It’s been just over a year now. The new teachers have moved in, none of which are first-time expats like I was this time last year. Maybe we just don’t talk enough, but I’ve not heard nearly enough stories about what they’ve encountered while living in Turkey so far. They all seem well adjusted. Funny, because I certainly wasn’t despite having already been to Turkey before moving here.
Here’s a list that of things that caught my attention as a tourist and as a resident. I’ve been adding to this in a file for a year now, and it’s time it went live.
1. Taxis are cheap…
…If you’re converting from USD and comparing to rates in Chicago. And if the driver doesn’t screw you over.
2. The Call to Prayer is beautiful.
Having grown up surrounded by quiet cornfields and studying abroad in the land of Catholic church bells, the Call to Prayer just about scared the life out of me the first morning I was in Turkey. That said, it’s beautiful. I’ve never gotten tired of it (I guess many expats do, unfortunately), and I miss it when I’m away.
3. Stray cats are welcomed and loved.
4. Turkish people love to feed each other.
I never eat more than when I’m with my Turkish friends, especially if I am a guest in someone’s home. Additionally, it is an honor to host guests in your own or even your city. Turks OFTEN invite others over for a meal.
5. It’s normal to eat on the floor instead of at a table.
If you’re at a restaurant, you’ll eat at a table, of course, but I’ve been in several homes where there is either no table to begin with, or the table the family has only seats two or three. Instead, families and friends sit together on the floor. An oversized cloth is draped over your lap to catch crumbs as you enjoy your meal. Occasionally, you may sit around a low-lying tabletop.
6. Save the washing. Share dishes.
It’s breakfast time; there’s a spread of cucumbers and tomatoes, a plate of cheese, a bowl of olives, a skillet of eggs with tasty sausage, and so on. You won’t be serving up your own plate, so don’t wait for one. Everyone takes their share directly out of the serving dishes with their personal utensils…or with bread.
7. Fruit plates and nuts are common desserts.
Yes, Turks also have amazing sweets such as baklava, but who doesn’t love sugar coated chickpeas after dinner? Turks also eat what’s in season, so the fresh fruit is always incredible.
8. There’s not much variety in the veggie department…
I hope you like zucchini and eggplant. If you love sweet potatoes, I’m sorry to report that you won’t find them here. Well, I found them one time last year… I would have held to sell my first born in order to afford them, though.
9. You don’t go to sleep until the tea is finished.
Turks drink black tea all day long. I’m surprised they can sleep at night. One night after dinner, the double decker tea kettle came out. I swear that this family drank tea until it was all gone, which took hours since the tea is served in tiny tulip glasses.
10. Sugar cubes.
Turks put sugar in their tea. Not honey like Americans or milk like the British. Sugar. And always in cube form.
11. Ice cream is gummy.
Forget creamy deliciousness that melts in your mouth. You have to either viciously chew or cut your ice cream with a knife here in Turkey.
12. Yogurt goes on everything.
Yogurt is not just a breakfast food, my friends! It goes on your bread, on your chicken, on your salad…It’s even a salty drink, Ayran, to enjoy with your kebab! It’s much like buttermilk, so it makes great pancakes when you need a little fix of American breakfast. It’s also your substitute for sour cream.
13. For a city of 13-20 million people (depending on who you ask), there is surprisingly little international food.
14. Everything can be delivered.
Don’t want to cook? Yemeksepeti is your new best friend. You can get food from just about any restaurant delivered to your door without a delivery fee. Even the super market will deliver, which is awesome when you need to fill the pantry but you live in a city without a car. Likewise, if you know the number for the shop on the corner, you can call them and make an exchange through your window. Just lower a basket! This is one of my favorite Istanbul charms.
15. The police presence is real.
It’s common to see swarms of police with shields and gas masks along Istiklal just waiting… Yet, it’s not common to find them on the roads passing out speeding tickets.
16. Are seatbelts optional?
I think most people in Turkey don’t wear seatbelts. I would like to see a survey on this.
17. Are carseats optional?
On more than a million occasions, I have seen young mothers hold their babies in the backseat of a car rather than securing their baby in a proper carseat.
18. The bureaucracy in Turkey…
It takes forever to get anything done. The laws are constantly changing. I am forever grateful that my job arranged my work and resident permits for me. The horror stories are endless.
19. The highway is a garden.
Istanbul has a green thumb. There are elaborate flower designs all over the city, including along the highway, most of the year. It’s not just during tulip season [which is spectacular].
20. Is that a bus stop?
Each morning, I see one person, two people, maybe a small handful of people squat in the shade on the side of the highway waiting for their bus to arrive. There’s no sign, but it’s clear they are where they need to be.
21. Where are the bus routes?
Best to download the application “Traffi” for your smartphone. There is public transportation everywhere, but that doesn’t mean that each stop has any helpful information such as schedules, routes, or even which bus will pick you up at that location.
22. Sidewalks are optional.
Sidewalks are often so narrow that most people will walk in the street until a car beeps you out of the way.
23. Close your curtains.
I’m sure the neighborhood doesn’t want to see me walking around in my underwear, but even if I am fully clothed, my Turkish friends insist on closing my curtains when they visit. Shame on me for wanted some natural light.
