Istanbul – Shopping Delight

It is quite a different experience to shop in Turkey. I am surprised that Istanbul has not obtained a shopping city status such as NYC since there are so many shopping centres and markets.

The experience from the beginning is different. What stood out was the level of security at shopping centres. Your car boot is checked by a security guard before you enter the car park and when you enter the main doors, you walk through a scanner similar to what you see in an airport. It is strange at first because you wonder why it is necessary and aftertime it seems quite pointless.

The Turkish culture of welcoming strangers is present while shopping as you are greeted with ‘hosgeldiniz’ (welcome) when you enter a shop. Istanbul is known for its oriental shopping markets but less known for its modern shopping malls. These are the places where you can avoid all that haggling. The main issue is that such shops aren’t usually in the areas where tourists go, so you need to know where to go and plan in advance.

Firstly before you know about the shopping centres/areas, know some of the Turkish brands. If you are going to shop in Istanbul don’t limit yourself to the known western brands. Turkish designers are just as good.

High budget/designer labels –  Vakko, Beymen, Pasabahce

Mid budget – Mavi Jeans, Koton, adL

Low budget –  De facto, Lc Waikiki

There are two areas which I will state firstly because they are not shopping centres but they are the location of many good shops. Bagdat caddesi is located on the asian side of Istanbul and it really does have a different vibe. It is the only place in Istanbul where I have seen Topshop. You will find many Turkish shops here but also many western shops from Zara to Louis Vuitton. If you are staying on the asian side its a must to visit here not even for shopping but for the cafe’s.
The second area is Abdi Ipekci Street, in Nisantasi. This is a street of luxury brands. Not for the shopper on a budget, it hosts shops such as Prada, Cartier, Chanel and Burberry.

Now onto the shopping centres. Wherever you stay in Istanbul you will be near one but they aren’t all alike. Istanbul is so vast and expands way beyond what most tourists get to see such as the sultanahmet area. It is important to plan ahead and know which are for you.

Akmerkez – located in Etiler. It is a complex of shopping centres and private residences like a lot of shopping centres in Turkey. This makes the most of land in a city which is running out of land to build on. Of course this has come at a social cost and causes concern amongst many groups in society. It is mostly expensive and is located in an expensive neighbourhood. There is a lot of hype surrounding this shopping centre which I personally don’t understand. It has a mix of shops but unless you can afford to splash I would go elsewhere.

Istinye Park – I find this is really the perfect combination of high priced stores and low priced stores. I love the whole design and architecture of the centre. Outside the shopping centre there is an area with the designer shops like Louis Vuitton. Inside you will find everything from Mavi Jeans to H&M. The only disadvantage is that it is quite far being in the north of Istanbul in an area called Sariyer. Yet it does have a metro link nearby so if you are in an area where the metro is then it is really useful. Avoid the busy hours of commuting though because Istanbul is hectic at those times.

Kanyon – I have never been but it is known for its architecture. The name kanyon comes from the English for canyon due to its architectural design. It is located in the Levent area.

Forum Istanbul – I love this shopping centre. It is big and is host to many shops. The design inside feels airy but because it is so big everything seems a bit confusing at first with all the turns and different levels. It is great for transport as the metro leaves you outside. If you want to visit IKEA it is just located across from the centre.

Marmara Forum –  probably my favourite mainly because I go there a lot. It is one of the biggest. I read before that it is also host to the largest Carrefour in Europe and I don’t think it has changed since. This shopping centre is located in Bakirkoy near Merter.

Olivium – this one is for the bargain hunters. It is an outlet centre and has great reductions on last seasons wear. You will find Turkish brand shops as well as western shops like Mango and Nike. A lot of tourists seem to go there and there is a currency exchange inside the centre. It is located in the Zeytinburnu district of Istanbul.

Fly Inn – I have such good memories of Fly Inn because I often go there with my partner . It is so great because not only can you do some shopping but you have a great view of the airport. Shopping wise it is small but there are good shops like nine west and marks and spencers. There are cafes you can sit in which gives you a view of the runway. Be warned though that when the plane takes off, its noisy and you have to stop your conversation for a minute. Lovely place for an afternoon lunch break. It is located in Yesilkoy right next to the airport! It is a bit tricky by transport since it is on the other side of the airport where the metro doesn’t go. Best to go by bus.

Galleria – it is one of the older shopping centres but also one of the first big shopping centres so it is an important part of the history of shopping centres in Istanbul. It is a sophisticated mall and inside the layout is spacious. This centre is host to mostly Turkish brands and the few foreign brands are on the high scale of budgets like Armani Jeans. It is located in Atakoy beside the Sheraton hotel and near the seaside so it is worthwhile staying in this area.

There are other great shopping centres too like Capacity in Bakirkoy. Bakirkoy in itself is a hub for shopping centres. The Levent area is so urbanised that there seems to be a shopping centre every few feet.  Be aware that a lot of skyscrapers contain shopping centres on their ground floors but they are extensive like other shopping centres.

One thing about the shopping centres in Turkey is that they are open to late. Most people from Europe will probably be used to seeing shops close on the weekdays at 7. Not in Istanbul. Shops generally stay open until 10 and sometimes 11. Of course it is good for us but hard for the workers. On the weekend Turkish people love to go to shopping centres so if you have no patience for crowds plan accordingly. The best time to go is on a weekday in the early afternoon so that way you avoid morning and evening traffic. Of course if you don’t need to use public transport or a taxi then you are more flexible in your times. Keep in mind every year in the summer there is an Istanbul Shopping Fest which is a big sale season. Great for the shopaholics. Other important sale seasons are generally after ramadan and after eid ul adha (known as kurban bayrami in Turkey).

