Turkey – Revealed!

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‘Selam alejkum’ is how I have heard it in my surroundings, mostly from people from Bosnia, the only Muslims that I’ve encountered with before.

How do people in Croatia react when they hear it? Does it make a shortcut to Turkey in their minds? Do they think Turks are just like dark-skinned Bosnians or are there some opinions darker and more negative?

I made a „very accurate and representative“ Instagram questionnaire on stereotypes about Turks in my country, and I decided to put on paper different opinions and prejudices they might have.

And I will check if they have some points, or they just make no sense. That’s why this post is called ‘Turkey – Revealed!’

Now, Croatia has a long history with Turks – for hundreds of years they were using our grounds to chill while trying to get to Budim and Vienna, and in the meantime, they left a huge part of their culture there, along with some kind of repulsiveness towards them because they were always portrayed as enemies (especially in our then literature and other forms of arts). So it’s logical to assume that there has been a long time of having some negative feelings about Ottomans /Turks, adding that religion used to play a big role in our not-so-recent-history.

This started to change when Turkish soap operas started to take over our screens, and Croatians started to open up – to the culture, language, habits, tourism, and of course, very handsome men.

Suddenly, everybody learned how to use güzel, çok, evet, hayır, iyi geceler. Everybody wants to go to Istanbul to take some nice pictures in front of the Sultanahmet Camii or to have a holiday in Antalya.

Yet, some prejudices stayed. These sentences that I am going to write weren’t opinions of people who sent them to me, but their thoughts on how the people perceive Turks.

“They smoke a lot.”

Well, I can’t argue with this.  In Croatia we even have a saying ‘To smoke like a Turk’, used to describe someone who smokes a lot. When I moved here, I realized it’s like a national thing. Really, almost EVERYBODY smokes, and they do smoke a lot. If you just look around the street, everybody has a cigarette in their mouth or hand, whether walking, talking, standing, or driving. And you cannot consider yourself a real Turk if you haven’t learned how to flick your cigarette bud at least two meters away.

“They have big moustaches.”

Somebody (I don’t remember who) told me: you are safe in Turkey, just beware of the men with a moustache! Now, do you know what would that mean? You know, moustache is a symbol, a sign of masculinity, and usually (USUALLY, I’m not saying always), the guys or men wearing just moustache are masculine, macho types of guys, which usually goes hand in hand with a big necklace around their necks and a bit of a patriarchic attitude. So as a single lady, those are the guys that I should avoid. Luckily, there aren’t so many of them, so big moustache is not what describes Turkey correctly.

On the other hand, very stylish beards and impeccable hairstyles are a must, along with a nice watch, a flirtatious smirk and an amazing perfume that can be sniffed across the street… Do you get my point? They like to dress up and take care of themselves, and at the same time still be ‘real Turkish men’.

“Everybody is sitting in a Turkish style of sitting, drinking coffee, swearing and smoking.”

Yes, we also have an expression for a way of sitting with legs crossed – we call it Turkish sit (we call many things Turkish). And this sentence above nicely describes our vision of Turks – coffee, cigarettes and a Turkish sit. It’s true in some ways. There are many small teahouses and restaurants that have outside area decorated in slightly Ottoman style and you can see Turkish men (mostly 50+) drinking coffee/tea, smoking and playing ‘tabla’. I don’t know about swearing because I haven’t learned so many swear words in Turkish, but you have to understand that Turks per se seem a little bit aggressive in their communication. So it might seem like they are angry or swearing, even though they might just be talking about the weather or tabla. But I haven’t seen anyone sitting in a Turkish sit, apart from me, all the time, since I was born. 😀

So I’d have to say this stereotype is only partially true!

“Soap operas.”

As mentioned before, we Croatians started to develop a new,’ updated’ picture of Turks and their culture, mostly caused by excessive amounts of soap operas on our TVs. Those are some special soap operas – first of all, each episode lasts a minimum of 1,5 hour and is always very dramatic. Long stares, serious music, heartbreaks and family issues, but somehow interesting for us to watch. On the other hand, in Turkey, the only audience of soap operas are housewives, moms, grandmoms and maybe children. When somebody mentions one, youth rolls their eyes and says: ‘I can’t believe you know this, even I don’t know this series’. Nobody my age watches them here, and their daily life does not include soap operas – at least it does LESS than in Croatia!

“Don’t speak good English and will rape our women.”

The first part of this statement is very very true. I am not totally sure why this happens, but I will investigate it further and keep you posted (whether here on in my videos).

But let’s get back to the second part. ‘Raping our women’ is very connected to the history part that I referred to before. During the long days of Ottoman occupation of our lands, they mixed with us and created some beautiful dark looking children (mostly visible in Serbia, Macedonia and southern parts of ex-Yugoslavia), which means that there was some consensual or non-consensual intercourse involved, to put it nicely. Some older generations that haven’t had the chance to experience multiculturality and openness towards countries that don’t neighbour us, still have this (slight) negative connotations when it comes to Turkish men and them being a danger to our ‘white virgins’. Of course, that’s rubbish, but stereotypes go deep and it’s not an easy job to erase them.

****

Luckily, to correct those things and get away from stereotypes, there are media, there is the fabulous Erasmus+ program, motivation of youth to explore and learn by themselves instead of relying on what they have been thought by elders.

For that reason, I am absolutely positive that most of those false opinions will vanish by time (hopefully soon) because we are the generation of travellers, explorers, unstoppable people who are here to break the mold.

And for the elders, we’ve still got the soap operas!

About Valentina Botica

I am a 25 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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