Monday, June 20, 2011

How to Blend in With the Turks!

So as I write this, I am happily awaiting the arrival of my mother and my grandmother (mother's side) to come to Izmir this Wednesday. ONLY 2 FULL DAYS! Yes, That was needed, as I have not seen any of my family for nearly a year! In the midst of their packing, they constantly ask me how to pronounce names of my family and hello, how are you, and other basics. They also ask me about some normal to things to blend in. Although I am not Turkish, I am now at the point of being able to tell who is a tourist, and its very fun and down right cool to now know. I mean we all are tourists somewhere, and after living in a foreign place for nearly a year, I find it so cool to point out what I probably used to look like!

So what I can do is write a few recommendations or notes of how to at least slightly blend in with the Turks; you know, after your outfit, hair and skin color is taken out of the options to change.

  1. Do not rely on maps! As a traveler, everyone has maps, right? Well, if you have a map for Turkey, many times they will be out of date or even completely wrong. You know how a map shows street names, numbers and all of that? Yeh. Don't come to Turkey expecting there to be street signs on every street corner like there are in United States for instance. Finding a road sign is like finding a needle in a hay stack, they are there, but trying to spot them takes up half your travels. My best recommendation is to ask the nearest market owner or people on the street. This is the easiest way to find your way, and also possibly even learn something or get a complimentary treat (Tea, gum, coffee, etc.) Which brings me to my next point.
  2. Do not think that Turkish people do not know or speak English. If you go somewhere playing a game of charades or flipping through your fresh new Turkish-English phrase dictionary, you might get some innocent laughs and be asked to just simply ask in English. Although sometimes there is a huge language barrier, you will be very surprised how even simple English can help you on your travels.
  3. When crossing streets in Turkey, run like there is a huge animal chasing you! Turks are known as very hospitable and polite people; however, something happens like a morphing transformation when they get behind the wheel of a car. It does not matter if the cross light says walk, look left and right before crossing, and while crossing, keep your eyes open for those little moped motorcycles. This and only this may be your only life-sentence while in Turkey, so I repeat, cross streets with speed and caution!
  4. When entering the house of a Turk, take off your shoes. This is just a simple cultural respect. Some families even take their shoes off before even entering the house. Do not be surprised either if you are handed a pair of slippers to wear around the house, they want you to be comfortable. So after entering the house, take off your shoes, and if they say it is not a problem (as sometimes, this is not a problem), then leave them on as you wish.
  5. Never disrespect bar owners, waiters, taxi drivers, or hotel receptionists. In general you should show respect anyways, as it is plain courtesy. However there are those times when something goes wrong: the wrong meal, bad hotel room, the taxi takes you to the wrong place, etc. When these instances come up approach them calmly, and I guarantee they will handle the situation to the best of their ability (Hospitality, AGAIN) and you may even get a free meal, taxi ride, or discounted hotel room. Turks will do ANYTHING to make you feel welcome, happy and relaxed. While talking about respect, never, ever, ever, ever disrespect the name of Ataturk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey. Do not even test what will happen, Please!
  6. Be ready to eat when coming to Turkey. Again and again, I write on my blog about the Turkish hospitality, and it is so evident when you get here. When at a meal, they will push food on you over and over again. Sometimes, if you are not used to it, it can be overbearing, but they do not want you going hungry, EVER. It is considered rude if you do not at least try what they offer you, but if you are genuinely full, just put your hand over your chest and say tesekkurler (thank you). Turks are persistent with hospitality and will even give you their own bed if all the beds are taken up.
  7. When getting on a public bus, hold on tight. Turkish transportation offers many options from Dolmus (mini-bus), taxi, taxi dolmus, bus, metro, Vapur (Ferry), and metro-bus (Istanbul). Generally buses come every 15-25 minutes, ferries and metros have a set schedules, and the dolmus comes at random in their designated routes. Just a simple tip, though, when getting on a public bus, hold on tight, because the bus drivers love to drive, turn, and stop with speed. If you are elderly, individuals will give up their seat for you to sit in mild comfort. If you are young or capable of standing, be courteous and let the elderly or disabled have your seat.
  8. Dont assume that you will come here and wear a turban. While some Turks prefer to cover their hair, you are not forced, nor inclined to wear one. Turkey is secular, and you can practice however you wish. If you are on the West, it is very modern and you may not even notice the difference, while the East has more conservative individuals. When touring mosques however it is required to cover your hair out of respect to the people actually practicing that religion.
  9. Be prepared for a Turkish man to say I love you upon the first night of meeting. Turks are very romantic, and also have a different view on love. There is no like or dislike of something, it is always  love or hate. So when a Turk says he loves you upon meeting you, this does not necessarily mean he is in love with you, it just means he has a deep liking for you. Turks are very poetic and romantic, but also very jealous lovers. So be prepared to be swept off your feet, but I wouldnt recommend this in your itinerary.
  10. Share everything. Just as Turks are hospitable to you, do yourself and them a favor and be the same back. For example, after buying a pack of gum, a bottle of water, or cigarettes, offer them some before taking some for yourself! You can also leave an open pack of whatever on the table, for people to have at their desire, dont buy something and stuff it in your pocket or purse for yourself. This thing is so simple, but will prove that you are just as much Turkish as the natives.
These were just a few that I thought of from the top of my head, but if you want to be as Turkish as possible check out some books at the library and listen to some music to feel the heart, soul, and peace of the Turkish individuals.