I will write a separate post for the markets in Turkey because that is a whole different shopping experience.

Television Culture in Turkey

My other posts have been quite light-hearted but this one is a bit deeper and serious. I did a lot of research in university in relation to the media in Turkey so it’s an area of interest. I am always amazed at how much I learn about Turkish culture from their TV shows. Being a graduate of IR the subtle political factors which influence Turkish TV culture also intrigue me.

Unlike Ireland and many other European countries, media owners in Turkey also are active in other areas of business such as construction, banking or newspapers. The instrumentalisation of Turkish TV is therefore very much influenced by economic interests. What is more noteworthy is that most of the TV media is in the hands of a few business owners and this concentration of ownership has huge effects when it comes to important political stories but also general cultural beliefs projected on TV. There are so many Turkish TV channels and Turkey has become an important country in the world in relation to TV production, selling a lot of its drama’s abroad. There are the national TV channels but also each city/region has their own TV channels. It puts Ireland to shame really with our mere 5 national channels (and probably a few more local ones which no one really watches). Thankfully we get channels from the UK too so there is a bit more variety. Many homes also have digital TV which means we can watch US channels. I have to say though that the amount of channels on offer in Turkey is impressive, although that doesn’t always mean a huge variety when it comes to opinions.

The media has long been used by the state in a paternal way to bring about social change and TV media is no different. Like newspapers, TV media is deeply divided between pro government and anti government. When I visit different Turkish people I can often figure out their political views by the channels they watch or more importantly the shows they watch. It is quite different from the TV culture in Ireland which is highly regulated by independent watchdogs for issues such as fairness. During election time we have live debates and there is a strict set of rules in place to ensure each political candidate receives a fair amount of time and nobody is given too much time on air at the expense of others. In a proper democratic society the media should be a space of debate. Debate definitely exists in Turkey but not in a healthy way. Coming from Ireland I am used to certain factors that bring balance to debate on TV yet I find these are lacking in Turkey.

TV for housewives

Another difference between Irish TV culture and Turkish TV culture is the extreme commercialisation and westernisation of some shows in the latter. Spend a morning/afternoon at home on a workday and you will be overwhelmed my the amount of TV shows directed towards housewives. You know those really cheesy dating shows like Esra Erol and Su gibi. They are hard to watch if you can’t bear cheesy shows but I say persevere because there is a huge amount to learn about Turkish culture from these shows. It is often these shows where you learn about women’s views on marriage, their expectations of life and issues of domestic violence. Basically a woman/man comes on the show looking for a potential spouse. Firstly they are interviewed about what they want but stories will often come up about their past, their divorce, the abuse they suffered, their dreams etc.  You get an insight into the lives of people that you don’t get every day by meeting people on the street. Like most parts of the world we don’t see the bad parts of people’s lives until we actually live with them or have a close relationship with them. Some shows are just so superficial but I find myself amazed by them just because we don’t have stuff like this in Ireland. Flash TV is just full of cringe! Ever watched an episode of Seda Sultan? It is a perfect example of Turkish TV efforts to be liberal but end up being tacky. The woman is so fake (she is a fan of plastic surgery) yet I secretly find myself singing along to her songs! Her TV show has been fined in the past for abusing moral values. Anyway check out a clip from her cringey show:

TV Drama

In Ireland soaps are quite popular such as the UK soaps Eastenders and Coronation Street. We also have had our own Irish dramas like Love/Hate which were very popular. The main difference I noticed about tv series when I went to Turkey was the length. Unlike Ireland where we have a weekly TV show of maximum 1 hour, in Turkey a soap can last up to 3 hours! A famous TV show was Muhtesem Yuzyil (which of course was also affected by cultural sensitivities). This drama which depicts the life of Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent has been since exported to many countries. It is not historically correct all the time which is why it led to so much debate within Turkey with the government giving their opinion on it. This is the strange thing I find about Turkey. Everything is so political, even a TV show. In Ireland, our dramas/films are often influenced by black comedy. We don’t tend to go for a happy ending and we like to mock people. There are shows in Ireland which openly mock politicians such as ‘Republic of Telly’ and this is ok. People have a laugh and get over it. I can’t imagine such a show being introduced in Turkey mocking a politician. Can you imagine all the court proceedings that would follow! I guess this is what I miss the most about Ireland…the craic as we say. We like to joke around and we like to mock things. We have a sense of humour about serious things. That is just not the way it is in Turkey.

There are comedy shows of course but they tend to stay away from political issues. This again goes back to the concentration of ownership. Media owners have economic interests and they don’t want their TV channels to be the centre of political debate when it affects their assets. This brings me to the next point. Ever watched Turkish TV and notice the amount of blurring on cigarettes and alcohol? It is ridiculous because everyone knows what is being blurred. On top of that any commercial brands/or bloody scenes are blurred out. Of course any scenes that are not PG rated are cut from movies. I actually kind of like that one just because some scenes are awkward with other relatives.

Acun Medya has a big influence on Turkish TV. Acun is a Turkish personality who rised to fame from being a sports commentator and doing a few tourist shows back in the day. However today he owns an expansive share in the Turkish TV market and is also filthy rich. Most of his shows westerners will know because they are basically copies such as X-Factor, Survivor, The Voice and those talent shows similar to Britain’s Got Talent. Shows like this have become popular in recent years although I personally don’t like to watch them. It may come as a surprise to some that Acun is quite comfy with the current political establishment in Turkey and is vocal in his support for them.

