This week’s Bug Bytes comes from Natalie Sayin, a British expat who has been living in Turkey for the past nine years and the author of the informative and hilarious blog, Turkish Travel Blog. Here, Natalie tells us all about what life is like in Turkey, what to see and (and what not to eat) when you visit, and the charming qualities of Turkish men.
BB:> You are living in Turkey. Awesome!! What part? How did you end up moving there and where are you originally from?
NS: I am originally from Nottingham in the UK and roughly 10 years ago, I started working for one of the main travel companies who sent me to Turkey as a holiday rep. I worked in a few holiday resorts before finally settling on the Aegean Coast in a resort called Altinkum. I also meet my husband here and we decided to make our life in Turkey instead of the UK.
BB: Your blog, Turkish Travel Blog (which is awesome, BTW) says you think Turkey is addictive. How so? What do you love about it?
NS: For me, Turkey is addictive as a country because it has two identities which everyday gives me a choice as to which one I want to live. For example, if I want fast food, brand name shops and all day drinking then I would head for a city like Izmir.
However, if I want to experience Turkish culture, I simply head for one of the small villages on the outskirts of all the big cities. I speak to a lot of holiday makers who return year after year and they say it is the hospitability of the Turkish people that makes them return.
I also love the stress free way of life here. If I don’t have any money the shopkeeper lets me put it on a bill and pay when I want to. Sometimes though, the stress free way of life can wind me up. For example the satellite man says he will come to my house at 10am, however he arrives at 6pm and makes no apologies for it. I suppose I can’t have it both ways.
Turkey Old and New
BB: Haha. Well, what is the culture like? Are foreigners treated like guests or are they viewed as cash cows? (ex: a friend of mine recently went to Turkey and said she was surprised at how it felt like everyone was trying to sell her something or scam her).
NS: Hhmm, it sounds like your friend went to one of the typical tourist resorts. In most of these resorts the workers have become blinded by the power of money. For example in Altinkum, there was a building boom and a lot of foreigners were buying houses. Next thing you know the local barber or dentist had set up an estate agent. Everybody was being hassled to buy property, because the commission on one house was like a year’s wages.
Some Turkish people also don’t have any business sense which makes them very competitive. In one street, you will see a row of ten jewelry or clothes shops that are all next to each other. The owners then have to hassle the few people there are, to make sure they sell something.
To see real Turkish culture, you have to visit a village, town or city that is not reliant on tourism as its main income. You will find Turkish people are very friendly and helpful towards foreigners. It is about getting off the beaten track to experience what Turkish people are really like.
BB: What about religious tensions? Have you witnessed or felt any?
NS: In 10 years in this country, I have never seen any religious tension. I hear the call to prayer from the mosque every day but apart from that, if I want to know about the Muslim religion I have to go in search of it.
There is a lot of discussion in the country at the moment about the government. Some people say there is an Islamic government in power and they are leaning towards the East and away from the West.
A few people are nervous because the wives of the president and prime minister wear headscarves. This does not bother me. I think Turkey is just trying to establish itself as a country that stands on its own.
BB: What are the family dynamics like? Is family an important thing in Turkish culture?
NS: Yes, very important. I was introduced to my husband’s family within weeks of dating him. At our wedding, there were roughly 300 people, most of them family, and to this day, I still do not have a clue who they are. On the odd occasion you hear of single mothers who are divorced but on the whole, the family set up is placed high on a list of priorities.
BB: What sorts of foods could you expect to taste if you were traveling to Turkey for the first time? Any you recommend avoiding?
NS: To be honest, they say Turkish cuisine is one of the best in the world. I really have to disagree. I find a majority of their pastries and cakes very dry and heavy. I never eat the bread because you need teeth like a chainsaw to get through it.
Their main courses are mainly veg and meat which is always cooked in tomato paste. A majority of their cheeses are either bland or heavily tasting of salt. So, see the list above for foods to avoid! What can I recommend? Hmm, oh I know, I will recommend an Adana Kebab. This is like a giant oblong meatball made from mincemeat and spices; it is then traditionally served with rice and salad.
