As a young Turkish woman who hasn’t lived abroad yet, the scope of my writing is largely about living in Turkey. In my essays, I try to deal with this by perceiving Turkey as a foreign country and looking at it as if I was an outsider. This way, I’m trying to find the interesting aspects of Turkish society and culture for foreigners. As a native Turk, those aspects are interesting to me too, as they always provide an opportunity for reflection. Overall, being Turkish can be a fluctuating experience. Sometimes living in this society is very confusing for me as well, and at times it’s a lovely experience to call this unique land “my home”.
When I think about being a Turk, I first imagine being a tourist in Europe and that people’s curiosity there makes them want to learn about Turkish people. In that case, I’d probably define my people as warm and sentimental, whose emotions heavily influence their lives and who live for the moment. Living for the moment and not planning the future is something I often criticize in the bigger picture, but it’s a core part of what I feel makes us Turkish.
If I had to further describe Turkish people, I’d add another positive perspective. For me, the best characteristic of Turkish people is friendliness and one of the things Turks can do best is have a long chat even with someone they barely know. We, the Turks, hold our friends close to our heart and we are always ready to help them out. As a foreigner, you are lucky because you can enjoy exclusive Turkish hospitality at great lengths. On the streets, strangers will often try their best to communicate in order to help you find the place you are looking for. Random locals are always ready to chat more and learn further about your life as if you are friends. This might bug you after a while, as it does to me from time to time, but at the same time I’ve always found this friendliness to be a blessing.
It is said that Turks have an extremely giving nature. If we dig deeper, maybe this is caused by our need to satisfy others in general. Because, being a Turk myself, I know that getting praise from others is quite important to us. We are even taught by our families that if we are not getting our dose of daily praise, we are probably making a mistake somewhere. So I believe that we mostly feel obliged to make others happy. And if I were a yabancı, I would take advantage of this characteristic of Turkish people and enjoy the free tea and help I was offered by locals. In all honesty, who wouldn’t like some fresh Turkish tea?
All that being said, Turks are very different from one another, despite how much it might seem like we share the same culture. Originally coming from different parts of the Ottoman Empire, we have different mindsets and perspectives. For instance as a Turk with a Balkans background, I define myself and my country as more close to Europe and I also feel a sense of belonging to Western cultures. On the other hand, a Turk coming from an Eastern part of the old Ottoman Empire might define Turkey as a Middle Eastern country and they might have a completely different self identity than I do. So every Turk has a different picture in their mind regarding their homeland. Therefore, there can often be a slight tension as a result of our different identities.
All in all, it’s hard to put this country and its people into strict categories. For that reason, whenever people on the internet ask me about the society I’m living in and whether Turkey belongs to the European continent or not, I find myself typing a long answer as I’m doing now. And I generally reply that being a Turk is a lovely experience, but it’s also not easy. You are always confused about who you are, much like a teenager struggling to find their identity.
Lastly, as a Turk, there are a few things I want to share with the foreigners of this city. Living here sometimes confuses everyone but we, Turks and yabangees, should complain less and start enjoying what this unique country offers: its kind and caring people, its delicious meals or even Galata Tower itself. These things I’m mentioning and our perspective on the country is what makes Turkey the country it is. I must also add specifically for yabangees that “seeing” the beauty of this country in its true sense is an opportunity exclusive to you as we, the Turks, have a tendency to take our country for granted. That beauty might be some Turkish tea and simit offered by strangers, a deep chat on life with its taxi drivers or an amazing view of the Bosphorus. Ultimately, living in a foreign country is like opening a gift, it’s full of surprises. You might or might not find what you expected to find here.