24. Watch out! Everything will make you sick.
I still laugh every time I have a Turkish friend over and they close all my windows. A cross breeze will make you sick, sweat will make you sick, being barefoot, wet hair, cold water, and so on… Maybe there’s something to it, but I’ve been walking outside with wet curls in subzero weather since I had hair and I’m still alive and well.
25. Put yourself together.
Maybe my wet hair offends people not because it will make me sick, but because I haven’t properly cared for myself. Turkish people are always put together. They are well dressed, in style, and always have their faces on, be that make-up or a fresh shave.
26. Nobody wears a beard like a Turkish man.
Turkish men have the best beards. Their barbers know what’s up. That said, with such great beards, I don’t understand why so many men insist on creepy mustaches.
27. The bro-mance is real.
Turkish men have the best bro-mances I have ever seen. They greet each other with either a kiss on each cheek or they do a bro-style hand shake and then gently bump their foreheads together on each side. The link arms when they walk around as well.
28. Men and women aren’t friends.
This might not be true, but I see very little evidence suggesting otherwise. You often see groups of men together. Next you’ll see groups of couples… But I can’t say I see many men and women out as just friends. And remaining friends after you breakup? Good luck with the next boyfriend or girlfriend approving of that. It’s a jealous culture.
29. “Can you do me a favor?”
To be fair, I ask for favors as well [like someone keeping my cat alive while I’m away], and Turks are INCREDIBLY generous. However, I’m tired of being asked to write fake reviews for my friends in tourism just because I’m a native English speaker. Don’t want to do it because it isn’t honest? See #30.
30. Friendships are good until they are not.
Turks seem to just cut each other out when they get upset. When this started happening to me, I showed up with cookies and made people talk it out. Problem solved.
31. Turkish Standard Time is far worse than Mormon Standard Time.
Mormons are notorious for being late, but we’ve got nothing on the Turks. In America, “I’m on my way,” means you better be showered already because I’m already in the car. Coming from a Turk, “I’m on my way,” may mean you still have five hours to kill.
32. “Let’s See, Dear.”
This is what my Turkish friends tell me every time I try to plan ahead for weekend activities. It’s best to remain spontaneous and flexible in Turkey.
33. Nargile, Çay, and Tavla is a winning trio.
Walking through the winding backstreets, I always see pairs of old men sitting on short stools playing tavla [backgammon], while drinking çay [black tea], and smoking nargile [hookah]. Not only can Turks play a round of tavla at lightening speed, but they SLAM the pieces on the board. I’m not fast yet, but I’m getting better at the slam. Playing tavla with a glass or twelve of apple tea next to the Bosphorus is my favorite way to spend a sunny afternoon in Istanbul.
34. Allah Allah, Tamam, and Inşallah are my favorite Turkish expressions.
AllaHallah [emphasis on the H intended] is like, “Oh my God…”, Tamam means “okay,” and Inşallah means “God willing,” or “hopefully.”
35. Every classroom is required to have a picture of the Turkish founding father, Atatürk.
And you better not have anything negative to say about it.
36. There are garbage sorters instead of recycling
One friend told me that some neighborhoods have color coded garbage bags for recycling, but I don’t think that’s the case where I live. There is one dumpster that everything goes into. Throughout the week, men of all ages will wheel around large white sacks and sort through the dumpsters to collect plastics, cardboard, etc.
37. Throw it on the ground…
Finished with that? Just toss it onto the road. The street sweepers will pass through soon… In the morning, parks are always filthy from the barbeques of the previous afternoon. By midday, the parks are pristine again. I don’t understand why the city doesn’t set out more garbage bins, but some would argue that this gives someone a job.
38. It didn’t rain. They just washed the streets.
During the warmer months, shop keepers wash the sidewalks and/or street in front of their store. It cools the hot streets and controls the dust.
39. A little knowledge of Turkish brings a lot of love.
In Austria, if I spoke German, people replied to me in English still. In Turkey, when I speak Turkish, it’s like I’ve been accepted into the family. That said, when you’re pairs, they love to practice speaking English still. Once you’re in a group, it’s normal to be scolded for not knowing as much as you should.
40. Water, simits, and tissues for sale.
Stuck in traffic and feeling parched? There is always someone there to sell you water. It’s common to be approached by Syrian refugees, especially children, which I don’t mind, but there are so many people on the streets that I don’t know who honestly needs the help and who doesn’t.
41. When you go to the OBGYN in Turkey, the nurse stays in the room while you undress.
The doctor still leaves, though.
42. In true Turkish hospitality, it’s normal to fight over who has the honor of paying the bill.
I suppose this is far less awkward than wondering who is going to pay or if you’ll be splitting the check. Splitting a check in the States is common. Let’s say you are visiting someone, maybe even staying with them, and you decide to go out for dinner; In Turkey, if you are a guest, your host typically pays. In the States, it’s normal to offer to pay for your hosts as a gesture of gratitude.
43. Cigarettes are censored on Turkish television…
…But popular American music is not.
