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.

Advertisements

A lesson in abundance from Turkey

Image

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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