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.

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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 http://www.turkeytravelcentre.com/blog/turkish-circumcision-ritual-party-sunnet/

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.

Tea Cafes vs Pubs

Tea Cafes vs Pubs

In Turkey I feel like there are so much more socialising options for people and their families. In Ireland the main social location is the pub or for younger people clubs. Alcohol is at the centre of Irish culture and therefore as an individual who doesn’t drink alcohol I find it difficult to go out at night without being in a setting surrounded by alcohol and drunks. Although when I first went to Turkey I was shocked that children were out so late I admire that Turks spend evenings with their children outside. We have a culture in Ireland where the parents go out at night and the children are left with the babysitter. While people also create culture I feel the lack of family cafes are the reason for this in Ireland. I like that I can go out in Turkey at 9pm to a tea café by the seaside and don’t feel like the odd one out not ordering alcohol.

Tea drinking is also popular in Ireland (although I myself am not a big tea drinker) yet it is interesting how it has not created the type of tea gardens as we see in Turkey. Yet I noticed in many parts of the Mediterranean such as Greece and Spain you see similar tea gardens or cafes where families go late at night and their children are present. Children aren’t seen outdoors in Ireland at night because they are not allowed in pubs after a certain time for obvious reasons. Yet now I wonder why children are not included in social gatherings at night with their families outdoors. I wish that we did have the tea gardens which we see in Turkey in Ireland not because I am anti-pubs or anti-alcohol but because I see the connection Turkish families have with their children and I think we can improve our relationship with our children. Why is it that we have big problems with teenagers getting involved in anti-social behaviour in Ireland and drinking alcohol as young as 12 or 13? I think it is really important to have a strong bond with our children so that if they do face such situations they will listen to us. Tea gardens are a social model which I believe would be a great idea here as I see the positive effects they have on society in Turkey.

Under the Iceberg

For anyone who studied Sociology or Cultural Studies at university they may have come across the Iceberg Model. I think it is a great model to help understand a culture. When you get involved in a relationship with a Turkish person for many it begins on a holiday. Yet what do you get to know about a culture in 2 weeks?

What you see above the sea is just the tip of the iceberg and that is exactly what you get when you visit Turkey for the first time. Yet if you actually look at some of the points on top not even all them are present in the Turkish holiday resorts. My first trip to Turkey was to Kusadasi (Kuşadası) and I was surprised at how ‘irish’ it was. I didn’t experience even some of the things on top of the iceberg because you have irish restaurants which sell food that we eat in Ireland, you have Irish bars which look like the ones in Ireland and you have Irish/English music which we listen to at home. Even the people who work at the resort that have never been to Ireland speak with an Irish accent. So when people go to such a resort and fall in love with Turkey/Turk, what are they really falling in love with? Because how can you really fall in love with something/someone that is not in their full representation. For me I learnt bottom of the iceberg much quicker because I spent a lot of time in Istanbul after Kuşadası and therefore I was not in the bubble of a tourist resort. Yet for many foreigners they spend quite a lot of time visiting the same tourist city and when they go to their partners home city they often come back in shock at how different the culture is. They find it difficult to accept that their partner is anything like their families or you will hear them say well his family is conservative but he isn’t.

Holiday romances are easy to find in tourist resorts and if you want one you will get one. Yet for those who contemplate a long term relationship they need to consider seriously the implications this will have on their personal development and future decisions. Life is not a holiday forever no matter how much we want it to be that way. It is not going to be about going to the bars and sunbathing by the pool. There are going to be challenges involved because of cultural differences. So it is best to know about these before rather than learning about them later where you may find it difficult to cope with the expectations of Turkish culture. There is a cultural adaptation curve which is taught at university which is really useful for those who intend to live in Turkey because you will face culture shock yet a lot of people don’t know that they will have this experience. Knowing about it makes it much easier to deal with it.

When the honeymoon period is over you will begin to feel the differences and question how you are going to deal with those differences. There are ways to adapt yet how we adapt differs from person to person. Some people don’t adapt and their holiday romance doesn’t last. Some people try for a long time to adapt but in the end the hill becomes to hard to climb. Some people adapt over a long period of time and they become really assimilated into Turkish culture. This all can depend on a variety of factors such as where in Turkey you live, what your partner is like, what their family are like etc. Yet most importantly the biggest factor is about you and how well you cope in new situations.

In my next posts I hope to deal with the points on the iceberg, both top and bottom. After five years of experience with Turkish culture, I am still learning new differences yet I hope to share my experiences to help those wanting to learn more about Turkish culture.

About

I decided to create this blog for two reasons. Firstly for myself I wanted to write about my experiences so that I can look back on them in the future in an easily accessible place. Secondly I wanted to share my experiences so that anyone in a similar situation can get more information. A lot of foreigners involved with a Turk in Turkey tend to be located around the holiday resorts on the west coast however my experiences are primarily in Istanbul. Although the cultural experiences on other blogs will be similar I hope to help the minority who locate in Istanbul.

I intend to write mainly about cultural differences. There are a lot of obvious on the surface differences between my own culture (Irish) and Turkish culture yet it is not until you live in a place for a period of time where you begin to learn the cultural differences under the surface. This ranges from body language to the way people clean. However I also intend to discuss some more practical issues such as visas and studying in Turkey because I have experience with those situations. I also may share some Turkish recipes from time to time 🙂

Another hobby of mine is quilting, sewing and crocheting – my crafty hobbies certainly compliment my gelin desires lol. I love the handmade crafts of Turkey and I have been inspired a lot by them.