Wednesday, 3 February 2010


Last week I was thrilled to write a guest post for expat+HAREM, the hub for global citizens. It's difficult, at first, to put such a myriad of cultural considerations, feelings and experiences together in a few short sentences for such a large readership... especially one which consists of people with similar nomadic features and with such a broad range of experiences. A readership which is very strong and self-defining.

The best thing I came away with from this global niche was a warmer feeling of camaraderie and different perspectives to my own experiences, which enlightened so much after so many decades!

Expat+HAREM blog carnival, celebrating Istanbul as the European Capital of Culture 2010:

Friday, 22 January 2010

Takes one to know one

If it hadn't been for the train of thought which came out thanks to Catherine Bayar's post on her 'a-ha' moment on the soul-penetrating expat+HAREM a few weeks ago, I might never have taken the time to stand back and look at how I've always been searching for the 'why' of being here, in a land different to the one I was born in and grew up in. It's obvious that there is no 'why' but a 'who'. 

I'm here because he is here. I'm not bending over backwards simply for a man, but it made more sense as my life and work was the more flexible of the two. Now, I'm not a marriage expert and I don't exactly know what makes men - or even women - tick but I do believe that we've got a hold of some of the secrets into what makes things work in a marriage. At least, we've been pretty successful so far after 19 years together with not a bored look in sight so far.

Anyway, what I see working is the fact that there is nothing to work at. If you set up boundaries and rules and definitions in a relationship, I mean come on. People hate all that crap at work, why would anyone like it in a marriage?

We've never divided up our money, time or belongings into strict his'n'her's. We've never told each other what we expect the other to do and not do. We just get on with it. Sharing everything. It's really so simple. I just don't get gurus who point out the benefits to having business-like arrangements. I don't want to go to bed with a business partner! I don't want to be observed with mistrust and to tiptoe around each other for fear of 'breaching' a rule.

We also live in a settlement where women need to have a slight edge on things as husbands can be away for long stretches and have huge responsibilities to their jobs. So, there are unwritten rules of male conduct here - some may call it outdated, I call it chivalrous and necessary for survival - where women often have the last say in terms of groceries, who has the car, when the kids get new shoes, when I get new shoes (!), when a new sofa is ordered, etc. I've never seen a single man in our community who doesn't fit in with this code and as a result women here are strong. Otherwise it would be a very difficult place to live in.

As for Turkey, you need to be strong overall. But as I say, it helps to stand alongside someone who doesn't mind holding a sick bowl for you...

Monday, 11 January 2010

Different year, same place

I go through the same ritual every year... I make the decision to start preparations to go back. Back to England. "It's time", I always say. "This is the year."

And then I get caught up in just making it through the routine schedule of the week; school runs, work; another project; holidays; just another something which keeps us here yet longer.

This year I've made no such resolutions or promises. I've accepted that there's still a little while left, a couple of years more or less, before I can return. And so, I'm going to relax for a couple of years. Stop thinking of this home as so temporary. Maybe have the walls painted this spring. After all, it's important to enjoy each moment and make the most of being where you are. By living in the future I was in danger of missing out on the present.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Suicidal driving in Turkey

I first got my drivers' licence back in 1986 and it was one of the toughest experiences I have ever gone through. Months and months of weekly lessons, not to mention their cost, and then finally the test. The last time I was back home, I saw how much more difficult it had become in the UK when a friend mentioned her daughter's driving lessons. Computerized now, with more rules to memorize and tougher test criteria. Nice, but why are people driving shittier, then?

As for drivers here in Turkey, driving is a case of bad, worse and downright suicidal. Last weekend I counted every 7 out of 10 drivers and passengers wearing seatbelts despite it being mandatory. The number of women who obstinately sit in the front seat with their baby or child on their lap is so ridiculously high it's obscene. In any case, children are always sitting in the front, no matter their age. 

I rarely manage to read Turkish newspapers, but I do sometimes read online headlines just to keep up. Apparently they're going to make getting a licence in Turkey harder. Personally, I think they should recall every single licence they've ever given out until now - like toys made in China - and make everyone take a re-test. Anyway, last week the President of The Driving Schools Association, Vedat Sahin, made some interesting comments in his statement. In fact, I was so shocked that I was sure I got my Turkish all muddled, but my husband later confirmed I had read it correctly. To sum up in a nutshell, he said (translated); 

"Under the new regulations, learners will drive in both day and night conditions, learn how to park, reverse and use signals... be failed for not wearing their seatbelt during the test... passed drivers will know how to drive by themselves the next day."

After splitting my sides about the fact that if learners aren't taught these in the first place, then what exactly are they teaching at those driving schools? How to find FM on the radio? Well, my three year-old can do that. (While parked in front of the house, mind you.) No, after a couple minutes, the reality of his words sunk in. And, it's as clear as day that he's speaking the truth. I have only to step out into the street to see that.

