Tag Archives: Turkey

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!

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.

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.