Acun Ilıcalı

Patriarchal Views

Another thing I have learnt from watching TV shows in Turkey is that patriarchal values are evident. How many times I have watched a drama and there has to be a woman who cries all the time. Uh it is so annoying. Women are portrayed as the broken hearted weaker sex. The men are portrayed as the strong family man. What is more telling is the attitudes you hear from people watching TV. Like when a woman in a TV drama is strong and independent, they are criticised. It is amazing especially when you hear this from women who are supposedly supporters of equality for women.

Turkish TV and Politics – Who owns what?

A new trend in Turkish TV is the divide between those overly commercialised channels/shows and the rise in conservative TV. It is useful to know that some channels that appear like they are independent are not. TRT and all its related channels are the Turkish state owned channels so don’t expect much criticism from them. CNNTurk, you would think being CNN it is pretty liberal but in fact it is not critical of the ruling party. CNN Turk is mostly known for its infamous penguin show during Gezi Park protests. CNN International on the other hand aired the protests.

Coverage of CNN International VS CNN Turk at the same time

Samanyolu TV on the other hand is linked to Gulen, which many probably know now due to his fallout with Erdogan. Aydin Dogan owns several TV channels in Turkey (including CNN Turk), Dream TV and Kanal D. He is a billionare with businesses in the energy sector and tourist sector. Most of the expats probably read Hurriyet Daily News online which is also owned by Dogan. He used to be close to the ruling party but fell out over news coverage on a particular piece. Despite all of that, this media group is still cautious when it comes to criticism. TV8 is owned by AcunMedya. Ciner Media Group owns HaberTurk, Show TV, Show Turk and co owns Bloomberg. The main owner is involved in hotel businesses and power plants. Have heard mixed reviews about that one. ATV is owned by Calik Holding who’s CEO happens to be a son in law of Erdogan, so you can figure that one out for yourself.  Dogus Medya owns channels like NTV and Star TV. It came under criticism during Gezi Protests due to its lack of coverage of the protests. Its CEO did resign after that and this was and continues to be a rarity.

There are so many channels so it is difficult to go through them all but the ones listed above make up a big percentage of Turkish TV media. That is exactly the problem because despite so many channels a lot of them are owned by the same media group. That concentration of ownership occurred following neoliberal reforms in the 80s but I believe new trends are happening in Turkish TV which will see extreme censorship. I know a lot of Turks who don’t use the TV for news because of this. It is quite different from my own situation. Although I use the internet a lot for news, I watch Irish news on TV and I find it reliable and fair. Obviously all news is influenced by politics and nothing can be 100% objective but it is about the effort to be objective that is important. Objectivity is lacking in Turkish news and I find the commercialisation of TV is used as an escape for Turks. Maybe that is why shows like Seda Sultan are popular amongst Turks because everything else is so serious. Reality is marred by controversy and political divisions while superficial TV shows take you away from this.

I do miss the humour of the Irish because of all this. Sometimes I just don’t want to watch Turkish TV because it all seems so fake. These are definitely the things you don’t feel until you live in Turkey. They don’t teach you this stuff in culture classes!

Foods I miss in Turkey

After recently reading a blog  about Making Cheesecake in Turkey from TastyTraveling, she reminded me how much I miss some foods when I am in Turkey. She was discussing a recipe for a cheesecake and I also made cheesecake during the summer but forgot that it is not easy to get fresh cream in Turkey. In Ireland the fresh cream is delicioussss and it is great for desserts. In Turkey however you have two options which just aren’t the same. There is krema as you can see below.

I find this stuff really sugary. After using it in a recipe during the summer I realised there is a certain point in the whipping process of this stuff that you can’t pass because it turns out gritty. It is basically UHT cream so it isn’t like fresh cream at all. They also sell this stuff in powder form. Then there is kaymak which is kinda like fresh cream..but it is not. Turkish people tend to use kaymak for eating with jam/honey. Anyway I never realised how much I missed cream until I was in Turkey because I use it for soups and desserts a lot.

2. Milk

Ok so quite a few of my missed foods come from the dairy section. It must be the Irish grass that makes our produce so yummy lol. Anywhere I go I never like the milk so it didn’t surprise me that I didn’t like Turkish milk. This was so hard because I drink milk all the time in Ireland and when I moved to Turkey to study for a year I felt stressed thinking of the dip in my calcium levels! However I was so happy after trying different brands of milk that I found one that I could deal with. It is from the company Sek and you can buy it in glass bottles or cartons.

3. Cheese

Ok so I did say there was going to be a lot of dairy! Well in Ireland we lack a cheese culture so this is partly my own fault because I grew up on cheddar cheese. For cheese lovers Turkey is amazing because you have so much choice. I do miss cheddar a lot though and this stuff is expensive in Turkey. You generally can’t get cheddar in places like BIM, Sok or any of the smaller chains of supermarkets. I have seen one packet of cheddar cheese in BIM but really it is not the fresh stuff…its has that plastic texture. If you go to the bigger Carrefours or Migros you will find it but you will pay way more than in Ireland. My solution? I bring a lot of cheese with me when I travel to Turkey. Last time I brought 2kg of cheddar so I was sorted for the summer! I also bring soft cheeses like Mascorpone and Philadelphia because they freeze well. So when you get visitors from home or if you travel regularly, stock up on your cheese.

4. Baked Beans

Aw I just love some baked beans on the side with my mash. I have never seen any batchelors/heinz beans in Turkey unfortunately. The nearest thing to it is kuru fasulye. It takes getting used to if you are used to baked beans but I love kuru fasulye now. Here is a pic below.

