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.

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!

A lesson about beauty from Turkey

Image

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!”