Sunday, May 22, 2011

What I don’t like about living in Istanbul, Turkey

I have previously written about the things that I enjoy in the humongous city that is Istanbul and now it is only fair that I highlight the negative parts.

  • First of all, - and it comes first because it’s the most recent experience - no matter what they tell you, Istanbul is not as liberal as some people want it to be. Yes, Taksim is arguably the heart of modern Istanbul and everyone is pretty progressive there, so is Levent and Nisantasi and some other places, but make a step from this liberal comfort zone and you will find yourself in the debris of conservativeness. We’re talking about clothes, attitude and alcohol consumption among many other things here. It is not a pleasant thing if you’re accustomed to wearing shorts in the summer and having a beer at the neighborhood picnic. You will get stares that are bound to make you feel uncomfortable.


  • Traffic. Wow. Well, I’ve said this before, but do trust me when I say it KILLS YOU here. It fucking kills you. The regular rush hours are 7am to 10am and 5pm to 8pm. But this is just a rough guideline. Sometimes (no, I mean most of the time) there are still traffic jams in early and late afternoon. Want to really avoid traffic? Take the midnight bus. It almost guarantees you a fast ride. Worst traffic day is Saturday. Apparently not many Istanbul people party their brains out on Friday night and then sleep in on Saturday. Nope, most wake up sharply around 8am or 9am and go out shopping, dining and doing other activities that involve creating major traffic jams. It is very frustrating, believe you me.

And the thing is, you can’t walk here. I mean, you can probably swing an hour long walk, but the distances are so vast here that it is your destiny to rot in some bus where some nasty Turkish dude tries to touch your hip.

Your one safety harbor is the ferry boat. They are always on time, efficient and traffic free. Too bad they only serve on water.

  • Now, this may be controversial. Food. I know many people consider it amazing and it apparently is one of the 3 most important cuisines in the world (after… Italian and French?). So it should taste well. I thought so. But there’s only so many lentils and beans I can eat in my lifetime, you know? I do enjoy the occasional döner dürüm, tavuk dürüm, iskender kebab and some other dishes involving chicken (in that great self-service diner on Istiklal Caddesi), but on the whole, it’s not my type of food. Meat together with yogurt? It tastes weird at first, but then I guess it gets better and so does the combination of some meat-type fastfood (like döner) together with Ayran (the salty mix of yogurt and water), but I don't feel it is in my heart to eat this always.

Also, supermarkets here suck. Have you been to BIM or Dia or Migros or Sok or any other chain? Have you? Well, you’ve been to one, you’ve been to all of them. They all sell the same stuff in every town and city that I’ve been to. And the selection is quite limited, in my humble opinion. Particularly the sweets. I’m sorry, but the selection of candy here sucks (they do not have M’n’M’s here! Imagine that!) and chocolate is kind of expensive save for the cheap chocolate bars for 0.25-0.5 TL that are pretty basic. Really. My sweet tooth has been suffering a lot here. I also miss the variety of dairy that I've seen in other countries, here you get milk, ayran, and (plain yogurt). And a limited variety of cheese.

What every supermarket does offer is great bread though. And simit. But you already know I’m the queen of simits (sesame bagels).

That's it for starters...

9 comments:

loeffle said...

Interesting thoughts and good writing as always. Thank you!

My Istanbul experiences are limited to my Turkish Airlines flight nightmare, but I got some taste of the traffic from airport to Hotel Günes and back. Nothing compared to Jakarta though which is a real hell in terms in traffic and pollution.

I didn't expect Istanbul to be that liberal. Of course there is a share of Western orientated people (about half of my flight was like that), but on the other hand the conservative views - deny Armenian genocide or criticize the Turkish nation and you go to prison! - are quite popular as well (other half of my flight was that).
Erdogans key to success is to make both parts of this split society happy.

I started liking (parts of) Turkish food last year. Did you try Dönerli Börek?

True story said...

Thanks, Andreas! I'm glad you keep reading this.

