confirmed reports on this I will update the information above which leads to the final point…

6. Know the process can change!

Like any country in the world – bureaucratic systems are prone to change, but in Turkey it can mean a process that works for one person might not work for the other. So please use this information as a guide only. Anyone with a different experience is welcome to leave comments below.

JUNE 2015 UPDATE (WORTH READING):  Many people (who have resident permits) can go directly to PTT and obtain an e-devlet password (cost is 2TL). With this password you can log on to https://www.turkiye.gov.tr pay the tax fee online with a credit card and register the phone as easy as a click. Take your residence permit and passport to the PTT to do this. This also avoids any extra service fees the provider might require.

June update provided by the wonderful and knowledgeable people at oitheblog.com

A SPECIAL NOTE FOR TOURISTS:

Those travelling to Turkey as a short-term tourist need not worry about this process if they keep your foreign phone and foreign sim card on international roaming. It however becomes a problem the moment you put a Turkish sim card in a handset bought outside Turkey. My advice to tourists here on a short stay visas is soak up the free wifi everywhere and communicate for free with people back home via wifi-based apps like Skype, What’sApp, Viber, Voxer and FaceTime. Facebook also now allows you to call friends too via their app or send a voice recording to more than one person. Go to your Facebook inbox and send a voice recording to friends by selecting the friends you wish to message and press the microphone icon at the bottom of the message screen.

10 things I miss about you…Istanbul

As an expat, no doubt you’ve been there. When you set up a new life in a new city, you seek out your hometown comforts in your newtown surrounds. Maybe it’s going on a mission to find the best coffee in your new neighbourhood, or seeking friends who connect with your nationality, or posting pleas online to find the products, the food, or the experiences that once made you hum in your hometown.

Perhaps you seek these things to close the gap between what you know and what you don’t know. Assimilation is simply gentler on the soul when your creature comforts are close by. They provide a steady platform, a familiar base, to dive head first into discovering a new and wondrous culture and its peculiar ways.

As time passes, the gap between the known and the unknown lessens. Your list of creature comforts grows to include the offerings of your newtown. You gain a sense of belonging, and with it, a new lifestyle and perspective emerges. You no longer feel like you’re drowning in the tides of cultural change. Instead, your wading, maybe even riding the waves, and your struggle with the oddities of your newtown, that once left you perplexed, have washed away.

You’re a local now (of the expat kind at least). You know where to find this and that, or how to get from point A to point B with ease. The language, the culture – all start to make sense. You respect it. In fact you no longer judge it, you indulge in it. Your two worlds, once awkward and creating friction, finally get along. Your newtown isn’t new anymore – it’s a place you call home.

I hadn’t realised how much Istanbul felt like home until last year. I packed away my work from home freelancing threads and suited up to return to my former corporate life in Australia. (Note: Hence my absence from this blog). I was immersed back into my old lifestyle and my hometown culture and after living in Istanbul, Australia didn’t feel like the home it once was.

I was perplexed. Had Australia changed? Had I changed? Had I really been that Turkified!?  I had to rediscover my hometown like a newtown to re-create my sense of belonging. I had to reassimilate.

I initially struggled to adapt to the oddities of Australia such as the abundance of space, the swearing, the drinking, the huge houses and other material values. I struggled with the need to be on time, to plan, to drive within the white lines, even to drive! All the things that once seemed familiar were somewhat awkward for me. I began to miss Istanbul. I began to miss…

1. Spontaneity

The traffic, complicated streets, the weather, the “rules aren’t for all” bureaucracy of a city of over 14 million people were factors that taught me I wouldn’t get what I wanted, when I wanted in Istanbul. My inner control freak died years ago as I embraced the city’s manic spontaneous ways which offered a more satisfying alternative to my initial plans.  It became a part of my lifestyle to “go with the flow” and embrace spontaneity.

