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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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!”