What I’ve learned about Turkey and Turkish people after living here for a year – part 1

I’ve been living in Turkey for a bit more than one year. I’ve visited country for the first time in 2009 and since then I’ve been visiting it on a regular basis, until I moved here in September 2014. I know that it’s impossible to get to know this country (of 80 million people) like the back of my hand in such a short time, however I want to share with you some things I’ve learned about Turkey in case you plan to visit it or move here.
I’ve seen this ”statue” at and exhibition at SALT Beyoğlu
last year. I don’t know it’s title but in my opinion it
represents a complex Turkish society very well.

I’ve been living here too short period of time to say that I know Turkey too good, however I’ve been here too long to say that I am just a yabanci here. When I go back home to Slovenia and also here in Turkey, many people ask me, why I came to Turkey and what do I think about Turkey. Well it’s difficult to explain it in one sentence, especially if you’ve never been here or if you’ve never lived abroad. Most foreigners I spoke with are in love-hate relationship to Turkey. I can say that Turkey has a lot to offer, however it will cost you a lot of patience to survive here. You surely need to adapt to a different lifestyle – definitely different one if you come from Europe, USA or similar countries. ”Burası Türkiye” – or ”Here is Turkey” is probably the sentence which would describe best the life here, yet the sentence doesn’t say completely nothing to a person who has never lived in Turkey…don’t worry, if you’ll decide to stay in Turkey for some months, you will understand this sentence better and better every time you’ll hear it.

Since I live in Istanbul, this is the place I know the best and if you live in other part of Turkey, you might disagree with me while reading this blog post. Since I’ve been living here for only a year, my views and comments might be wrong, I am fully aware of that. If you have your own opinion, please I’m happy to hear it, you can comment this blog post any time. Before you read the post, I would also like you to know, that I don’t want to attack anyone, that 80 million people which live in Turkey are different individuals and the blog post here is my general experience of Turkish people and lifestyle here. It is difficult to write an objective post about Turkey and its people since this country is country of extreme contrasts and rapid changes. Please don’t feel offended, my intention was not to offend anyone.
Ever-present Turkish flag and Atatürk

Firstly, when you move to a new country, you probably face the language problem. When tourist visit Turkey, especially Sultanahmet area in Istanbul, Antalya, Alanya and similar places, they probably think that an average Turkish speaks at least 3 or 4 foreign languages. Can you recall in how many language a seller in Grand Bazaar is able to scream after you? In how many languages is he able to bargain? Well, when you step out of Grand Bazaar you will face a totally different Turkey, where a knowledge of (one) foreign language is a very rare virtue, rather than a rule. Why is that so? Some people blame it on education system, while others say that Turkish just don’t have a talent of learning foreign languages. Whatever the true reason is, this ”problem” brought to Turkey many foreign English teachers and native speakers of English, which became English teachers in Turkey. The expat community here is quite big and it surely spices up the life here.
Before the constitution of the Republic of Turkey in 1923, there was the Ottoman State or Ottoman Empire. So far I haven’t been able to understand if Turkish people today are proud of Ottoman Empire or not. I can surely tell that they will be very proud to tell you that they were rulers of your country once (if you live somewhere in Balkans or in the Middle East) or that the Great Wall of China was built to protect people from Ottoman invasions. I can guess that some Turkish are proud on their Ottoman ”roots”, meanwhile others don’t care about it. I might be wrong. However it seems like there is still something ”conqueror” around here: how you noticed how many flags are there all over Istanbul and on the hills around Turkey? Sometimes I think that they want to show that they have conquered all of the places again and again. when Fatih Sultan Mehmed (also known as Fatih the Conqueror) conquered Istanbul in 1453, he has shown his victory by changing Hagia Sofia church into a mosque. I have no idea if there were any mosques built or churches destroyed when Atatürk founded the Republic in Turkey in 1923, but there are being built many new mosques nowadays. To some point, this is normal, since the cities are growing, however one might ask oneself if there is indispensable to build a big new mosque on the top of the hill in the middle of (what is was once) a forest.
New mosque project at Çamlica hill in ÜskÜdar.
Mosque is a copy of Ottoman mosque in Edirne.
Islam came to Anatolia in the 11th century. Today Turkey is a secular country, however 99% of Turkish claim to be Muslim. Being Muslim has a negative connotation in the West, that is why many foreigners which have never visited Muslim country are kind of afraid of it. Many foreigners even said to me or almost threaten me that I will need to convert to Islam or cover my hair, if I will live in Turkey. As Turkey is a secular country, there is no law which make one wear a scarf or which can make one to convert to Islam. To understand better a situation of a foreign (Christian)in Turkey, we can compare it to a situation of a foreign Muslim in an Christian country: in big cities no one will care about your religious views (until you will respect others), but when in a small village this can change. I’m not saying that people will or will not respect you – this depends on every individual. Of course you can meet people who think the their religious views are the one and only ”correct” and that everyone should follow the same ideology and religion as they do, but this can happen everywhere on this planet. I don’t find this surprising, but what surprised me the most with Turkish people is, that many of the claim to be Muslim or even good Muslim and at the same time many of them don’t even go to mosque (I know it’s not a good measure of ”religiosity”) and their only religion related thing is that they don’t eat pork (because it’s supposed to be a dirty animal).
For many Turkish people, part of their identity is to be a Muslim. I’m quite tolerant person and I don’t want to judge one on the base of their religion views, but that kind of ideology it’s kind of surprising to hear that in a secular country. I don’t want to speak too much about religion here, because it can be misunderstood, however I found Turkish very concerned about this topic. I guess (I must say that I might be wrong) that some people here mix or misunderstand the concept of being a good person with the concept of being a good Muslim. Many times I’ve come across with persons who think that being a good Muslim makes them a good and ethical person. On the other hand, this – almost obsession –  with religion (by some people) leads to a very negative consequences. 
One of the religion or culture related negative things is for sure is a domestic violence. Luckily I’ve never witnessed it by myself but I’ve heard from many expats and read in the news that people are just ignorant if the see a man beating his wife or a girlfriend in public. I have no intention to claim that Turkish or Muslim are violent, however in other countries people who witness such a violence wouldn’t just pass by, but help the victim. Other thing that comes to my mind is sexual harassment. Many (foreign) women have unfortunately experienced it. Turkish men are famous for being very chivalrous to women, sometimes even too chivalrous. This, of course is very pleasant if you are women in Turkey, especially when you visit this country as a tourist you can feel really good, it’s like a food for the soul…and ego! 🙂 However it can be annoying when you stay in Turkey for a long time – I mean can you imagine that every guy on the street notices you and says to you that you look pretty or beautiful? Well, it certainly sounds good for a week or two, but not for a year or for ten years. It just doesn’t sound natural anymore. Back to the point – sexual harassment is what I’ve been talking about – well it’s illegal in Turkey, but still a big problem, especially for foreign women and especially while on overcrowded buses. I guess it can be an accident if someone once touches your ass on the overcrowded bus, but this ”accident” can repeat many times. It is very annoying and a big trouble, especially if you don’t speak Turkish so you are not able to report it or warn people around you. I don’t want to scare women who plan to visit Turkey or Istanbul, the country is still quite safe, however do avoid walking alone in the nights, especially in empty streets.
At the football match.