Everyone enjoy your stay in Turkey and in advance, Turkiye'ye Hosgeldin.
~Welcome to Turkey~

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Evil Eye & Turkish Superstitions

Every country has them, we all joke about them, so I figured I would share them with from a Turkish view. You know what I'm talking about, superstitions. You know, when a black cat crosses your path it brings bad omens, when you walk under a ladder you obtain bad luck, or breaking a mirror will bring 7 years bad luck.

Most of these I have taken note of over my time while in Turkey, and some I actually believe in!

Here we go:
  • Don't cut your nails at night, it will bring Satan. (back in the times with no lights, this would be told to children so that they wouldn't cut themselves)
  • Enter a place with your right foot, brings good luck and good fortune.
  • Never hand scissors, knives, or sharp objects to individuals, if done the individuals will fight. To prevent this, you place it down and the other person will pick it up.
  • Likewise, leaving scissors open in the household will cause much conflict.
  • Don't button your shirt while facing an individual, this will close the relationship.
  • Don't kiss people on the eyes, you may not see that person in the future.
  • When wearing your shoes, put the right shoe on first, this will lead your life in the right direction.
  • While eating, one cannot place one foot over the other, this shows disrespect to the table and a sign of famine.
  • If you see a snake while travelling to some wear you will have luck and good fortune.
  • If shoes are not set upright, your life will turn sideways and bring bad luck. Also some say that a person will die.
  • If a dog barks during the call to prayer (Ezan), someone in the neighbor will die.
  • If your left hand is scratched, you will receive money. If your right hand is scratched you will spend money.
  • Don't sleep in the same room as a cat, if done, the cat is said to steal your soul and shorten your life. (Ever wonder why cats have 9 lives!?) ;)
  • Turning music off in the car while driving by graveyards allows for the dead to rest in peace and is general respect.
  • Clothing or fabric on individuals cannot be sewn.
  • While yawning you must close your mouth, or you are citing the call to prayer (Ezan) to Satan.
  • It is said if you say something, good or bad, 40 times over time, it will come true.
Nazar & The Evil Eye:
This is the most widely known superstition in Turkey regardless of age and background. The Nazar is basically harmful energies or vibes that are given from envious, jealous, and greedy people to another willingly and unwillingly. The Nazar is believed to cause many bad things in your life. Bad things can happen, such as: feeling of fatigue, accidents, problems when trying to perform planned events, even death. The evil eye which is blue, white, yellow and made of glass is said to absorb these negative energies, and if broken, it has absorbed too much bad energy. Even a very dear loved one can give you Nazar because of the strong flow of love.
There are bracelets, necklaces, wall decorations, and even some doorways have them cemented into the ground!
One thing other than wearing an evil eye is to not share your successes or plans for future. Even your closest friends can be happy for you, but still hold their jealousy within. It is better to share little and share plans after they have occurred, such as job interviews, vacations, new relationships, or making an expensive purchase.

