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.

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!

Readings from the other inbox

Valentine’s Han SoloIt’s the evening of Valentine’s Day. The temperature outside hangs around eight degrees Celsius and I’m cooped up in the warmth of my own blanket and being at home. I’m sulking slightly with no Valentines in sight to shower with chocolates, a candle light dinner and all the romance that goes along with February 14.

It’s just your average Saturday night in – in lambswool lined pink UGG boots, an oversized woollen jumper and fleecy purple “pazar pantaloons” (pants for the local Friday market) – they offer the ultimate level of comfort thanks to their soft material and low-lying crutch.

(I know! How did I not get a date tonight!?)

Like a little kitten teasing a piece of string, I reach out to my emails and Facebook page poking around for people to play with. There’s not much happening there.  Nothing but photos of loved up couples, red roses and single women professing quotes and statements akin to “girl power”.

I, on the other hand, have a power ballad spooling in my head as I sip from my second glass of wine.

All by myself,” by Jamie O’Neal. It’s a single-dom anthem from a favourite movie, Bridget Jones’s Diary.

A sense of fear creeps over me as I reminisce about the details of the movie. Bridget’s look, her age, her living situation! Seems all quite familiar…had I become Bridget Jones?

When the movie was released I was early 20s and never imagined myself to be Hans Solo on Valentines Day beyond 2005. But here I am. Mid 30’s, blond-ish hair to my shoulders, slightly podgy, a couple of “hello mummy” knickers in my drawers and with, “Absolutely no messages. Not a single one,” not even from my mother!

The illogical urge to Google, “How old is Bridget Jones,” to compare our ages and somehow determine the success of my life is disrupted when I spot messages in my ”other inbox”. The kitten strikes as I open to read what awaits.

You see there’s a reason why I hide my identity on this blog. I like to protect my  “other inbox” on Facebook from unwanted prying eyes. Messages in the other inbox are typically from would-be-if-they-could-be keyboard Romeos of the cyber-world. Fellow bloggers report how publishing their names to posts attract these tragic star crossed “lovers”. Men who believe their cutesy messages will have foreign women swooning to their Facebook page and more. It doesn’t work, it just infuriates many. It does however, somewhat entertain me this evening – or at least give me fodder for this week’s post!

Peering into the box I note the friendly messages discretely disguised as bait to gain a reply. Ismail writes:

“Hello, do you live in Istanbul? I live in Istanbul. We should meet up.”

I consider responding with: Tebrikler (congratulations) Ismail. Look hard no feelings but I lived in the same city as Hugh Jackman and Heath Ledger once…and neither of them wanted to meet me either. Take a lesson from my experience – it’s you, not me. Goodbye and good luck.

Stalker

Then there’s the overly curious Daryoush, who asks:

“What did send you to Turkey? Courage !?”

And inquisitive Yalcin who probes:

“How are u :))) can l ask u something? :)”

No, Yalcin, no you cannot ask me something..no matter how many smiley faces you purge. I fear contact with you would only end up with endless text messages and tears – your tears as I block you from my life forever.

And then there’s the voyeuristic, Ahmed:

“Oooooooo pretty, do u have any videos??”

Yes I doooooooooo, Ahmed. Lots of them. Of cats mainly. Can I send you more than one…daily?

An oddly self-proclaimed, Endoplasmic Reticulum emails:

“A writer could be so beautiful?”

That message left me feeling a little insecure. Is there a stigma that I don’t know about – that writers are unattractive creatures hit by the ugly stick? (I confess, I may have just googled, “good looking female writers,” to prove the stigma wrong …)

There’s even a doctor in the house who writes:

“Hello beautiful lady, How are you doing? I am doctor Sawyer Braschi. I will like to be your friend and come over to your country to set up a clinic. I hope to hear from you soon, Thanks.”

Doctor

Dear doctor, do you say that to all the ladies? I may be inclined to change my country if you are to follow.

But some keyboard Romeos seem to go to a lot of trouble to gain a lady’s attention. Take, for example, poet Semih who confesses:

“I have seen angels in the sky, I saw the snow fall in July. I’ve seen things you only imagine to see or do, but I still have not seen anything sweeter than you. hello. How did you … you have to be an angel.”

If I had consumed more wine by now I may have replied with some poetry of my own:

Roses are red,

Violets are blue,

What drugs are you taking?

Because I’ll have some too!

But I don’t reply. I never do. In fact – newsflash other inbox traffickers – I doubt anyone ever does!

Satisfied I’m not as lonely and desperate as those in my inbox, I log off from Facebook, pour my third glass wine, adjust the crutch of my pazar pants, stretch my UGG boots towards the TV and wonder when the next Bridget Jones movie will be out. I look out to the night sky and ponder this Valentines. I thank my lucky stars. Thank god I’m single and happy (girl power). Thank god I have a home and comfortable clothes…and thank god I’m not dating a man from my other inbox!!