So people here, especially men, are very concerned about politics, women and religion. There is one more thing which is very important in Turkey, regardless your gender. This thing is called football. Yes, it’s the thing you can speak, argue, fight for it all the time. I guess Turkish have to choose their football team when they are born. You just cannot be Turkish without being a fan of a certain (Turkish) football team. It’s a big and very serious thing here. Even if you don’t have tv or read news, you are aware of all the big matches. It’s incredible how people wear their team’s t-shirts, scarfs and other fan itmes on the day of the match when they go to work or school. Next day you can see the winner’s team fan again wearing those t-shirts. Being a fan is also dangerous thing, so dangerous that for city derbies you cannot buy a ticket for the match, if your team is playing away.

Çay. It solves all the problems.

 Even though people can fight when it comes to football, I think they are pretty united when it comes to defending and glorifying their country. I’ve met people from many countries, yet very few were such patriots as Turkish people are. I am surprised over and over again, how Atatürk can be a role model for many young Turks, no matter their political views. Turkish people some to love everything turkish and can find traces of ”turkish” in everything. They are a true ”patriots” when it comes to food – if you cook food you must do it on turkish way otherwise it will not be delicious. Yes, I know, everyone one likes their country’s food, when you move abroad there are still things you miss or bring with you, however if you are a Turk, it seems to be more difficult, since no food will be ever good enough for you…thanks God that there are döner places all around the world! 🙂 Oh, sorry, çay sounds just fine after my döner! 🙂
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This post doesn’t really replies to my first question – why I came to Turkey and if I like to live here. I hope that the second part will give you an answer to that question. I wanted to write the first post to give you some insights of Turkish society. As I wrote at the beginning of this post – my intention is not to attack anyone, this is just my point of view about Turkish society – only the first part.

6 thoughts on “What I’ve learned about Turkey and Turkish people after living here for a year – part 1

  1. I have never lived in Istanbul so can only comment on living in South West Turkey. I came here when I was 22 and was treated with great respect. I felt very safe in Bodrum, much safer than the UK. I dressed modestly, learnt the language as quickly as I could and tried to fit into my environment. Now at the grand old age of 55, I still feel safe and very much at home here.
    In the UK, people will walk by when someone is ill in the street, or attacked or generally in trouble. This never happens in Bodrum. I'm sure big cities are different. I hope you get the chance to travel out of Istanbul and experience the rest of Turkey.

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  2. Hi! Thanks for commenting. I've been traveling around Turkey, but it's different if you live there. I can say that people are very friendly everywhere – actually I want to write more about everyday life in my next post. But there are some things people wouldn't bother about or would just ignore here in Istanbul- and this is especially domestic violence – luckily I've never seen it, but many friends of mine were shocked witnessing such a thing in a public place and everyone was just ignoring it.

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  3. Your blog made me smile, having lived here for 10 years, I think, you have represented the key issues well, Nationalism, Sexism, Religion, Football and Food – fussiness. I look forward to the next chapter, Sam (Dalyan, Mugla)

    Like

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