The biggest culture shock for me was the traffic and I still haven't got used to it. I'm still trying to drive using my British road safety sensibilities which were drummed into me at a very early age when our zebra crossing constable used to come to our school and talk to us about it. But here, people get mad at you for adhering to speeding limits, stopping for old ladies and school-children at pedestrian crossings. Not taking off when the light turns yellow. Stopping when it turns red. And they think you're coming on to them if you wave a thank-you for giving you right of way. Which doesn't happen often, thankfully.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Christmas at the New Year

I was recently asked by Brian at Istanbulblogger - an Englishman in Istanbul, I'm very excited to say - how I would be celebrating Christmas. You know, it's been so long since I've spent Christmas in London that I don't even remember when to celebrate it! The reason being, there are no Christmas holidays over here, understandably. So, when you have children in school you can't just take them away for two weeks.

New Year's Night: Nisantasi, Istanbul

The New Year is celebrated in a very cosmopolitan manner in Turkey; people put up decorations, lights and trees and it doesn't seem all that different in appearance. Of course, the spirit isn't present nor are the aromas of mince pies and gingerbread in the air while you enjoy a tea break during late night shopping. I miss seeing Santa's house set up in the middle of the shopping centre where you don't mind waiting in line for an hour with the kids for a photo and a present.

I'm an only child and, with only one English parent who grew up overseas himself and a Turkish mother, Christmas was often a pretty quiet affair at home. However, a traditional dinner, our box of decorations in the attic and the hide-the-presents game (I swear I never could find them!) were things to look forward to without fail. And, guessing who of our family members scattered across the world would manage to turn up at the last minute was the exciting part of Christmas for me.

Here, life goes on as usual; work, school. I compromise by putting up a tiny tree and decorating it with the children a week before Christmas. We've fallen into the Turkish pattern of celebrating with turkey dinner and gifts on New Years' Day because you get the next day off, so you can drink your wine, have friends and family over and the kids can go to bed late. Perhaps, when the kids are older and independent I might start snatching a weeks' Christmas holiday back home for myself...

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Are expats without borders?

I recently commented on a blog, which is something I don't really do that often, especially if I don't know the blogger personally. I know - not good 'social networking' practise. Well, that's a topic for another day. Anyway, I won't name the blog as it's not really relevant to the present issue and as I'm going to whine, the owner of the blog may not appreciate being mentioned...

The blog post was something about a certain crafting celebrity not being featured so largely in countries other than her own. A perfectly valid topic and a personal viewpoint, which means it shouldn't really be attacked. I enjoyed the blog post and was intrigued by the ensuing comments. Around 80% of the responses were derisive of the blogger's topic and rudely mocking of the infamous crafter in question. Now, personally, I don't love nor hate that particular celebrity as she is quite far removed from my culture and lifestyle as it is possible to be. Yet, she is doing me no harm! She is firmly and happily ensconced far away from me, Britain and Turkey and is not threatening to turn the Brits into pumpkin-carving, card-making, fifty-layers-of-bedlinen buying fanatics any day soon. So, why should I call her rude names or wish bad things upon her?

However, I felt I should voice my opinion as to why she's not popular in my neighbourhood, but also to say that there was no need to be rude about her. I think being an expat - as well as a cross-breed - kind of gives me the 'live and let live' edge. Don't like a person? Fine, but let it go - there are people that do.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I received a response to my comment from a complete stranger from Germany (not the blogger herself). This person wrote nothing about the celebrity in question, but instead poked fun at my comments about Britain and how her experience during visits to London were so different. I won't repeat the comment, but it made me think. This person is living in her own country, therefore does not experience pining, nostalgia and memories as acutely as we do. This must therefore give her the luxury of being publicly mocking of other cultures and nations. Now, honestly, we all do this in some context, don't we? But, never perhaps directly, or so publicly? And, I've noticed, expats are a little softer around the edges when it comes to discussing other people and nations. There's just that little bit more hesitation before speaking, careful avoidance of anything which may be offensive. Also, there's more defensiveness. You get to experience and appreciate other beliefs and cultures, and respect them. You have no choice but to be open-minded, in the beginning. After all, you are the one 'invading' so to speak.

Anyway, at the end of a very long and derisive talking down, does it ever make sense to end with ' the way, dont get me wrong, I like London and the British...' Oh, okay. I somehow didn't get that from the 200 words you just spent completely slating the place...

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Why do expats become creative?

I don't know if it's a coincidence, but it seems all of the expats I come across are involved in creative businesses, entrepreneurship or writing. A lot of expats have already written about this, so I won't expand into psychology too much. But, it's something which really fascinates me. 

Do we find ourselves so unable to conform to another culture's workplace ethics and regulations that we simply say 'Sod it, I'm going to work for myself'? Or is it that the whole business of changing your whole life makes you re-consider your career goals?

Personally, it was part of the first option which pushed me into working from home. I wasn't very good at understanding the hours that were kept, the only partially followed rights of the working mother and speaking the same language in the bathroom at work. Travel to and from work was a major nightmare. Fun if you're an adventurous tourist but not day in day out when you have evening meals and homework to worry about.

So I don't regret holing up at home - I love this country as much as I love the UK, but I'm perfectly happy to hide at home for most part of the day. Until, at least, the working day is over. 

* A referral link has been used in my post.