BB: Is living in Turkey affordable? What areas are more affordable than others if you were to find accommodation?
NS: It is affordable but prices are starting to creep up. If you are hiring a car, be aware because the price of petrol here is higher than the UK or America. Accommodation however is very cheap because the last two years have been bad for tourism. A lot of hotels drop their prices when they see potential customers.
The only areas I would shop around for accommodation are in the main cities like Istanbul, Izmir or Ankara. These places are more expensive than the seaside resorts but if you go down the side streets then you can find accommodation that is cheap.
BB: What about the language barrier?
NS: I have never had a problem with the language barrier. Over the years I have managed to reach a stage where I can converse in Turkish. Apart from that, you always find a way round it. A lot of the Turkish people know English; in fact some of them have become fluent within six months.
BB: Is it easy to travel around Turkey? Would you travel by bus or train?
NS: I would only use the train system if I was traveling between the big cities as there is not a wide network of routes. The bus system is definitely the way to travel but lately I have noticed the prices of domestic flights tickets can sometimes be the same price as a bus ticket. The choice would also be dependent on where you are traveling to. I just completed a 14 hour bus trip, and next time I am definitely flying! (For more info, check out this post: To Travel by Bus or By Plane?)
BB: If a friend were coming to town (i.e. me!) what would you want to show them and why?
NS: I would take you out of my town because there is nothing here apart from three beaches. See one beach in Turkey and you have seen them all. We would travel to the next town first, as I would want you to meet my in-laws. They are lovely people and will give you a proper insight into Turkish people, their customs and culture.
After that, we would continue to the village of Sirince. The village is famous for the wine it produces so we would go on a wine tasting tour and get very drunk! I love this village for the calm, relaxed atmosphere it has. It is also a fantastic place to take travel pictures for your album.
On the way back, we would have to visit the ruins of Ephesus which was the second largest Roman city. No visit is complete without going there, as the ruins are the most photographed place in Turkey. Once back in town, I would take you to my favorite restaurant which happens to be Italian!
BB: Ahh I want to go now!! I have to say, I cracked up reading your holiday romance article, Turkish Men- Why Your Holiday Romance is Doomed. What are your thoughts on Turkish men?? (gotta ask!!) Do they have a lot of qualities that make them uber-desirable for women on holiday??
NS: I am really surprised because I wrote that article in roughly 10 minutes and to date, it has bought me the most traffic from the search engines! Obviously Turkey is just famous for its men! I don’t want to stereotype Turkish man as each relationship is different, however a lot of their character depends on which part of Turkey they have been raised in.
If you meet a man from the East then expect to have arguments about whose role it is to cook the dinner or clean the house and don’t ever think about drinking a beer or smoking in public. However if you meet a man that has been raised on the Western coast, he tends to be more accepting of women who want careers and independence. Whether they are from the East or the West though, don’t hurt his pride otherwise you have made an enemy for life. Turkish men are very proud but will never admit it.
Why do a lot of women fall for them? Well they definitely have gift of the gab but I think it is their outlook. A lot of Turkish men will tell you that when they take a wife or girlfriend, it becomes their responsibility to look after that woman. They take this role very seriously and I think some western women find this an attraction. There are many occasions though, when the relationship does not work out for one reason or another but mainly because of culture differences.
Thanks so much Natalie! Turkey sounds like a blast and I would LOVE to see it with you! For more information on living in Turkey or on Natalie, visit Turkish Travel Blog or follow her on Twitter @ Turkishtravel
Be sure to check out next week’s Bug Bytes… with Mark of Migrationology and his life in Nairobi!
Bug Bytes is a weekly feature that runs every Monday. Want to participate in Bug Bytes? Lived someplace cool and want to tell us about it? E-mail Kelly at firstname.lastname@example.org.