5. Mushy Peas

Mushy peas are like an Irish staple on a Sunday. Truly I do miss them in Turkey.

6. Corned Beef

I don’t even know how to explain this to Turkish people but I showed a picture of it to my partners family and they didn’t know what it was.

7. Cooking Apples

Has anyone ever come across cooking apples in Turkey like the large Bramley ones? Love these in apple pie. Although I know normal apples do the job too.

8. Hamburgers

Ok I know that you can make your own hamburgers from scratch but what is the deal when you go to a restaurant in Turkey and you order a hamburger? I was shocked the first time I did it and received this skinny little plastic meat between bread buns. Even the frozen hamburgers in Ireland are more decent! I would like to expect something a bit more meaty like this:

Then there are other foods which you can buy in Turkey but you don’t because they are too expensive like avocado’s and Kellog’s cornflakes. During the summer I was hsopping in Carrefour and the price of one avocado was 4 lira’s!! That’s crazy stuff.

Then there are foods which you can find easily but if you live with a Turkish family then you will realise they don’t eat a lot of it like brown bread. Everywhere I go in Turkey its white bread on offer at the table…so annoying when you are trying to be healthy and white bread is so not healthy. And of course I saved the best for last..Mashed Potatoes!! Turkish people seem to think this is baby food and find it strange that Irish people eat so much of it…I just can’t imagine why you wouldn’t love it.

Hopefully in another post I will write about Turkish foods I love though, because of course they lack in some areas but excel in others 🙂

So which foods do you miss when you are in Turkey? And are there any substitutes which you have found?

Multicultural Relationships

There are so many rewards for being in a multicultural relationship such as the experiences which you would never get from a relationship in your own country. Yet at the same time there are so many important choices you have to make that can be overwhelming.

I am in that stage right now. Deciding my career and where to live after we marry is a bigger decision than I ever thought. I guess when I was in university I always felt like I will deal with that decision later and now later is here!

I have always wanted to live abroad and I don’t see my future in Ireland but it is kind of strange to think I could be leaving here in a few months..for good like. How will I live without Irish milk and butter…this stuff is so good it is on my list of major concerns! No but getting to the serious stuff I sometimes have issues about living in Turkey. Number one would be the education system which is obviously important if I have children. Totally prefer the education system in Ireland which is not influenced by nationalist/religious doctrine. I must say though that I do think the education system isn’t all bad after all I did study for a year in Istanbul..but that was third level and so different. This problem is also not just related to education within the school walls but the way in which children and society are thought in general about certain issues.

Secondly is my career. I feel like the money to be earned in Ireland is so much better than there. It kind of annoys me to think I could earn half in Turkey of what I could earn in Ireland.

Thirdly is the fear of sameness. Everything was so exciting when I first went to Turkey. Summer holidays and nothing to worry about. My year studying there was amazing. Yet thinking of my whole life there is kind of scary..will I turn into one of them…will I acquire it…you know the dreaded Turkish housewife syndrome. I sometimes have this conversation with my other half and especially after last summer there I felt like I was acquiring some characteristics which I did not have before. He noticed it too. I am glad that we discussed it and that he still loves me for being Irish and doesn’t want me to change. I guess its the other people around us that had that affect on me feeling that I need to be more Turkish. Thankfully I am coming to terms more with this (as I wrote in a previous post )

Obviously there are issues such as leaving your family. I spoke with an aunt of mine who left Ireland when she was younger to move to the UK, where she still lives today. I asked her did she ever feel guilty for leaving her parents especially when they got older and ill..I feel that it would be hard. She reassured me that with the way the world is today we can visit several times a year now and also advances in technology mean I can skype today whereas she had an expensive phone bill. I am sure it would still be hard though.

Then there are bureaucratic issues. Multicultural relationships are full of this crap. Reading about the process of marriage and visits to embassies and translations of documents makes me tired. The fact that I have to get a blood test to be a citizen of Turkey makes me freak out…I hate needles and it may be an ice breaker. Of course it is still much easier for me to do this stuff there. It is annoying that if we did want to live in Ireland for a while there is too much bureaucracy to deal with. I mean its already a pain with all the documents we have to give for him when he just visits as a tourist. We sometimes discuss our desires to live abroad (neither Ireland or Turkey) but I am soon brought back down to earth when I realise how difficult it is. I so want us to make the most of the next few years by travelling and hopefully living in other places other than Istanbul but when you are with a Turk there is always the bureaucracy which follows. I am so grateful to be an EU citizen who doesn’t need to worry that much about travelling to other countries. I guess a lot of people in Europe do not recognise this side until they themselves are in a relationship with a person from a non EU country. It sucks when we go on holiday and he has to go to the non EU entrance while I whim pass the EU entrance.

Anyway the moral of the story…multicultural relationships are hard. Its so easy when you first get together and you have all your plans that you intend to act on in a few years. When those few years pass and you are at the stage I am at now you start to realise all the things that come in the way and try to block your plans. So know that multicultural relationships are exciting at best but tiring at worse. I know that for many in multiculutural relationships there is one person who may not want to let go of their culture or stray from what society expects. That is something the other person has to deal with in a serious way. How much are you willing to compromise for that person? And if it is not a whole lot then you gotta question why you are together.

I am glad that we are both unconventional and recognise the issues at hand and support one another. It is scary that the future is so unknown but exciting at the same time that we can both share it together.  I like the idea that my western ideas of how to live are being challenged and that I am learning new ideas but I also like the idea that I am challenging his ideas of how to live.

