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 https://irishgelin.wordpress.com/2014/11/14/how-to-deal-with-the-critics/ )

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.

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Bayram Bustle

Bayram

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.