So what about YOU? Are there any for Turkey that I am forgetting or haven't heard?! Comment them down below!! :D

Note: I may add more superstitions as people point them out. I also do not own the rights to these photographs!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Blowing Out The Candles - A Turkish Birthday

Birthdays are always meant for celebration, family and friends. Birthdays are typically the same everywhere in the world I would guess; however, I noticed a few slight differences in Turkey.

Firstly, on my actual birthday, my host family was gone to another city, so celebration was left to my friends. It was enjoyable and nothing spectacular. Gonca, Erman, and I went to a bar/cafe, Popcorn, on the kordon of Alsancak. There we just mingled around, talking and so forth. I thank them for not letting me be alone on my birthday! :D

The actual celebration came this past weekend when me and my "Turkish mom" celebrated our birthday together. Now typically in America, at least from my experience, the family will prepare your favorite meal, and buy some cake and ice cream. In Turkey, from the birthdays I have seen, the family will set out several different orderves and drinks, like that of a huge luncheon. I guess that is the Turkish culture shining through, never letting you go hungry. For my birthday in particular they made some fajita chicken wraps, which I might add were amazing. Unlike in America, where the family will buy the cake ahead of time, Turks order the cake and is delivered to the door. Side note: you can get almost anything delivered to your door (loaf of bread, McDonald's, water, yogurt). However I havent been to a birthday where they serve ice cream, but trust me, the amounts of icing makes up for it!! ;)

This is even minimum from what I have seen in the past! :)
Ceyda serving our wonderful food! :)

I really love Ceyda sooo much! Such a warm personality!
Everyone sits around with all the lovely food and smiling faces conversing back and forth. Someone then will bring in the cake with sparklers and candles lit singing happy birthday(in Turkish, of course). Just like in America, you make a wish and blow the candles out. But, immediately after blowing the candles out, you must make one cut in the cake from the center for increased luck.

Baris serving the yummy cake with a smile! :P
Blowing out the candles.
Cutting the cake from the center of course! :)
Now the cake alone is magnificent! Every birthday cake I have seen is typically 3 layers and a work of craftsmanship and is so unbelievably delicious! See the pictures below for reference. :D

After the cake we then exchange gifts which is always fun and then begin eating the cake and talking some more.

My second family! :)
All in all you can see that it is pretty much the same, just some slight differences in food and cakes. It was a quite enjoyable birthday celebration, and will miss this experience quite a bit next year I can highly imagine. My love for Turkey even goes down to the birthday celebration, and not just for the cake! ;)

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Up, Up and Away!

Being in Turkey gives you many options to travel, especially with the price to fly and take buses to anywhere! I have been wanting to make a blog about the flying options in Turkey for quite some time. I follow a blog religiously, Turkish Muse. I would like to thank the author, Barbara Isenberg, for allowing me to use the post as a guest blog post!