Sapphire Istanbul

In the Levent area of Istanbul, there is a tall building called Sapphire. It is currently the tallest building in Istanbul, although that could very much change with the constant new construction sites in Levent and Maslak.

Anyway I was surprised that a lot of tourists I spoke with are not aware of Sapphire. You can go to the very top of the building and see a great view of Istanbul. It is not advised for those of you who fear heights 🙂 I have to say though that it remains to be one the of the best things I have visited in Istanbul, coming in second on my list after Topkapi Palace. So if you are thinking of things to do in Istanbul try a trip to Sapphire. Make a day of it as their  is also a shopping mall on the ground floor. It is also an experience taking the lift to the top as your ears pop as if you were on a plane!

Here are some pics.


Bayram Bustle


I did say that I was going to write again about guest culture in Turkey and I couldn’t think of a better explanation other than Bayram. For those of you still getting used to Turkey Bayram means a holiday and there are many of them throughout the year but two of them are more significant than others. The first is the Bayram that follows the Ramadan month of fasting known as Şeker Bayramı (Eid ul Fitr in Arabic/Sugar Feast in English). The second is Kurban Bayramı (Eid Ul Adha in Arabic/ Feast of the Sacrifice in Turkish). There is lots of information about the religious meaning of these holidays which I recommend you read if you are learning about Turkish culture. What I would like to discuss is the way in which these holidays are celebrated in Turkey.

There is a great atmosphere in the days leading up to Bayram in Turkey as the women prepare planning their food feasts. There is a lot of borek, dolma and a lot of cakes. Shop like koska are popular during this time of year. Koska is a shop which sells lots of sweets such as Turkish delights..basically it’s a candy lovers heaven. Although the bayram after Ramadan is known as the sugar feast, you eat just as much sweets during both! Obviously the meat which comes from the sacrificed animal during Kurban Bayramı plays an important part of the meals. I remember how I wanted to go to see the animal being sacrificed and everyone looking at me as if I was strange. I thought that it was a family event which everyone goes to. When my father in law came back with blood on his clothes and they explained how the streets are very bloody, I was glad I didn’t go. I was quite surprised at how little religious meaning both holidays have. It is a little like Christmas in Ireland where nobody really knows what they are celebrating and it is more about the presents.

This brings me to my next point. Bayram is pretty much a getaway time. Last Seker Bayrami I was returning from Greece. It was on a Friday too which made it worse. Oh how I hated Istanbul that day…it was unbearable. We entered Istanbul on the coach and we were stuck in traffic for 3 hours. Yes 3 hours just in Istanbul. We never even made it to the Otogar as we had to walk the last bit of the way since traffic had literally stopped. It was a pure nightmare. Everyone deserts Istanbul during Bayram either for a holiday or because they originally come from a different part of the country where their family still live. It reminds me of an article I read by Ahmet Hakan, who writes for Hurriyet Daily News. He was discussing why people should stay in Istanbul during Bayram and I couldn’t agree more. In his words:

First reason is that you kind of fly to Bebek from Nişantaşı in six minutes. You pass through deserted bridges. You walk along İstiklal Street without bumping into anybody.

Second reason is that whichever restaurant or café you step it, it is as if you have rented the entire venue to throw a private party for your own self and your friends.

The third reason is that in every step you take, in every breath you take, you remember the enormous crowds in Bodrum and Çeşme and say to yourself, “I’m so glad I stayed here…”

He is so right. It is actually the most peaceful time of the year in Istanbul. No traffic, what more could you ask for?

Now on to more annoying things. Even though the streets are peaceful, you will likely be visiting homes and they will be crowded. For older relatives you visit you should kiss their hand and then touch it to your forehead. This was so awkward at first. I remember a few times I put their hand to my forehead and then would kiss. It is still strange for me. After years of not much physical contact with guests in my own culture it is a big change to kiss and hug everyone you don’t even know very well never mind kissing hands. It brings you out of your comfort zone but you just have to push yourself to overcome your own beliefs. If you make it awkward, it will be awkward for them. For them this is completely normal so you have no reason to feel you are doing something strange. This is harder said than done of course. We often are stubborn in our own ways even though we may complain about how Turks are not willing to compromise on cultural issues. How willing are we to change though is a question we must ask ourselves a lot when we live in a different environment.

My status of ‘gelin’ means work at Bayram. Visitors come and I must serve them tea. It annoys me that they don’t have cups like we have in Ireland, it would certainly save me more trips to the kitchen. I just can’t relax when there are several people drinking tea in such small glasses and you have to watch who finishes. However this is the least of my worries. You will have visitors all day coming and going and you will be running around the place serving everyone. Even though it is good that visitors won’t stay long because they have other houses to visit, it is negated by the volume of visitors. We are much more laid back about visitors in Ireland. Come in, do you want a cup of tea? Ah that is grand sit back and let’s have a chat. I don’t feel like that In Turkey. I often find when guests come or when you go to their home there is a lot of showing off in Turkey. Everything has to be in perfect order and comments on food are very important. There is always one older aunt who has to say something like it isn’t salty or it is too salty. You know the ones you can’t impress. The days leading up to Bayram involve a complete cleaning of the home in areas you didn’t think existed.

Anyway usually by the last day you have time for yourself to go and enjoy the day in Istanbul. One year we actually spent our day travelling to Heybeliada. Such a great time of the year to go to the Princes Islands, which in themselves need a separate post. Another thing people like to do during Bayram is visiting the graveyard of loved ones who have passed away.