One evening in Sydney, I was spontaneous. I ran across the Sydney Harbour Bridge to break-up the predictability of my working day. I gazed down to the peach-hued sails of the Sydney Opera House illuminated by sunset. A pearly patriotic smile flashed across my face and I sighed. I thought, this is beautiful, this is unique, this is just…

just…

not…

2. The Bosphorus

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Not to “diss” my country’s beloved iconic landmark. Sydney Harbour is an unmissable destination. But a wave of nostalgia washed over me as I peered down on the waters of Sydney Harbour. I missed the energy and the busyness of the Bosphorus – a waterway that divides Europe and Asia – that had fed my senses daily.  I longed to sit on a rickety wooden bench or a rocky outcrop on the cusp of a continent and feel the Bosphorus breeze on my cheek, watch a sunset silhouette the old city skyline, hear the caw of seagulls hoover overhead and taste the bitter-sweet flavour of a crimson glass of …

3. Çay (Turkish tea)

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A brewed English breakfast could not fill the void in Australia. Neither did an Earl Grey self-served in a shapely glass. I joined the corporate coffee culture instead where the day could not start without the jolt of a barista-style skinny cap, flat white or double espresso. Drinking them glued to the computer in the vortex of consumerism where deadlines were “by yesterday”, I yearned for a tulip-shaped glass of çay served with plenty of…

4. Keyif

Keyif, the art of idle relaxation. An art that brings pleasure, joy and contentment in the company of friends or strangers – without the deeds of deadlines – was lacking from my life.  I missed keyif on a Sunday morning or late into the evening where conversations jumped from global news, to family news, from gossip about the neighbours to truths about friendships and from telling jokes to stories of meaningful matters.  I missed the friends who were masters of this art and the banter associated with such gatherings. I wanted to engage again with people and say…

5. Turkish pleasantries

“Hayırlı olsun,” (let it be with goodness) was something I could not say within the fluidity of English when friends shared good news. “Geçmiş olsun,” was in my heart when, “Hope they get well soon,” flew out of my mouth. Phrases that don’t translate well in English that once left me perplexed were constantly on the tip of my tongue. “Güle güle kullan!” (Use it with smiles), “Kolay gelsin,” (May it come easy) and…

6. Afiyet olsun!

Before dinner. during dinner, after dinner.  My way of wanting to bless everyone I dined with with, “Afiyet olsun,” (enjoy your meal) was the hardest habit to break. “Bon appetit,” would spill from my lips instead, which proved too fancy. After all, when did Westerners ever acknowledge a co-worker dining on a ham sandwich in the lunchroom so formally?  Instead, I said nothing, I put my head down between conversations and ate whilst remembering to …   

7. Appreciate my food

554477_132225386902332_1282653357_n My Turkish friends once said to me, “Why do you eat so fast? Yavaş yavaş!” (Slow down). Eating fast was a by-product of my fast-paced, do everything by yesterday lifestyle in Australia…and I was slipping back into that realm. Life is too short to eat lunch by yourself at your desk.  Turkey had taught me that. Food is to be appreciated.  I now took time to savour the flavours and the keyif served generously on the side. Come to think of it, I missed the cuisine and the fresh produce to make up those meals in Turkey! I longed to swap the long polished aisles of my Australian mega-supermarket for the chaos of my…

8. Pazarlar! (Weekly street markets)

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Twice a week the main street near my home in Istanbul transforms into a fresh food market where I stock up on locally-grown produce. Not only is buying easy on the purse, it’s always entertaining to hustle with the head scarfed housewives and their three-wheel canvas carts to bag a bargain or two from rows of fervent sellers. More importantly, I missed what the markets created – I missed…

9. Life on the streets

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Whether it’s festivities in the streets, kids playing in the lane, remnants of chalk etchings of hopscotch on the path, or seeing wooden baskets lowered from apartments to collect goods from the bakkal (market), I missed seeing all the cues of life on the streets of Istanbul.  Sure, the drone of the eskci (junk collector) that resembles, ”Bring out the dead,” is a nuisance at times but I did miss the morning call from the man peddling pogača (small baked bread) from the street,  the call of, “Buyurun abla.” (Can I help you sister) as I walked through the markets, and the call of, “Bir lira,” (one lira) from the sellers with the yellow and red carts and most of all I missed …

10. The call to prayer

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The call, made five times a day, had become part of my list of creature comforts that tell me I’m in a place I call home. I missed hearing it – reminding me to pause, to “stop and smell the roses” and be present in that moment of life. Most of all I wanted to be where I loved hearing it most; atop a rooftop terrace at dusk, on the edge of the Bosphorus, with a crimson tea in hand, after a spontaneous day out with friends and with the call of a thousand muezzinler echoing across the city.

