Turkey – a nation of glorious contradictions
Turkey is a nation of glorious contradictions. If you live in the country for any length of time – even a comparatively short one – we think you’ll quickly agree it’s one of the most enthralling, entertaining, bewildering, hospitable and hostile places to be on the planet – and sometimes all in the same day.
For a start, it perhaps has one of the longest histories or any country. Some reports claim Anatolia is the crucible of mankind, where homo sapiens first walked the earth. But, on the other hand, it’s also one of the youngest republics in the world, founded just under a century ago.
The language is another example. To a western eye and ear, it can seem challenging, with extra letters as well as missing ones. Even everyday words can appear to have as many syllables as a Welsh railway station.
But, even after a little learning, the European influences become more readily apparent. And, once your ear adapts, home might not seem quite so far away after all.
But, if you’re considering a property in Turkey, we thought it might help if you’re aware of the most common contrasts not always evident even after a few holidays “in country”. We asked one of our friends to sum up what they have learned after few years living in the Fethiye area.
Here are a few highlights from Steve, a former UK journalist who writes:
“Millions flock to Turkey’s Turquoise Coast every year to soak up the sun. After all, between late June and early September, it is pretty much guaranteed.
“But, in winter, the weather can sometimes seem to take a savage delight in making up for the long hot summer. A succession of fierce storms come barrelling off the Black Sea and Mediterranean. Prolonged thunderstorms are known to spawn tornadoes and water spouts. Huge waves pummel the beaches while, inland, powerful winds steal away pretty much anything not tied down.
“Indeed, after a couple of years, it’s easy to find yourself in a perpetual state of anticipation. You can’t wait for summer to arrive because you’re sick of paddling in mud or chasing balcony furniture across the neighbour’s garden. Either that or you’re looking forward to winter as it’ll mean an end to the relentless, energy-sapping heat.
“But it’s not all bad by any means. March to May and September through to December can be idyllic. Cooler nights make it easier to sleep. Daytime breezes mean the sunshine is no longer something to be avoided – and those six months make all the rest worthwhile.”
“Many would agree Turks are among the most hospitable races around the globe. Generous to a fault, the Turkish tradition is to welcome strangers. Sometimes it’s with the dignity and understated warmth of the old ways. At others, it’s with the cheeky banter you’ll hear from waiters and market traders around the summer resorts.
“Indeed, holidaymakers we know often tell us they return time and again because they feel like ‘one of the family’.
“However, equally, the Turks are a passionate race. Even a small disagreement can sound like a significant falling-out. A family row can make the Christmas edition of Eastenders seem tame in comparison.
“But, often, equilibrium will have returned within half an hour. Indeed, friends who seemed to have become sworn enemies one day can be enjoying tea together the next.
“And it’s the same when it comes to the Turk approach to tact and candour. Your host at dinner will be careful to enquire after your health and even sacrifice their own comfort to ensure you benefit from the very best they can offer. The next, they’ll be telling you how fat you’ve become since they last saw you.
“If you can help it, it’s best not to be offended. If a Turk feels they can speak to you candidly, then it’s often a sign they are comfortable in your company. Besides, saying you have put on weight isn’t necessarily a criticism. It may be merely an observation of your health – and discussing one another’s ailments is a subject which can take up a whole evening.”
The approach to rules
“Tradition seems to play a significant part in Turkish society. It’s particularly the case in more rural areas where many behaviours are still defined by old-fashioned values. Outside of the cities, for example, petty crime such as theft or burglary is relatively rare. Generally, respect for each other’s property is sacrosanct.
“However, on the other hand, the Turkish approach to things like civil or traffic law is to observe all the regulations as guidelines.
“It doesn’t help that various law enforcement agencies sometimes interpret regulations in different ways. What is happening in one village one day may not be the same in another 30 miles away. People therefore get confused and spend time pontificating in the tearooms on what the rules actually ought to be. They then do as they please because there just doesn’t seem to be a common consensus.
“But, as a stranger in a strange land – and often not privy to those tearoom debates – the whole system can seem disjointed at best or, at worst, a complete free-for-all.
“But, regardless – and even in the more remote rural areas – you will see Jandarma, traffic police, council enforcement officers and tax officials on the streets. Not only that, they will be shown all due respect and courtesy and their instructions will be followed to the letter … at least until they are out of sight anyway.”
“Certainly when it comes to speaking English, Turks tend to be very much open to learning enough to hold a conversation. Indeed, if you’re a Brit abroad and visit the popular tourist traps, it’s unlikely you’ll have much difficulty making yourself understood.
“In fact, even if you make the move and decide to settle in Turkey, one of the biggest frustrations in your attempts to integrate can be the lack of opportunities to speak Turkish. Many will pick up your accent, realise you’re British and just swap the conversation to English.
“At least that’s what often happens right up to the moment you walk into any official building. Here, not only does the atmosphere suddenly become as stern and foreboding, English as a language seems to cease to exist.
“If you’re likely to visit the tax office, the council headquarters, the immigration office or customs, it’s wise to swot up in advance on the words you’re likely to need. Also try to run them over your tongue a few times first. Laughing nervously or just speaking louder in English probably isn’t going to cut it.”
Money and business
“The entrepreneurial spirit is very much alive and well in Turkey. However, despite an appetite for a new venture, change can take a while to achieve.
“For example, in the tourism areas at least, a new season will see quite a few new businesses – but most will follow a tried-and-tested formula. Breaking the mould involves an element of risk not all are willing to take. That’s perhaps why you see so many ventures cheek-by-jowl offering what appears to be exactly the same thing.
“However, if someone does try something different – and it works – expect others to follow quickly. Very soon, what was avant garde becomes the new normal.
“In our neck of the woods, for example, four-wheel-drive buggies have replaced quad bike safaris. There are now more ‘pirate ships’ and Jack Sparrows than traditional gulets. More and more villas with private pools and gardens are appearing as the attraction of communal facilities begins to wane.
“But, although there might be an inherent reticence when it comes to change, a contradiction lies in the Turkish work ethic. Most Turks we know are relentless, work hard for their money and are not afraid of long hours. If they commit to a venture, then it’s full-on from the outset.
“When it works, it’s very much eat, sleep repeat. If not, Turks’ entrepreneurial nature means there’s little hand-wringing or navel-gazing. It’s on to the next project with barely a backward glance.”
How can we help?
If you’re considering a home in Turkey yourself you can find our portfolio here but, if you’d like more advice on either life here or the move itself, we’d be delighted to assist.