YOU BOARD A FLIGHT WITH PLASTIC BAGS FULL OF LOCAL PRODUCE
This was the moment that inspired me to put this post together. We were getting on a plane back to Istanbul after a great trip in Çorum and were trying to figure out how to get a few kilos of Çorum Leblebi and Iskilip wood-carvings into our maxed-out hiking bags. Then I remembered all the old ladies boarding planes like they’ve just done their grocery shopping with bags full of local produce! It was so simple! We just walked onto our flight with plastic bags full of food and gifts and no one blinked an eye. Why was this weird for us?
Then this got me thinking “Are there other ways in which we’ve started to act Turkish? and this is the list we came up with.
YOU CAN SING ALONG WITH THE STREET MUSICIANS
Turkish street musicians often perform Turkish classics, if you can sing along then you’re definitely getting a good grip on the culture.
YOU DON’T SEE ANYTHING WRONG WITH TELLING SOMEONE THEY’VE GOTTEN FAT
If at first you would do verbal gymnastics to avoid suggesting that someone looks like they’ve gained weight, a few years in Turkey will have you telling them to their face that they’ve gotten fat.
YOU OVERDRESS YOUR KIDS AGAINST THE COLD
When I first moved to Turkey this drove me nuts. Total strangers were always telling us to dress our kids warmer, and saying the kids were “like ice!” even though it was still 17 degrees out (Celsius of course); a rather balmy spring day for a family of Canadians. Last time we went back to Canada we realized that our kids consistently had on at least one extra layer against the cold than all the other kids. Apparently, they got to us after all!
YOU REFUSE TO WEAR SHOES INSIDE
In Turkey it’s very important to not step into a home with your shoes on. In the beginning this is really awkward because, firstly, you have to remember, and secondly, the entryway isn’t usually big enough for a group of people simultaneously hopping on one foot and greeting one another. Over time though you get better at the remembering and the hopping and start doing it in your home country. I mean, you probably stepped in dog poop so you definitely don’t want that in your house right?
YOU EAT STARCH WITH YOUR STARCH
Having a plate of Rice? You’ll need bread with that. Pasta? Can’t have that without some bread. There’s a good reason Turkey consumes more bread than any other nation in the world.
YOU DON’T NOTICE THE CALL TO PRAYER ANYMORE
At first it stands out and wakes you up in the night, after a while it just blends in with all the ceaseless noise of the city.
YOU GET EXCITED FOR SAHLEP SEASON
The best part about the weather getting cold is that shops and ferries start selling sahlep again! Sahlep is a thick hot drink made from ground orchid bulbs topped with a dusting of cinnamon and it means that winter has arrived!
YOU’VE GOT “YOUR GUY” FOR EVERY NEED
I’m happy to say I’ve got my barber, my bag repair guy, I’ve had dinner with my notary, and I even have a leblebi (roast chick pea) seller guy I go to when I’m in the area. If I needed watch repair I wouldn’t look for a watch repair shop, I would ask my friends if any of them has their own trusted “watch guy.” That’s the system; that connection and recommendation is how you know you’re going to get the best service.
YOU FIGHT HARD WITH YOUR FRIEND OVER PAYING THE BILL
At first my friends would insist upon paying as we were the guests in their eyes. We’ve long since realized that as foreigners here people will always look at us as guests and, not wanting to be eternal free-loaders, have started fighting our friends to get the bill.
YOU KEEP CANDY IN YOUR BAG JUST IN CASE YOU SEE A CUTE KID
You never know when you’ll see a cute kid and want to give him/her candy.
LEATHER SHOES ARE FOR EVERY OCCASION
If you think the ideal pair of shoes for a farmer, construction worker, or wedding-goer is a pair pointy-toed leather shoes then you’ve taken a big step to becoming a local!
YOU USE A DOZEN WAYS OF SAYING GOODBYE ALL AT ONCE
I have Turkish relatives, and one thing I always thought was a little odd was the way that my aunt would say “goodbye, see you, have a good night, goodbye, byeeeeee!” every time we said goodbye. Now, after four years of living here, I just caught myself saying (in Turkish of course) “goodbye, health to your hands, may your work be good, may it come easy, goodnight, see you later brother, byeeeeeee” to a friend as we left. Just one farewell isn’t enough.
YOUR FRIENDS FROM ALL OVER THE COUNTRY SEND YOU FOOD
We’ve got a lot of college student friends that we often have over for meals. One unforeseen perk of this is that when their families send food for their kids we often get included! We get regional dishes prepared and sent to us from all over the country as if we were local kids with parents trying to make sure we actually eat!
YOU COME TO LOVE THE BIDET
In case you don’t know what the bidet is, let me attempt to explain it delicately. The bidet is a squirt gun for your bum. It’s amazingly effective and, once you get past the shock of cold water on your sensitive bits, you’ll wonder how you ever managed going to the bathroom without it.
GIANT WESTERN STYLE MUGS ARE OFFENSIVE (BUT A DOZEN LITTLE ONES A DAY ARE FINE)
This makes no sense, but big mugs now seem so excessive, maybe even overindulgent. Why not be a little bit indulgent but drink all the time?
YOU KNOW HONKING IS JUST CARS TALKING
Back in Canada I always understood honking to be the equivalent of cars swearing at each other so I almost never used my horn. In Turkey however, it’s simply a form of communication that you need to use to get by in Turkish traffic. Minibuses use their horn to let people know they’re coming and taxis will use their horn when going around a blind corner. Granted, the horn is still used for swearing much of the time as well.
A SIGN WON’T SLOW YOU DOWN
One-way street? Not important. Sidewalk taped off for construction? Easy to step over. My favorite example of ignoring signs was watching this one guy walk along the sidewalk. He came to a point where the sidewalk was closed off with construction tape, stepped over it, then went on to step into fresh concrete and look shocked!
When I first started driving in Turkey I was in a small town and came to a red light. There was a little bit of traffic around, so I stopped and waited like a good boy. After a fairly long wait an old man walked up to us with a perplexed look on his face and told us to just go.
If you can drive down the wrong side of the road, ignore no parking signs, and enter through an exit, then you’re making great progress in becoming a Turk!
YOU SPEAK FLUENT TURKLISH
Learning Turkish will have a pretty heavy impact on your native language. My English has definitely suffered and it’s not often that I manage to get a complete English sentence out without a Turkish word sneaking in or the English word just going missing (and that’s the excuse I’m running with for my poor blogging here). My son is probably the most fluent Turklish speaker I know though; when the Turkish word escapes him he throws an English one in there without hesitation, even if his Turkish friends have no clue what it means.
YOU DON’T SHOW UP AT A FRIENDS HOUSE EMPTY-HANDED
Where I’m from showing up uninvited isn’t really OK, and visitors don’t need to bring anything. Here it’s the opposite; feel free to drop by but always be sure to bring a gift of food with you! If you can adapt to this one you’re definitely getting into the culture.