That same sound etched in my memory eventually called me back to Istanbul. Even though I tried, I could not find the things that made me hum in Istanbul in my hometown surrounds. After all, the things I missed were intangible in Australia. I could not put my finger on them or find them in my neighbourhood. I was somewhat lost without all my creature comforts surrounding me. My soul could not settle and a wave of homesickness for Turkey washed over me. I could have given more time for the feeling to subside, to settle, to become still. But my second home was calling me.

“Be like water,” a friend said to me, and,“Su gibi git, su gibi gel,” (go like water, come back like water) flowed freely from my tongue.

6 tips for the new Istanbul expat

Hello Yemeksepeti.com

Hello Yemeksepeti.com

Today I read a post from a lady moving to Istanbul. She was looking for advice on arriving to Istanbul and what to look out for. It inspired me reflect in my time here and write this piece. These are a couple of my survival tips for those who are fresh off the plane bound for the expat life in Istanbul.

1. Make Turkish and Kurdish friends and accept invitations

Some of the greatest experiences I have had in Istanbul are with my Turkish and Kurdish friends. Invites to festivals, concerts, TV shows, holidays and weddings are all made possible through these networks. Through them, I have experienced the real Turkey and through their genuine hospitality and helpfulness I have become a better person.

2. Get schmoozing online

Facebook pages for Istanbul expats are good resources for asking questions, getting local news and finding new friends.  Sites include (to name a few) Expats in Istanbul,  Istanbul Expat Centre, Foreign Women of Istanbul (Women only), Expat Events in Istanbul,   Istanbul Expats & Internationals Group, Expat @Savers and Cook’s Corner for Expats in Turkey. Send a question out to the world via these sites and your life is often made a lot easier!

We’re also pretty lucky in Istanbul to have a number useful English websites and publications. These tell us what’s on, what’s hot and tell us where all the best places are to eat and drink. Check out My Merhaba.com, TimeOut Istanbul, yabangee.com,  The Guide Istanbul and Internations.org. You can register to receive updates or join their social networking pages to keep up to date with all the latest news.

3. Book your appointment for your residency permit

In 2012, the Turkish Government changed the 90-day  back-to-back tourist visa conditions which many of us loved for its easy renewal process. Now you can’t get back-to-back visas and if you want to stay long-term you need a resident permit called an Ikamet. Many expats  have gone through the Ikamet process in the last 12 months which has  bombarded the appointment system making it difficult to get an appointment when you need it most. My advice for any DIY expats (e.g. those who don’t have the support of  a large company), who wish to stay more than 90 days, is to book your appointment fast (click on the links labelled E-Randevu).

Be patient as the system is fraught with glitches. For example,  when I used it last, I couldn’t log back into my appointment to print out my appointment documents. I had to go through the process again which pushed my appointment out to a later date and I couldn’t log back into cancel my appointment.  Facebook and Internations have been filled with SOS calls from expats who were unable to get their residency permit before their visa expired. There are means and ways around this, but I have learnt, what works for one person in this process – has not worked for others. Plan ahead and book ahead.

4.  Get an IstanbulKart

This card will be your ticket to the tram, the metro and the bus and provides discount fares. You can buy it from magazine kiosks near bus, metro and tram stations. They cost 10TL and you add credit to the card as needed – which again can be done at any magazine kiosk.

5.  Register for Yemeksepeti.com

You’ve had a tiring day and you’re stuck on the couch unable to move. Hello YemekSepeti.com! From your smart phone (yes, they have an app) or laptop you can order food and drinks from many restaurants around town and they deliver to your door. Feel like Turkish cuisine? Ding dong – delivered to your door! In the mood for Chinese or Japanese? Knock knock! Delivered to your door! Or maybe you devoured one too many Efes the night before and need a greasy fast food fix? Hello, Big Mac at my door.

6. Register your foreign mobile phone

Within a couple of days of landing in Turkey, make sure you register your foreign mobile phone with a phone company, otherwise your phone will be locked eventually and it’s costly to unlock it. The regulations on this keep changing so it’s best to visit Avea, Vodafone or Turkcell – the main dealers in Turkey – for more information. A fee maybe payable.

There are more tips I could share but I will leave that for later posts. These are just a few key tips that have helped me assimilate to life here. Feel free to add more tips for other expats below.