I'm living with West-oriented people (in a conservative part of the city) and I like their and their friends' views, they are umm.. well, how do I say, human, I guess. They don't favor Erdogan at all, but think he'll probably win the upcoming election. The election campaign is full-on at the moment, which mostly means there are vans driving around cities with some agitation BLASTING out of the speakers. The Turkish way. ;)

Honestly, I like Istanbul as a visitor. But I couldn't imagine living here for longer than the 2 months I'm doing right now. I would want to visit India and Indonesia... but I'm not sure I'm ready for that culture shock. I mean to see that poverty and chaos is one thing, but to understand that people live there in that poverty every single day of their lives is different.

Btw, I have not yet met a Turk who says there indeed was Armenian genocide, weißt du. Even the most liberal ones say it was a war and all is fair in love and war.

Dönerli börek? I don't know what that is and neither does one of my Turkish flatmates. ;) Is that like börek with beef?

And speaking of Turkish temperament, Turkish football championship just ended with a victory from the Istanbul club... Madness reigns the streets now. People shooting guns and stuff. Yikes.

Ümit Orhan said...

Drinking in the public is something discouraged in Turkey. :) I don't think it has any relation to not being liberal as you claim. For me it doesn't matter, but i can clearly see that this culture prevents alcoholism being a major problem in Turkey...
When it comes to markets, you should separate Migros with others. :) Bim Şok and Dia are all small budget super markets, they minimize the cost by all means to sell the stuff for a cheaper price.

As about not finding enough sweet things in supermarkets; Didnt you hear that sugar is poison? :)) This documentary is definetly worth watching: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dBnniua6-oM

True story said...

I know public drinking is discouraged in Turkey. In fact, it's prohibited by law in Russia. But before I came to Turkey I lived in Berlin where public drinking is not frowned upon and is part of the lifestyle.

I'm not happy with the selection in Migros as well. Yes, they have more stuff than the budget chains, but nevertheless products are limited. And more expensive. :)

SaritaAgerman said...

I love Turkish food but I definitely agree with you on the ayran front. My turkish husband gave me a glass to have with a meal and my brain just couldn't comprehend the liquidiness of the yogurt and the salt together - it just felt wrong. Have you tried the yogurt soup? That one is definitely an acquired taste. Apparently it's great for when you're feeling ill and need perking up. maybe I'll be converted to the joys of ayran and yogurt soup one day...

Shawn Robert said...

I can totally relate. I'm a Canadian living in Turkey will be for the next year or so.
I'm not usually a complainer but there are certain things that I just don't understand about Turkey. Why do 95% of men have really bad BO, and try to cover it up with Cologne? I swear I try to ignore it, but it never fails that almost every new male Turkish person I meet smells like the combination of Cologne and BO? Also about the Migros, I hear ya about been to one, you've been to them all. How come Turkey doesn't sell Limes? I mean, there are Pineapples, Mangos, Lemons, but no Limes? I've been searching in many stores but I cannot find any. If you find a place to buy some Let me know.. :) Also I wouldn't have having some weed but I've heard its quite difficult to even find any in Turkey. I know the laws are very harsh about it. But Living in Istanbul have you had any experience seeing or beeen offered any weed? All the best my friend. - shawn@melodicmedia.com

Tom Watson said...

Looks interesting, ill be sure to check it out. Cheap property in Turkey

KaeL said...

Let's talk about the fact that you're trapped with Turkish food that is the same EVERYWHERE!!! Perhaps in Istanbul you get a couple of non-turkish restaurants but in the rest of the country? You're stuck eating tavuk and kofte...

Unknown said...

Iv been in Turkey 6 weeks, istanbul about 4, drinking in public is quite common.... Taksim at night, large park by the bosphorus any time of day or night, Kadıköy any time of day or night, moda park at night fills up with litterally thousands of people publicly drinking some smoking weed. Also drinking in Beşiktaş was common. I traveled to eskisehir where drinking along the river or whatever its called is very common day and night, also spent time in Antalya where along the water drinking was very common, also was in olimpos where drinking on the beach and anywhere for that matter was common, also in patara drinking on the beach and generally anywhere in the small town of gelemis was common...

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