10 Things I've Learned About Flying in Turkey

Since moving to Istanbul for work in early November, I have flown back and forth from Istanbul to Izmir a total of 19 times. That number doesn't include one international fight in mid-November to Sofia, Bulgaria, where Jeff and I spent our Kurban Bayram.
Needless to say, I've learned quite a bit about how flying in Turkey works and have some tips and tricks that may help you the next time you board a plane in Turkey.
First, let's lay out some basics:
Turkish Airlines (THY) is Turkey's flagship carrier and it's largest. Pegasus Airlines is a serious contender to THY, especially with regards to short-haul international flights.Atlas Jet is a low-cost carrier (LCC) and primarily focuses on domestic lines and flights to the east, including Iraq. Onur Air is another LCC and is absolutely no frills. It is often the cheapest option available. (Sun Express is another LCC and also happens to fly internationally. I have never flown with this alrine before.)
But there's a lot of other things I've figured out since I started flying between Istanbul and Izmir every week. Here are the top ten.
1. It makes absolutely no difference which airline you fly as to whether your plane will have an on-time or late departure. Before I started commuting between Istanbul and Izmir, I thought that THY flights would, more often than not, be on time, while Onur Air flights would likely be late, seeing as how THY and Onur are at the top and bottom of the totem pole, respectively. Not so. The price you pay for the ticket and whether you get food onboard has nothing to do with a plane's departure time.
2. Flying into and out of Istanbul Ataturk Airport is real bitch. Sorry, I can't really put it any other way. There are too many flights going in and out of that airport and simply not enough runways to accommodate them all. This leads not only to delayed departures and arrivals, but the need to take a bus from the gate to the airplane because there simply isn't enough space for every plane to pull up to its own gate.
3. But the new Starbucks at the domestic terminal at Ataturk Airport is awesome. Instead of my only options being 12 TL Efes and 8 TL tomato sandwiches, I can now get a cafe latte (a huge weakness of mine) to propel myself for the flight. Now if only we could get one in Izmir.....
4. The food and customer service on THY flights is bar none. Yes, you pay a premium to fly THY, but when you do, the food is excellent. Even on a 55-minute flight (like the one from Istanbul to Izmir), you get a sandwich, a salad with fresh veggies, a small slice of cake, water and another beverage of your choice (not alcohol). The food served on board International flights is even better, and they give you booze.
5. Pegasus is a serious contender to THY when it comes to international flights. Back in November, when Jeff and I went to Sofia, Bulgaria, we flew Pegasus because the company had just begun to offer flights there. I don't quite remember how much we paid for our tickets, but I know they were significantly cheaper than THY, which previously had a monopoly on flights to Sofia. To give you an idea of the cost difference, a round-trip ticket between Istanbul (Sabiha Gokcen) and Sofia, Bulgaria as of today for March 16, 2011, returning March 19, 2011, will cost you 174 TL on Pegasus and 372 TL on THY. That's a significant savings.
6. Onur Air's website and telephone customer service totally blows. Their non-user-friendly website is full of links to pages only available in Turkish (even though you're on the English-language version), cryptic error messages and written English that in many cases makes absolutely no sense. It's possible to buy a ticket on their website -- I have done it many times -- but it is quite painful. Calling the company is even worse, as they typically don't have any English-language customer service reps available.
7. If you are ever in need of a last-minute airplane ticket, call THY. Last week, I took the 6pm Havas from Taksim in order to take a 7:45pm Atlas Jet flight to Izmir. I had already checked in online and had printed out my boarding pass, and since the Friday night 6pm Havas typically takes 1 hour to get to Ataturk, I thought I'd be fine. Well, 7:45 came and went and I was still on the Havas. Multiple phone calls to Atlas Jet led to absolutely nothing at all since the woman couldn't speak English. One phone call to THY and within 4 minutes I had booked myself on another flight and was ready to go. Yes, I paid a premium for my ticket, but I was incredibly impressed with the prompt and professional customer service I received.
8. The marble poundcake served for free on Atlas Jet is absolutely delightful.Coupled with a cup of tea, this almost makes up for the fact that the company has such lousy flight time offerings.
9. Sabiha Gokcen Airport on the Asian side of Istanbul is lovely to fly in and out of. I avoided flying out of that airport for quite a long time and only did it this past November because Pegasus flies its international fights out of there (see #5). When we traveled to Sofia, the airport wasn't crowded, there were plenty of restaurants and shops to occupy us before our plane left and everything ran smoothly. I am actually looking forward to flying out of there in May when we go to Paris instead of out of Ataturk (see #2).
10. Overall, flying in Turkey is often a pleasant experience. Compared to the US, where I have read ad nauseum about the TSA's inane security methods, where ticket prices are double what they are here, and where you have to pay to even take a carry-on, flying in Turkey is altogether lovely. Sure, sometimes the plane is late, but customer service here actually exists and in this country at least there are actual perks to flying. In Turkey, where bus fare from Istanbul to Izmir is only slightly cheaper than a plane ticket, it is a real treat to fly halfway across the country in 45 minutes.
While I'm glad to have all this new info under my belt, I'm happy to report that I won't be making the trip back and forth between Istanbul and Izmir for much longer. More details on that coming soon....
Direct link to original post: Flying in Turkey
About the author: Barbara, American, is an avid traveler and blogger, living in Turkey with her husband, Jeff, who is a professor at my current university, Yasar University. Her writings are always thoughtful and with much skill! I admire her love for Turkey and traveling in general. Thanks again, Barbara, for allowing me to use your post.
Most likely the best airlines in the world, Turkish Airlines!
My favorite view: Knowing you are going somewhere new, experiencing new things, growing into new things.