I would like to experience Bayram in a smaller town in Turkey to see the differences between there and Istanbul. I wonder is it a more religious experience or is it the same. Anyway if you do spend time in Istanbul during Ramadan just be aware of a few things. Do not leave everything to the day before Bayram as banks and shops are very busy during this time. If you plan to leave Istanbul for Bayram, please travel 2 days before and not the day before because you will be stuck in traffic for hours. If you really can’t do this then go very early in the morning, very early! In my opinion though, you should spend time in Istanbul during Bayram because you can get around so much better and it won’t be as crowded.

Be clean, lest your reputation be tarnished!

So in my own culture I am considered to have a good cleaning standard and I am quite organised. When I went to Turkey I was so offended that people didn’t think I was clean. It is so funny when I look back now because I actually think some things which I did/didn’t do were not clean. Like entering the bathroom without shoes, I used to think that was ok but now I would never to that. But there are a few things that still annoy me. These are definitely the things you don’t learn about until you live in Turkey! Don’t be surprised if your partners family comment on your cleanliness to your face. It is not considered rude at all and rather it is rude if you react in a negative way to their advice.

Some things just don’t make sense though..

I think number one has to be bed sheets. I hate making the bed in Turkey because it is not enough to fix your blanket and put your pillows in order. God no, that is well below Turkish standard.  You have to remove everything from the bed, shake the sheet out the window in order to air it and remove any old skin/hairs. Then you have to bang your pillows. You can leave them to air on the windowsill for a while. Once a week you can leave your duvet hanging out the window to air also. Uh it is such a nightmare. It is not just making the bed it is completely re-making the bed. I used to pretend that I had aired the sheets but my mother in law would always know! I gave up faking it now and I actually do remake the bed. Still don’t enjoy it though.

Then also carpets have to be aired over the balcony too. I am totally against this airing system especially since the majority of people live in apartments in Istanbul. So it is great if you live on the top floor but if you live on any other floor and you have your windows open, peoples old skin cells may enter your window. Yeah I don’t like it. It would be so much more convenient if we could just use those mini vacuums on our sheets. Besides the sheets are definitely washed once a week we are hardly going to get infected by our dead skin cells.

Number two has to be cleaning the dishes. I am sure some of you know exactly all about this. I will have to break this into two parts; sink cleaning and the dishwasher. So basically in Turkey it is weird if you rinse the dishes under the sink with some washing up liquid and leave them to dry. Everything of course has to be prolonged. Firstly never fill the sink up with water and wash all your dishes in that water. That is just disgusting from a Turkish housewives point of view. Well I have to agree too now, after all you are washing your dishes in dirty water. Anyway, forget water conservation, cleanliness comes first in a country where water shortages are on the rise. You leave the tap running, you get your sponge and washing up liquid, you scrub the dishes/glasses. Then you do not rinse them.. I repeat you do not rinse them. You leave them on the side so that the suds can do their thing. You know, let the suds work their magic. Then you continue on with your other dishes. So basically when you’re finished you go back to the first thing you washed and you then begin the process of washing the suds off. Now you are probably thinking that thank God we are in the days of having dishwashers but even with dishwasher some families go through this process. I know it is ridiculous. Even if they don’t do all of that they definitely rinse everything under the sink with a sponge so that it is at least 80% clean. Because you just couldn’t put a dish that is any less clean in the dishwasher. Now think of this process and think of Ramadan where iftar meals are attended weekly by generally 10 people. That’s 10 plates, 10 soup bowls, 10 glasses, 10 knives, 10 forks, 10 spoons, multiple meze dishes and the worse oh the worse….pots! By the way after we finish dinner in Ireland there is absolutely no rush to the sink/dishwasher. We leave things on the table or on the kitchen counter until our guests go, because we actually want to talk to our guests. This system is diabolical to Turkish women who are removing everything from the table as soon as you finish your last bite. I really hate this because being the slow eater that I am, I always feel pressure to eat fast when plates are being taking away. For the love of God sit down and let your food digest and speak with your guests. ‘Oh no we can’t let them think we are dirty!’

The cleaning routine in Turkey also sucks if you have the privilege of being a young woman. If you are younger you are expected to do a lot more. Especially if you are a gelin, you better be making an extra effort to impress your mother in law. I used to be offended because of certain comments but now I take them in my stride. I have to remember that these women grew up in a culture where caring about what the neighbours think is important. It may seem strange at first but really they just want you to fit in and for people to like you.

I am just too laid back to care what people think. Like I just don’t understand why we must panic when a guest rings up unexpected. What is the need for getting the vacuum out when we just vacuumed yesterday? Put the bleach down they aren’t going to be licking your kitchen counter top. It is like 15-30 mins of nonstop cleaning for a guest who is on their way. I mean obviously things should be in order but really it’s too much for me. I’d rather not smell like sweat when my guest arrives after all I will have to hug and kiss them. Sometimes you just have to bite your tongue because really they are not going to change. There is no point stressing out just go along with it because eventually you will have your own home. Although I have heard stories about MiL going to their sons homes and cleaning for them! It doesn’t surprise me at all. Just accept the help lol.

How to Deal with the Critics

No matter where we live we will have people who we do not get along with or who don’t like us for various reasons. Yet when you live in Turkey it becomes different because you are the foreigner and you feel you are being criticised just because you aren’t Turkish. Your foreign identity becomes more highlighted as opposed to anything else about you.

