Tag Archives: Turkish culture

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.