Getting your way on the streets of Izmir

Spoiler: it’s hard.

As any other southern country, Turkey is a bit peculiar. It has its own way of dealing with things. Sometimes when I walk down the city, I feel like I am not on Earth that I know, like a total alien observing the world passing by me in its own way and tempo.

It’s not that I don’t feel welcomed, but being able to blend in takes time.

The first and most obvious barrier is the language. Even though I am learning Turkish and I have no problem saying the basic things not to get lost, stay hungry or get kidnapped, not knowing the language makes you feel alienated. It brings a feeling of loneliness too, in a country that is maybe the least English speaking country that I have been to so far (and this includes Poland, which in my opinion holds the second place).

The second most troubling thing is a different way of life. Now, I’m not saying my country is the description of hard work, top level organization and productivity, but what I experienced here has only one speed: SLOW. Bureaucracy takes ages, and the lack of productivity is probably partially caused by long collective lunch breaks and only one-shift working hours of banks, post offices, and other state institutions where speaking English language is also just a distant idea.

People’s minds and attitudes fit to that – everything will be settled eventually (it really will, it showed), but in its own time. And people don’t stress about it, which sometimes just drives me crazy, especially after having an exchange in the very decently organized Czech Republic.

To get back to the streets, the way of communication puzzles me, because if you are a girl whose face very obviously states „FOREIGN“, you get a lot of calls from restaurants and cafes (more than the locals get) and it’s not easy to talk your way out of it. Everybody gets in your face and private space, trying to talk to you (in Turkish, of course).

Not to be confused, they don’t mean bad and are generally very friendly people, and if I’m in the mood, I stop and try to chat with them in Turkish, and they are usually pleasantly surprised with my effort. But some days aren’t like this, and some days this utter chaos of the streets make me feel like I am an animal in a cage surrounded by pushy visitors.

Regarding the topic that many are interested in, and that is am I getting proposed on the streets or slut shamed, I don’t have a 100% correct answer. Sometimes I feel completely safe, left to do whatever I want, dress however I want, and I find Izmir totally chill about this. The other day, I was trying to find a shop somewhere around midnight and I randomly met a young guy who walked with me helping me find it, wished me a nice evening and we parted. The other time, for example, a guy I met randomly in a fast food restaurant decided to accompany me home and I had to wage whether it’s better to walk alone in the middle of the night or go with this stranger and lie where my home was (a stranger who called me on Messenger multiple times the next day).

Girls around here dress very modern and stylish, usually with a lot of skin showing, so I very rarely feel like I am ‘under-dressed’, but on the other hand, one time I was confused as a prostitute and one time slut shamed by an elder lady who hit me, I guess for wearing pants that were too short.

So, living in Turkey has its pluses and minuses. Getting by isn’t the easiest of jobs, but I’m working my way to get there. First step is improving my Turkish skills, so next time I will be able to politely explain that I am not a prostitute and that I am just waiting for the bus 😀

Anyhow, all of those things are minor things that just annoy me on a daily basis, but are not a reason to dislike the country. There are so many good things that make living here such a pleasure, trust me on that one.

About Valentina Botica

I am a 26 year-old girl from Rijeka, Croatia, a lover of Turkey who is an EVS volunteer in Izmir's Pi Youth Association. Graduated journalist with an overall enthusiasm for media. Both dog and cat person, trying to teach people what is 'teal' - my favorite color, similar to the color of Bosporus. I am a part of Erasmus Student Network and a strong believer that 'Mobility is a Lifestyle'. More about my experience in Turkey can be found on my Instagram @velntajn.

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