My partners group of friends contains some girls who I don’t connect with. They are type who have cruel intentions to say the least. Everything I have done they have done it better. It was such a draining experience of the past few months as we spent more time with this group of people. I felt the negative energy from them actually getting to me. In my own life I cut negative people out because I don’t have time for people who want to bring me down. I do my best to surround myself with people I connect with and people who actually want me to succeed.

Anyway I will give you all a bit of background into how things got to the point they are now. When I first came to Turkey they couldn’t have been nicer to me (it is so funny looking back seeing how fake they were now). It was all exciting because I was the ‘new’ girl and perhaps it was interesting to them that I was foreign, I don’t know. Anyway in the past I was only going to Turkey like twice a year so I didn’t see them that much. When I studied for a year in Turkey though and when I would spend 3 months of summer in Turkey that is when I had to be around them more often. Basically it is a group of friends my partner has in which there are a few guys and then these girls. One of them is actually nice to me but it is the others that aren’t. I remember the first time when I felt excluded by them. We went on a picnic for a day and I didn’t want to be clingy to my partner the whole day because I wanted to try interacting more. At the time my language abilities were limited but I did my best to try communicating with them. I remember feeling so isolated that day because they would talk amongst themselves and ignore me. Then there were the several café outings with them where the guys would be talking about football or whatever and the girls would whisper amongst themselves. When I discussed the Turkish foods I was learning to cook it was always like oh that is easy dear (you know ‘canim’ in a condescending way), I learnt to do that when I was a child etc. There was never anything positive from their mouths. I would just spend my whole time smiling not sure what to do with myself.

This summer things changed though. This is when I saw their true faces and when I gave up smiling. One of the girls and one of the guys got married and so them living together meant that they could invite us over for longer periods of time. It was like I have my own home now and I can behave how I want now. Inviting me to your home and completely ignoring me. My offering to help you set the table and you talking about me while I was away. The great thing about learning Turkish is that people aren’t sure what level you are at so they talk about you not knowing you understand more than you let on. Sometimes though in group conversations I don’t understand what they are talking about and I would ask my partner to translate. Then came the negative comments ufff why is she talking English, ufff she understands Turkish. I snapped then. I was sick of these miss know it alls talking about me in the third person. I said it out straight English is my language and I don’t understand Turkish and so when I want I will speak English to understand. I think they were surprised that I could speak up for myself. But it is still the why do you and him speak English when you are alone, when will you speak Turkish. My thoughts – Why do you care actually? Are you with us when we are alone? Does it effect you so much that you must always bring it up?

I have finally come to realise that these girls feel intimidated by me although for a long time I had felt intimidated by them. Their whispering, sneering and comments would upset me. I had been nothing but nice to them. I had a conversation with the girl I got along with and discussed how I felt being isolated without mentioning names because obviously she is friends with them too. She said to me ‘you know you have to be strong you really have to be strong’. I realised at that moment she was trying to tell me that she could see how it was getting to me but that I need to suck it up. I realised that those girls were enjoying seeing me as the weaker one who they felt they had control over. When I began to stand up for myself and disagree with them on certain points that is when they became even more cruel. Like when at the end of the night it was obvious they were reluctant in hugging me goodbye.

It was difficult and draining on myself. It was difficult on my relationship as I didn’t want to go out if they were joining us and my partner wouldn’t understand the problem. I just don’t think guys see the competition between females. They are somewhat naïve about the tension between some girls. He put it down to language and if this was in the past then I would have agreed but I am no longer the foreigner who can only say nasilsin. I can actually hold a conversation now. At least his mother agreed with me she said she understood the type of girls they were. He offered to speak with them about how they were making me feel and I thought about it. I am glad I told him no because if he did that they would know they were hurting me. I decided I want to be the annoying foreigner.

You may find yourself in this situation with Turkish women. It may be your mother in law, it may be a sister in law, an aunt or your partners friends. You either spend all your time trying to please them and bowing down to them or you chin up and embrace your foreign identity. I am not Turkish. I am foreign and I am glad I have different ideas. I enjoy that I am different and that I am not trying to be part of your club. I have Turkish friends who embrace me for who I am. They actually want to learn about my culture and teach me about theirs. Our differences bring us together because we respect diversity while at the same time understanding the sisterhood between us. I don’t want to sound like the feminist here but the ones that try to bring me down don’t realise that they are the very people they criticise. They are the ones who don’t want women to succeed. They don’t want to see women go outside traditional norms in society. Yet they claim that they are modern and support modern political parties. How blind they are to their own behaviour!

Although negativity is hard to be around I have finally accepted that I am happy with myself. They are clearly unhappy with their own selves and that is reflected in how they treat others. I choose to surround myself more with positive people who bring me up and not bring me down. Understand yourself more and be happy with yourself more so that such people cannot get to you. You have to be strong as that girl told me. Don’t get so caught up in it that you become like them but don’t let them walk all over you. Hold your ground without lowering yourself to their level.

Celebrate Good Times…Come on

Since I have had a celebration recently (my graduation) I have noticed yet another difference in celebrating good times in Turkish culture. Graduation is a big thing here in Ireland and people make a big thing about it. We buy cards for people who are graduating and close family members usually give money. It is the same for big exams in Ireland. People celebrate when they get their results. When I was in Turkey I was on such a downer when I got my amazing results which nobody seemed to care much about. There are no congratulation cards and pretty much nothing more than a few words saying well done.

