Monday, December 28, 2009

Expat transition tips

Writer: Casey Marriott

Casey Marriott shares tips on making a swift transition to the city by doing like the locals do.

There are only so many times you can endure the haggling of the Grand Bazaar, gaze at the Blue Mosque’s tiles or take a cruise down the Bosphorus, as wonderful as they are. By the time you’ve played tour guide for your parents, siblings and friends, you’re almost on a first name basis with the entrance guards. Once you’ve crossed off all the ‘must see’ sites in Istanbul, how can you enhance your true Turkish cultural experience (besides eating copious amounts of kebabs)? After carefully studying the native habitants in their natural environment (crikey!), we present you with a list to help you cross over from tourist to ex-pat in just 10 easy steps.

Step 1. Befriend a local Manav, Tekel and Eczane.
After moving to a neighborhood, it is vital for survival to befriend the local shopkeepers (I’m talking pay when you like, front door delivery and discounts). Although they may charge a kuruş or two more then the franchise supermarkets, not only are you supporting the locals (which automatically puts you in their good books) but you also get greeted by a friendly face that genuinely cares about your well-being; also a great opportunity to practice your Turkish or at least brush up on your charade skills (particularly funny when attempting to explain embarrassing sicknesses at Eczanes).

Step 2. Jump off the fence and pick a team.
As far as passion goes, football is high on the list of beloved things in Turkey (followed closely by wives and children). Find which club colors suit you best and head to a game; better yet, hang around the football stadium before a match begins and watch the fans rally in their team colors chanting their slogans (the one time public swearing and slagging is tolerated). Beşiktaş, Galatasaray and Fenerbahçe, the 3 biggies in Istanbul, provide particularly entertaining street parties that stretch from the centre of the areas all the way to the stadiums. Fanatical football at its best.

Step 3. Learn Backgammon in a makeshift tea garden.
Look on any main street, back street, side street- any street really - and be sure to find a ‘çaycı’ serving tea to his posse on miniature stools and knee-high tables. Set yourself down, put your phone on the table (trust me, everyone’s doing it) and order a round of tea or ten. Grab a backgammon board (if they don’t have one you’ll probably see someone run off to grab one) and begin the war of the white and black checkers and luck of the dice; first to five wins. This is an ideal time to chain smoke.

Step 4. Leave food out for the street cats.
No street is short of the usual motley crew of stray cats, which are generally quite well looked after by the surrounding inhabitants of their chosen hangout. Now you know why there are piles of clumpy unidentified food sorts left on the streets. Adopt your own cat gang and find yourself some street loving. You don’t even need to bother with fancy pricey cat food (as if a cat can tell it’s eating seasoned wild salmon anyhow); these cats eat anything from pasta to bread to scraps.

Step 5. Slow it down to a snail’s pace.
You can spot a tourist in Istanbul by the fast speed at which they walk, coupled with gold medal-worthy twists, turns, and swerves as they streamline through the crowd. But when in Rome, as the saying goes, take the time to stroll down the large boulevards stopping whenever and wherever you please (smack bang in the middle of the pathway with three of your friends linking arms is fine) to gaze at a shop front or greet even more friends to link arms with. Take the time to smell the roses, or in this city, the delicious roasting chestnuts!

Step 6. Go public with a loud lovers tiff.
It’s not all that uncommon to see a couple having a massive row in a shop which usually results in ‘person A’ (let’s not be sexist now) storming off leaving ‘person B’ to chase pleading ‘aşkım aşkım’. By now, your resistance to the Turkish charm has probably crumbled and you’ve found yourself a lover (or possibly the reason you’re here in the first place). Take yourselves to a crowded area and create a scene worthy of an Oscar.

Step 7. Make out passionately in a cafe.
Either the air in Istanbul is charged with love or everybody has pent up passion from the restrictions of living with parents until a late age. Either way, PDA is certainly not an issue in this country, as you will discover at your local cafe ‘with a view’ of the couple in the corner practically sitting in each other’s laps, tongues down each other’s throats. Tie this in with Step 6 and you’ve killed two birds with one stone.

Step 8. Join a protest.
It doesn’t take long to realize there are countless things to protest about here (unlike our home countries where everything is already regularized and legalized to the teeth). Quite often you will see groups of people swarming up and down Istiklal chanting and waving banners (the place to ‘be seen’ for protesting). Tag along and support their causes; the presence of numerous police armed with guns, helmet and gas masks will surely give you a feeling of living on the edge.

9. Drink Efes
Need I say more? Besides, I’m on a word limit and hopefully will get free beer for such blatant advertising.

10. Get up close and personal.
Whilst we were raised to never ask ‘those questions’ about age, weight and wages, such boundaries are relatively non-existent in Turkey. Once you recover from the initial shock of having your belly rolls pinched, being drilled about your salary and asked your age (all within the first 5 minutes of meeting someone of course), you may even find the breakdown of such barriers refreshing and even appreciate the intimate environment it creates. When you finally find yourself becoming the drillmaster, you will truly know that the integration process is complete.

1 comment:

Kaya Tilev said...

we want more from the crunchy apple!! where is the crunchy apple!! !