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!

Talk’n Turkish fails: Part 1

Spoke turkishMerhaba, I speak çok az Turkish. In fact, my Turkish is almost as awkward as watching Paris Hilton bellydancing, but my failures sure have made my friends laugh over the years. I thought I would share with you some of my greatest Turkish fails.

Can I have a situation please?

There are two words in Turkish that continue to confuse me – dürüm and durum. There is a slight difference in the pronunciation but a lot of difference in meaning. A dürüm is meat wrapped in flatbread – sometimes called a kebab in the West, whilst durum means a condition, situation or attitude.

For my first year in Istanbul, I was going to the kebab shop and politely asking, ‘Bir tane durum, lutfen.’ Translation, ‘Can I have a situation please.’

Now, I still can’t remember the difference so I put the Turkish aside and just ask for a chicken wrap instead.

Very sausage!

Winters in Istanbul are cold. It can get below zero degrees and it will often snow.

The Turkish word for cold is, soğuk. The ğ is silent. In an ideal world, it is pronounced like, so-ouk. However, when you’re learning a language it’s never an ideal world and when people do not have a Turkish keyboard you will see soğuk written as soguk. If you say, ‘Soguk,’ to others – without silencing the g – you’re simply saying (in Turkish), ‘Sausage.’

During my first winter I learnt soguk from Facebook and so getting into taxis I was telling the driver I was, ‘Çok soguk!’ Translation, ‘Very sausage!’ To make matters worse, I would hug myself and enact a shiver and finish the sentence with brrrrr to show how çok soğuk I really was. It wasn’t until I told my Turkish friend I was ‘very sausage’ that he pointed out my mistake. Yep, don’t I feel like a silly sausage now!

Excuse me, are you single?

Fast forward three years and my confidence in using Turkish has grown but I’m prone to making rookie mistakes.

‘Bakar mısınız.’ Is something you call out to get a waiter’s attention in a café.

‘Bekar misiniz.’ Is something you say to ask, ‘Are you single?’

As I learnt in a small crowded water pipe café full of young men, those slight differences make all the difference. Hanging out with a dear female friend, I confidently called out the latter sentence to the much younger male waiter. Suddenly the eyes of all the men nearby were on us ladies – obviously I had declared we were the cougars in the crowd! Realizing my mistake I laughed, corrected myself and made my order whilst the boys around us snickered and continued to smoke their water pipes.

Taxi driver, please wash

The waterpipe must have gone to my head that night, because in the taxi home I said to the driver, ‘Duş, lutfen.’ Translated, ‘Shower, please.’

What I wanted to say was, ‘Düz, luften,’ which means, ‘straight please.’

My love affair with learning Turkish continues. I am learning that every word and every letter can make all the difference from getting a serious response or a giggle. I’m a secretly surprised when no one laughs at my Turkish attempts and now I know if there is no giggle – I said it right!

Recently, I started formal Turkish classes and my sentences are getting longer and more complicated – making for more hilarious and embarrassing translations and durumlars. Stay tuned to read those…

If you’ve had similar experiences feel free to add to the comments section below.