Seriously – the first thing I did as a Turkey newcomer quite some time ago was something absolutely unexpected yet ultimately totally normal. I headed to… well: let me come back to this point in a minute.
First though a short introduction: regardless of whether you have just touched down on our fabulous shared shores or are perhaps a longtime resident who wishes to retrace her or his hesitant first steps after arrival many years in the past, one thing unites us all. We are, or were, somewhat unsure about what should top our list of must do’s upon arrival. I am not talking about technical matters such as perhaps opening a bank account or getting a utility contract up and running; these daily chores will keep our minds busy anyways. This article is much more about the ‘getting used to my new home’ – type of story.
So where did I go some hours after I had dropped my bags and exchanged first hello’s with my wider family whom I had not had a chance to meet in person back in the United Kingdom? My wife and I embarked on a tour around town, a walking tour as the center is charming and compact all the same. A pedestrian’s paradise so to speak unless you carry heavy loads or live far off the beaten track! And yes indeed, we sat down in a pavement cafe which could best be described as an expat hangout, ordered a local beverage and just looked around. People watching you might call it; a pastime cherished by many and rest assured, you are watched, too, but that is the trick. Was it a surprising first activity? I dare say yes, as one could argue go for a swim or visit a museum or buy a guidebook. But we thought the best way to relax just a little bit after long travels whilst at the same moment start getting a feel for ones’ new surroundings is to mix and mingle with fellow expats, newcomers or not. So I admit it – before embracing an entirely new to me and so wonderful, proud nation we thought that just for a few short hours it would make sense to mix and mingle with other expats or tourists. Sounds strange, I know, but somehow this made me aware of the fact that whenever I want there is our so active, so varied international community yet whenever I want to really integrate I only have to walk five minutes further down the road. What a great place to soon call home for good!
Honestly, during those initial days and weeks and months I could not read most of what my eyes had in front of them. We had practiced a few basic Turkish lines back in London but that was it. I felt stupid to put it mildly. So we had two options. Stay in that comforting environment where waiters would speak English and the menu was bi-lingual or venture further out. The next day we went to a splendid tea garden where everyone was a proud citizen of our new home country and equally proud to be conversing in Turkish, and only in Turkish. Logic, as this is Turkey! We put a few words for me together, my wife of course the teacher, and soon I was able to order my first glass of freshly brewed, delicious Turkish tea. What a joy – no tea bags including coming your way as little pyramids or in any other bizarre appearance – nothing but absolutely perfectly made Turkish tea, made out of domestically harvested tea in its purest form.
So here I was – ready to become a ‘local’ albeit step by step. All smiles as I ordered another glass and then a third one and said thank you and goodbye in Turkish, too.
Surprisingly, things progressed fast and smooth from then onwards. Why do I say surprisingly? Because I had earmarked much more time for getting to know my Turkish neighbors, as after all I was a newcomer, a new kid on the block! Having said that it was off to the corner shop! Bread, cheese, olives and a beverage; I managed to pick and choose without the need to pronounce all items in the Turkish language. At check-out I proudly presented my local currency ready for settling my bill but then something was not right. Actually, the amount of money I had with me was not right. At that time in Turkey’s history the Lira had quite some extra zero’s attached to each bill so I worried, of my dear, is it that expensive… soon I got used to counting the correct way and by now of course after a decade and a half of steady economic rise the Turkish Lira has since long dropped most of those old-time inflationary zeros, but back then we spoke about thousands, not fivers. Yet all smiles again – I figured out that I was short of cash; not that much but in today’s terms it would be three Lira or so. The owner of the corner shop shrugged it all off and said ‘sonra’ – later. So what had happened? As the shop is next to where we lived and as it is quite customary here you can indeed settle a little difference a little later. Wow – I had just become part and parcel of my lovely brand-new Turkish neighborhood and thus its shopping community!
Once more something reassuringly then, just in case if I ever needed anything else to reassure me that I had settled in the right place… soon it was down to the beach. A long swim in crystal clear waters! No further comment needed – Turkey is a beachgoers heaven, really. I knew it, I had heard about it and now I experienced it for myself. What an immense joy.
So what was the old, the familiar? My trip to one of the many fine expat cafes where two worlds meet, mix and mingle and are living proof of the fact that we live on a shared planet in a shared town without any, and I repeat any, misunderstandings or problems at all. A role model nation for welcoming international guests! And the new? My novice visit to the Tea House, or in our case, a tea garden attached to a house.
What about the borrowed? Well, the money I ‘borrowed’ from my corner shop owner if that is the correct way of describing the event. And last not least, the blue? Of course our Aegean seas, majestic, simply fantastic!
Something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue; four ideas of how to get the feel for your new country, town or city. Welcome, or welcome again, whatever suits your circumstances.