As I’ve mentioned before in my column, Turkey is a beautiful but complicated country: filled with natural beauty, history, and often wonderful, hospitable people, but also one that is full of contradictions, perplexities, and emotions running at fever pitch. This week, I thought I would share with you, dear readers, my top five loves and pet peeves about living in Turkey.
As a true foodie, this has to be on the top of my list. No country I have ever been to does breakfast quite like Turkey. Delicious egg concoctions like menemen (eggs cooked with onion, tomato, green peppers, and spices), different types of cheeses, sausage, tomatoes, cucumbers, and olives cover the kitchen table every morning. And for something sweet with your tea? Forget jam, Turkey has invented bal kaymak (honey with buffalo cream). It’s absolutely orgasmic.
Seeing a more conservatively dressed Turkish woman with her much more liberally dressed friend
Scenes like the one in the above photo are very common. For all its faults, in many parts of the country (except for the east), how you choose to dress does not influence who you are friends with.
Your street—where everybody knows your name
The bakkal (corner shop) guy, the baker, the kebapçı (kebab man), and the cake seller (Turks are crazy for sugar) on my street all greet me as I walk past. I once got into a taxi with a slightly mad driver. I felt threatened so I asked him to drop me off in the middle of my street where all the shops are. As I got out, all of my neighborhood friends looked on. That’s the community spirit that I have not experienced anywhere else.
You can get anything delivered
My friends and I often say that Turkey is the best country in the world to be hung-over in. Don’t want to leave the house? Want McDonalds? Done. Don’t have any cash? They bring a credit card machine to your doorstep. I was once having a barbecue and ran out of ketchup. One phone call to the local bakkal and a few minutes later someone climbed six flights of stairs to deliver us a single bottle of sauce.
Guys walk around linking arms
Turkey is a patriarchal society and men calling each other ağabey (literally translating to “brother,” but is a term of endearment to any man you want to show respect to) is widespread. Most boys and teenagers grow up with other boys and teenagers, and approach or befriend women if they want something else. The concept of mixed friendship groups is a lot rarer. But what I really like seeing is men walking around holding or linking arms. This is a sign of brotherhood and, granted, has much deeper implications (many say it is because men are not usually friends with women unless they date them or are married to them and so look for intimacy in their friends), but the gesture itself is sweet.
Men are always expected to pay
If I want to pay for a meal when my partner and I are dining out and take out my card, nine out of ten times, the waiter will still give the credit card machine to my partner. The idea is that he works, I’m a housewife, and he just gave me a card to his bank account so that I can do the grocery shopping.
Care about the environment? Recycle? Not on their watch
The lack of recycling in this country drives me crazy. And for that matter, littering in general. This summer, I have gone to a few different beaches close to Istanbul and all of them had rubbish everywhere. People walk into the sea with a cigarette in one hand and a beer can in the other. No points for guessing where they both end up.
The traffic is intense in Istanbul. Only Delhi competes and I hear so do Moscow and Tokyo. And I understand honking if you genuinely want to alert a driver in front of something. But honking when you are stuck in a traffic jam and are not moving (and neither are the 30 cars in front of you) is very annoying. The honking competitions are particularly grating.
I am a child of the Soviet Union first (I was born in Russia) and of polite society second (my family migrated to Australia when I was seven) so the lack of queues in this country is super frustrating. In my first weeks in Istanbul, I missed a couple of buses as I let other people get on first and when it was my turn, the bus door shut in my face. Countless times would I be speaking to someone in a shop or paying for something when someone would just push right in and interrupt. It’s a direct and brutally honest (and this has its pros) society, but the lack of queuing and interrupting is to me just plain rude.
Not dissimilar to the Soviet Union, in Turkey you need a permission to get a permission. You get a fine for already paying a fine. The systems (to get a residence permit for one) are often inefficient and lack logic. I could go on but I don’t want to end my column on too much of a sour note.
Title image source: Josep Renalias, WikiMedia Commons