Turkey is our fifth country of residence since living abroad. As with our past moves, there’s something fascinating to me about that very first ride from the airport to the place you will call home. From the time those sliding doors open from the safety of the airport lobby to the mystery of the world beyond it, there’s an initial impression, energy, and vibe. I watch it all—the landscapes, the people, the signs—as closely as my jetlagged eyes will allow, seeking something familiar or a point of reference to orient myself around. With time, all of those initial mental snapshots start to become landmarks in a maze and then later an organized grid. The streets I walk and places I know so well now were once disorienting, but now they are my home.
It’s hard to say if our adjustment went quickly or slowly, but all I know is that right now the weeks seem to be flying. We are settled in our apartment and neighborhood, we’ve picked up some Turkish along the way, and we have a good sense about what the city has to offer. By no means are we expert expats but we know where we are, what we’ve experienced, and what we expect for the duration of our stay. We’ve had some interesting surprises since coming—some based on our own expectations and others based on the experiences of others or what we’ve read online. However, there are a few things we’ve learned for ourselves and we hope it will help the next family in transit.
Myth: Turkey is similar to other parts of the Middle East.
Reality: Not all of Turkey. Yes, the mosques are present and the call to prayer is heard, but none of that means you won’t see what would be considered very taboo in other parts of the Muslim world. For example, open homosexuality, public displays of affection, tattoos, drinking, smoking, etc.
Myth: Finding vegan food will be easy.
Reality: We were heartbroken when we discovered that a common vegetarian dish, lentil soup, may be prepared with animal stock. Hummus and baba ghanoush are not as common as Turkish restaurants abroad led us to believe. So, we have to be a bit more focused in our pursuit by seeking out Ege (Aegean), ev yemekleri (homecooked foods), vegan 0r veg-friendly eateries.
Myth: If you have a residency permit, you can leave your passport at home.
Reality: Some transactions at the bank, post office, or a notary will still require your passport or a copy. Getting an ikamet residency can be arduous but it is necessary and will make sure you’re lawfully abiding in the land.
Myth: It will be great to receive care packages from abroad.
Reality: Receiving packages has been mostly a nightmare for us because of customs rules, fees, etc. We recently had to opt for a package to be destroyed because the paperwork to retrieve it from customs was worth more than the package itself. We’ve learned the hard way and now know not to request any cosmetics or food products. Books from Amazon UK, on the other hand, arrive easily as long as they’re not worth more than 75 – 100 Euros.
Myth: Mail order makes life convenient.
Reality: Not always. In the winter, mail order produce was a dream come true. I sat home, cozy and warm with the kids, while farm fresh produce came to my front door. It’s hard to predict when deliveries will come and you don’t always receive a SMS message in advance, so you can be left waiting all day long. If for whatever reason you miss a delivery, retrieving it can be a pain without a car.
Myth: Turkish people love children.
Reality: Turkish people really, really love children. Almost like good luck charms, it’s hard for most of them to pass a child without a smile, rub on the face, or kiss on the cheek. And, if your children look anything like our chocolate bunnies, beware! They may well want to eat your kids or at least take their picture.
Myth: In Ankara, Turkey’s capital city, English should be easy to come by.
Reality: Oh no! Even in official offices, you may not find a single English speaker, so get started on your Turkish as soon as possible or make friends who can help by translating.
Myth: You can receive money transfers easily.
Reality: Make sure the sender uses Western Union and uses your complete name (inclusive of your middle name), so it perfectly matches your passport ID.
Myth: All you need is a SIM card to use your phone from abroad.
Reality: You must register your phone by paying a fee at the bank, receiving an e-password from the post office, and then completing your registration on a Turkish website within a couple of months. Our first attempt was unsuccessful, so we have to start the process all over again or buy a Turkish phone.
Myth: You can buy train tickets at the post office or a travel agent, according to the internet.
Reality: Nope. The website says you can but…nope. If you don’t succeed in buying tickets online, go to the train station. My friend teased me saying that Turks never trust what the internet says. Lesson learned.