What I learned about Turkey and Turkish people after living here for a year – part 2

It has passed more than one month after I’ve published first part of the blog post about my experiences after the first year living in Turkey. Thank you all for you comments on the blog and on Facebook. There were some coments about the Great Wall of China and Ottomans. I would like to repeat, that I know, that the Great Wall of China had been built before Ottoman state was formed, however I found it funny that some people here said it to me, that it was build because of Ottomans. Yes, history seem to be different in every country, however everything has its limits :)In this second blog post, I would like to concentrate more on everyday life in Turkey and some stereotypes which I’ve heard or tought before I came to live to Turkey.

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I guess that when you either decide to travel, either move to a country with very different culture and religion, everyone around you is affraid and wonders, how will you survive in such a different country. Everyone especially wonders about religious issues – will there be some, will you need to ”change” your religious view, will ”other” religion and its people accept you? As a woman, will you need to cover your hair and be able to live an ”independent” western style lifestlye? This questions might be very appropriate if you’re planning to move to an islamic country by a constitution – which
Turkey is not. Since I am not Muslim and was raised in an predominantly Christian society, people often ask me, how is to live (as a Christian) in a Muslim country?? Well, my answer is pretty simple. Only problem is, that Muslim and Christian holidays rarely coincide šŸ™‚ Well with increasing #islamophobia on the West this question is really common, but I must say I’ve never had a problem for being non Muslim in Turkey. I guess if you respect others, they will also respect you. Other thing is that in Istanbul there are so many expats and also Turkish Jews, etc, so I can say that in some aspects Istanbul is very cosmopolite city and as a non-Muslim it’s no problem to live here. As Christian or Jewish generally don’t know much about Muslim religion, I can say that so does Muslims also not know much about Christian and Jewish religions, however my experience so far is, that Muslims don’t worry as much about other religions or see enemies everywhere as Christians do. But this is only my personal opinion. Also to be able to survive in Turkey or even marry here, there is absolutely no need to convert to Islam or for women to wear a head scarf. Of course, there are more conservative parts of Istanbul and Turkey, where wearing too short or to revealing clothes can be really annoying, especially for women. Not only that everyone will stare at you, they might also insult you, however (except in a mosque) nobody can force you to wear a head scarf in Turkey.

More than religion, the unknown and mysterious for me it’s the perception of ”time” in Turkey. I must say that here time seems to pass differently than in Europe. On one hand, everything lasts so long before it’s done and on the other, there is never enough time to do something. I was really laughing and only saying ”yes” to myself when reading and exhibition introduction, where the Turkish artist tried to explain about turkish ”indefinite and flexible” understanding of timetable. I don’t know if the real problem is the number of inhabitants in the country, bureaucratic system or just the indefinite and flexible timetable of public workers, but especially as foreigner are processes here in Turkey are very long…and impredictable! I’m speaking about the famous process of getting a residence permit or the complicated problem of registering a foreign mobile phone. For example, to obtain the residence permit, one might wait 3 or more months, not to mention that one has to apply for it up to 3 months before their permit expires, because it’s difficult to get an appointement, if not arranged 3 months in advance. At least in Istanbul is like this. And anything can happen, I mean you never know, which (extra) documents will the responisble on your appointement day want from you and how many days will just go from office to office to be able to collect all the necessary documents. The funny thing is, that you need many documents with incomprehensible names (not only for foreigners), but nobody knows where you can get them. I guess that all foreigners just hate that month(s) of the year when they have to deal with applying or renewal of their residence permit.

Not only that the timetable is quite flexible, also the distances in the city are quite big and there is a lot of traffic. If you are coming from a small city or country, it would be probably difficult to understand that here in Istanbul, to come from a point A to a point B, it will take you at least an hour…or more. Being on a road during rush hour is horrible. Sometimes the travelling speed can be 1km/h….or 0km/h when you try to get on a fully packed metrobus! Other time consuming this is filling in 5 or 10 papers when applying for something…I mean I’ve never known that the library or fitness registration process can be so time and paper consuming! I hope this will change soon!

Other thing is, that many thigs that has to be done – in an office, universiy or even personal life – will be done in some future. Unclear future. I guess most of foreigners here learnt that when a Turkish says to you ‘‘bakarız”, which should mean ”we will see” or ”we will do” it actually means – in 99% – ”we will NOT do” or ”it’s not gonna happen”. And they use this magic word quite often!