44. No Amazon, Hulu, Netflix…
…So I guess a lot of expats get VPNs, but I never bothered.
45. Put up lights and they will come.
Istiklal, the main pedestrian shopping street in Taksim, is my worst nightmare. My walking pace is too fast and the lights seem to attract too many people.
46. Miss Christmas? Go to the hotels.
The Christmas trees at the hotels are beautifully decorated. There is plenty of Santa [because he came from Turkey, you know…], but this is because Turkish people give each other presents for the New Year.
47. Gyms memberships are expensive but personal trainers are not.
48. The Tarlabasi market will save you millions.
Most will tell you to avoid the Tarlabasi neighborhood, but everyone goes there for the Sunday market. It’s the only place I buy my cheese, nuts, and dried fruit. The price of fruits and veggies is also a steal. I still need to get a little cart to wheel all my produce back to Cihangir like the Turkish women have.
49. “Come to my shop for a tea.”
This is probably the most common phrase used in Sultanahmet. They’ll ask you where you’re from, tell you you’re beautiful, tell you where you’re going is closed, and so on. It’s best to just go about your business. They all use the same lines.
50. The Turkish Carpet experience is magical.
If you’ve never been to a Carpet store in Turkey, go! Even if you don’t plan to buy something, you’ll learn a lot and you might find something you love. If you do, don’t forget to bargain. If you don’t, just enjoy the art, the tea, and the stories.
51. Hairdressers are mostly men.
52. You’ll never feel more clean than you do after leaving a Hamam.
Watch layers of dead skin be ripped from your body and enjoy the spank on your bottom when you’re finished! Bring clean clothes to change into and make sure you go somewhere local for the real experience. Don’t go to a fancy hotel.
53. Dance everywhere.
This is a culture that embraces music and dance. People sing and dance freely everywhere. If there is music, there is dancing, whistling, laughter, and hollers. I love hearing everyone sing because I feel like there is not the fear of judgement too commonly felt back home.
54. Eastern Turkey is not as scary as people say it is.
It isn’t scary at all, actually. Sure, things happen there, but things also happen in Istanbul and in every major city around the world. Turks and Kurds have a long, negative history together, which contributes greatly to every taxi driver’s fear when I tell them to take me to the airport because I’m flying to Mardin or Diyarbakir, or wherever that is largely populated by Kurdish people. Their problems won’t be fixed overnight and I won’t pretend to understand it all… But that’s another post.
55. For many, not all, academic education ends early.
Especially in areas like Sultanahmet, many young men stopped going to school when they were under 14 years old. They moved to the big city from small, Eastern villages that didn’t have anything above a primary school. Again, another post may be necessary to elaborate.
56. Wet wipes, lemon kolon, and cloves.
At the end of every meal, you will either be given a wet wipe, or your hands will be drenched in lemon kolon. I’ve grown VERY fond of this practice. Additionally, some places have a little bowl of cloves to help you freshen up your breath.
57. Terrace restaurants and Bosphorus tours are the BEST way to soak of the beauty of Istanbul.
58. There are too many charming men who think all Western women are easy.
This is exhausting, but luckily, there ARE great guys. Now, find a great guy who ALSO has open-minded parents? That’s gold.
59. There is always traffic.
60. Business doesn’t happen before tea.
At the bank opening an account? Have a tea. Shopping for musical instruments? Have a tea. Looking at ceramics and carpets? Yep. Have a tea.
61. “How much do you weigh?”
…And other taboo topics in America such as your salary are not off limits in Turkey.
62. Turkish hospitality is not a myth.
One day while I was traveling during Ramadan, a man at the bus station gave me a pile of tomatoes for my journey.
63. Turks take football very seriously.
Galatasaray, Fenerbache, or Besiktas. Choose wisely.
64. Concert posters everywhere!
If there’s a bare wall, it will be covered by a concert or event poster which will then be ripped down and leave its own artistic remains.
65. Drink mint lemonade.
And the fresh squeezed orange and pomegranate juices.
66. Water towers DO exist in Turkey.
Just in case you were wondering.
67. My washing machine drains into my bathtub.
And then I hang my clothes on the line outside to dry.
68. There’s a guy for everything.
Key guy, fruit guy, nut guy, cheese guy, bread guy…
69. Election season means party flags.
70. Clarinetists can be famous!
Just ask Hüsnü Şenlendirici. I’m in music nerd heaven here.
71. My name has never been spelled correctly on a Starbucks cup…
…Even after I switched to a Turkish name.
72. Everything is closed during Bayram.
Best to go on vacation.
73. Eat a salad with pomegranate sauce.
You can thank me later. While you’re at it, eat all the mezes. All of them.
74. Turkish breakfast is the greatest thing on this planet.
75. If you’re from the Midwest, don’t eat the street corn.
It isn’t sweet corn. It’s dry and burnt and disgusting.
This list, I’m sure will continue to grow. In the meantime, other lists to browse:
50 Signs You’ve Been in Turkey Too Long
29 Quirky Things About My New Home, Turkey (Already shared)
74 Lessons From 5 Years in Turkey (Already shared)
A similar post of my own: My Life Through Their Words