Got some keyboard Romeos of your own? Feel free to share your other inbox below!

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.

Sh#t Istanbul Expats Say

Canim

We’re all guilty of saying these phrases as we navigate through the expat life of Istanbul!

  1. How do you say that in Turkish?
  2. I loooooove Istanbul!
  3. How’s your Turkish?
  4. Tea sugar lar…teasugarlar…teşekkürler – is that right?
  5. Canım, canım, canım
  6. Ne kadar?
  7. Tsk
  8. I’m never going to be fluent in Turkish! It’s sooooo hard.
  9. Hey, can you come with me to get an ikamet?
  10. How do I get the ‘@’ key to work on this keyboard?
  11. Do you know any English speaking hairdressers?
  12. Do you know anyone who speaks Turkish that can help me get an apartment?
  13. Cihangir is soooooo expensive now.
  14. Hey, have you been to…?
  15. Can anyone recommend a good…?
  16. Do you know where I can buy…?
  17. Take a Turkish friend with you – it will be cheaper.
  18. Are you a teacher too?
  19. Where do you teach?
  20. Are you going to pub quiz?
  21. Bir beer luften.
  22. Why is alcohol so expensive here?
  23. Let’s meet – is Cihangir good for you?
  24. YemekSepeti.com is awesome!
  25. Where are you going for summer break?
  26. Does this website have an English option?
  27. Ha! I forgot my English.
  28. Google translate is so baaad.
  29. Do they speak English?
  30. I wish I could wear stilettos here.
  31. How long have you been in Istanbul?
  32. Should I feed that cat?
  33. It’s hot on this bus, can someone open some windows.
  34. Bilmiyorum!
  35. I’m not sure I can ever leave Istanbul for good.

30 signs you’ve settled as an expat in Istanbul

meme-in-turkish

  1. You furnish your house entirely from an Ikea catalogue to avoid the two-tone, hard-wearing wooden Turkish furniture.
  2. You know not to plan life in advance here – the best experiences are organised last minute.
  3. Punctuality? What’s that? An hour late is fine.
  4. You accept phone calls and text messages at all hours – no problem.
  5. You don’t get out of bed before 9am, because you know not much happens before then.
  6. Your first Turkish words were,”Çok trafik ya!”
  7. You know it is possible to get motion sickness in a taxi on a straight road.
  8. You’ve learnt not to say the word, “sick” especially in a taxi.
  9. You know not to mention the social networking images called, “meme” in public (especially in a taxi).
  10. You know how to pronounce “müdürlüğu” and “ikamet” and you survived the process involving both words.
  11. 100 pages to sign to open a bank account? Sure, no problem – system inefficiencies are just a part of life here.
  12. In the company of Turkish people, you hear the word “yabancı” – you know they’re probably talking about you.
  13. In an effort to practice Turkish, you’ve ordered the “sicak erkek” instead of the “sicak ekmek” at the local bakery and you’ve said “terlikler” instead of “tebrikler “ to a bride.
  14. When your friends have good news, your immediate response is, “Hayırlı olsun!”
  15. You can’t eat a meal without saying, “Afiyet olsun” at least twice.
  16. You say things like “Allah, Allah” when things get confusing, surprising or funny.
  17. That street cat on the corner, you think it’s a good idea to take it home (Allah, Allah!)
  18. You know drinking copious amounts of tea from a tulip shaped glass is important in making new friends.
  19. You’ve had at least one Turkish lover who insisted on calling you every hour to tell you they love you and miss you after one date.
  20. You know you’re having a serious relationship with a Turk when you get a personal pair of house slippers to wear at their house.
  21. Sex outdoors is now something you can only do when you visit your hometown.
  22. You’ve learnt that an Internations party is just for Turkish girls to meet Western men, Western men to meet Turkish girls, Turkish men to hit on Western girls and Western girls to drink wine.
  23. You’ve paid 30TL for a glass of Angora wine at an Internations party.
  24. You know that 30TL can buy you two bottles of Angora and a pirated DVD to watch at home.
  25. You hold onto your glass of wine in a bar because you know the waiter will take it before you have finished.
  26. You know what a twinkle is and their association to self proclaimed Indian and Middle Eastern businessmen and pilots.
  27. You’ve watched all the seasons of True Blood and Game of Thrones in three months thanks to online streaming and cheap unlimited downloads.
  28. You know who Kerim and Fatmagül are.
  29. You don’t smoke cigarettes but you’ll occasionally smoke nargile.
  30. You could add many more crazy things about Turkey to this list!