Some things haven’t changed – old stlye street sellers.

Sometimes I think that a lifestyle in Istanbul is at the same time quite advanced as it has fallen behind. I think that in some aspects Istanbul is a very developed city, as it is Turkey as a country, however it seems that the developement has somehow left behind some aspects of everyday life. When we speak about techincal developement or maybe the construction industry country seems very advanced…when looking from far, however a close-up can bring up completely other picture. In Istanbul there are building new scyscrapers or so called ”new Turkey” everywhere, but when you look closer and see in what conditions workers work you can be shocked. Countless times I’ve seen workers working high up completely unprotected. Not to mention the last year’s accidents in two coalmines! I think that Turkey while thinking about progress and development forgot an obvious thing- that developmnet cannot be done purely on techincal or outer level, but it also has to be done on all levels, otherwise it can be like a house of cards. Only to some point I can partally compare the situation or mentality of a country with my country a decade ago. Many people see that a sign of well being or development is a consumism. People shop a lot, shopping centers are always full. They also love paying by instalments – not only a big purchases, like a car or a TV, but also small one, like clothes. Even when they go shoppng for food, they just love to take as much plastic bags as they can. This was a bit strange for me at first, because in my country we recently got used of using non-plastic bags. And the problem is bigger, because the plastic bags not finish in a trash, but also in the sea or in a few parks, that are left in the city. I hope that Turkey will overcome this problem, becasue with the amount of people living here and not taking care of enviromnet, life in a big cities, such as Istanbul, can turn into a living hell. Sometimes I think, that if only for a day, people all over Turkey wouldn’t take a plastic bag from a shop, after they purchase something, this would mean about 80.000.000 plastic bags less per a day. Since they usually take more than one plastic bag per a purchase daily, this means around 160.000.000 plastic bags daily less.

Taksim square today.

After reading all my complaints about life here, you must wonder how I’ve survived here for more than a year. Well, apart from all the negative aspects, living in Istanbul has also a positive one. Firstly, when I say Istanbul, most people imagine a romantic and historical place. I can say that like in every relationship, romanticism fades away after some time. If you are an art historian, as I am, city still remains very interesting and it’s hiding many things that still needs to be discovered. I guess Istanbul’s size and diversity makes foreigners stay here for a longer time. I also think that after surviving the inital shock and adapting to some cultural diferences, city has much to offer. Not only on a personal level, but also on a business one. Istanbul is multicultural city, which adds to its richness. I don’t think that Istanbul is a prefect city to live, however I do think that it’s exciting city to live, until you are young or have energy to cope with the city’s quick lifestyle. There are always many things going on, so it’s difficult that you are bored here…ok, you can be bored, but at home, when you are to lazy or tired to go out and ”travel” to another event.

2 thoughts on “What I learned about Turkey and Turkish people after living here for a year – part 2

  1. Hi, thank you for the information provided, your blog is very useful! I am also a Turkey scholarship applicant, waiting for the results and trying to find more information about life in Turkey. I wanted to ask you which university are you studying at and how much of your program is in English? Also with the year of Turkish course, how sufficient is for you if you have to take courses in Turkish, I am asking, because my major is somewhat similar to yours šŸ™‚ also how satisfied you are from your studies? Additionally, I would like to ask you, how is life in Istanbul now, considering the difficult political situation in Turkey right now and all the bombings and so on? Do you think it is safe enough in Istanbul or it may turn out to be a bit of a dangerous idea to go right now to study there? Thank you šŸ™‚

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  2. Hi!
    I am happy that you find this blog useful. Please feel free to share it with others.
    So I am a PhD candidate at Istanbul University and my programme is 100% in Turkish. There are some universities which offer 30% of their programme in English (like Istanbul Technical University). I had some previous knowledge of Turkish (but really a basic one). You will have to study hard and you will continue learning Turkish when starting your university education. Turkish is very rich language in terms of vocabulary, so it is not easy to learn so many words in only a year.
    It's difficult to comment about safety. Yes, I kind of feel safe here at the moment, but who knows what can/will happen. If the situation will get worse, we (foreigners) can still return home…but I hope this will not be necessary.
    The term ''safety'' also depends from where you come. For many foreigners Turkey is still much safer as their home countries.

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