Yet I have come to realise that graduation and exams are not the only celebrations that don’t make it on the hot list in Turkey. Birthdays! In all fairness the more urban areas like Istanbul are starting to take on the commercialised culture of celebrating birthdays like in Ireland yet a lot of people still don’t make birthdays a big deal. You can imagine how it was for me when I found out my father in law doesn’t even know his exact birth date! More strange that his mother wouldn’t remember? You often hear things like he was born in the summer of such and such a year or he was born in winter time. And card giving is very rare in Turkey. Like people do get presents more now but giving a birthday card is something I have not seen in Turkey. I think I have understood why birthdays were not a big part of the culture in Turkey. When you think about it during the Ottoman times the system of registration was not like it was today. Plus the birthday celebrations we see today are very much commercialised and influenced by a western style of life. In Islam, birthdays can be seen as an innovation because the Prophet never celebrated birthdays and so it was just never part of the culture. Nowadays conservative people can see this new celebration of birthdays as something that is an innovation and something which comes from the outside.

Another thing that annoys me is how Turkish people mix up Christmas and new year. A lot of Turks seem to use both celebrations interchangeably to explain one day (new year). I tried explaining that Christmas is a religious holiday on the 25th of December (although it differs in some sects of Christianity) and that new year is not a religious holiday. Yet all the symbols that we here in Ireland associated with Christmas such as a tree and lights find their way into new year celebrations in Turkey. Some families also have a dinner similar to Christmas dinner on new years eve. It is so ironic that in a country that is a majority Muslim country that they use Christmas symbols to celebrate new years eve. I kind of wish they would scrap it all and be a bit more original in their celebration. But hey isn’t this the spread of western capitalist commercial culture at it’s best.

Some celebrations however are a big thing in Turkey. Obviously the two bayram holidays are big and many people tend to leave Istanbul and go to other parts of Turkey because they aren’t originally from Istanbul. I will discuss Bayram in more detail in another post.

One of the celebrations that is very big in Turkey which we don’t have in Ireland is the sending off of young men to the army. I guess it really reflects the masculine nature of Turkish culture as the importance of a male going to the army somehow represents his becoming a man and sacrificing for the nation. There are certain times of the year when guys go to the army and so these times of the year are also the times when you hear a lot of cars beeping their horns. It is annoying when you are trying to sleep at night! Turkish families tend to invite a lot of people over to their home before the guy goes for food and to say goodbye. Close family members usually give him money before he goes too. There are no cards though lol.

Another big celebration which reflects the masculinity of Turkish culture is the circumcision ceremony. You will often see little boys roaming around in their little ottoman suits to celebrate the day like the one below. My partners nephews did get circumcised in the hospital earlier this year but we couldn’t attend the celebration so I can’t tell much about what the actual celebration is like. However this post is a great insight into circumcision in Turkey and how it is celebrated

Of course the biggest celebration has got to be a wedding but that definitely needs a separate post!

The Constant Presence of People

One of the first things that caused me to enter culture shock living in Turkey was the different social gatherings they have. I found it difficult to adjust to a constant presence of people.

In Ireland we have a completely different understanding of privacy and alone time. A lot of the younger generation now grow up with TV’s in their room and laptops in their room and I was part of this generation. When you reach your teens your parents give you a certain amount of space and you spend time alone in your room as part of this independence process. Yet when I lived with my partners family in Istanbul while they had three TVs it wasn’t the norm that we would all watch TV separately. It is odd for you to sit in a room alone in Turkey while there are other people at home. You will constantly be asked are you ok? It is quite the opposite in Ireland where you can go to another room for an hour or two and nobody will ask you why you went. You begin to miss simple things like spending an hour on your laptop in your room or watching TV alone. TV is a social activity in Turkey and you wouldn’t go to another room to watch TV alone when everyone else is watching TV together. This is not only difficult for a foreigner who isn’t used to so many people around but it is difficult from a language perspective because you aren’t going to be watching TV in English.

Turkish housewives like hosting dinner to guests and this is not just once a week but can be several days a week so you find yourself often surrounded by people and it starts to get to you in a negative way. I remember my first Bayram’s (religious holidays) in Turkey and how I felt like I just couldn’t deal with anymore people. For anyone who knows about turkish culture will know that Bayram is a time for solely visiting family relatives for 3/4 days. You either visit them or they visit you depending on your position in the family. It is busy and hectic. There are children running around, there are constant supplies of food coming in and more guests arriving. What I always find annoying about greeting people at such times is that you have to kiss them all individually. It is not enough to enter a room of 10/12 people and say hello like it is in Ireland but you have to individually shake their hand and kiss their cheeks. Of course then for older people you kiss their hand out of respect. We probably appear very cold to Turkish people as we just enter home and say hi. But every day in Turkey when you come home from work/school you greet your family with hugs and kisses. What is hard too is that you never usually visit a home for 30 mins or 1 hour but rather you stay a long time and they stay a long time at your home. It can be really exhausting after 3 days of the same stuff.

I have some Turkish friends who come from different cities in Turkey and it seems like in other parts of Turkey it is even more intense when it comes to socialisation. People in Istanbul like in any other city complain about the lack of connection among neighbours in Istanbul and how people have become very individual in their thinking. I can’t imagine what it is like then in the villages as I really felt compared to Ireland that the socialisation is on a whole different level. Thankfully now that my standard of Turkish has improved I do feel a bit more relaxed when visitors come because I can actually talk with them. This was a huge barrier in the beginning where you sit with people all the time and you just have to smile. You feel so left out when everyone is talking and you have no idea what is going on.

There are so many other things to discuss in relation to guests and the different view of privacy in Turkey which deserve their own separate posts which I will also write about.

The experiences of an Irish Gelin in Turkey, caught in between two cultures.


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