Monday, November 30, 2009

WTF Is It?

A few weeks back, we noticed a strange smell coming from the toaster. This is what we found inside, no doubt placed there by LE:

We have no idea what this toaster nugget is. It's plastic, about the size of my thumb.

And thanks to all my dear readers for sympathizing with my crap mood last week.


siobhan said...

Well, if it were found in my house it would most certainly be something out of a Kinder egg, which btw, we never (or rarely) buy. I don't know where he gets then from, they just seem to appear, crap bits of plastic that get left lying around, and work there way into everything

ms.bri said...


I am sorry things are so crap right now. I miss you a lot and send lots of love.

The word verification for this is "mutiest" which seems interesting and possibly deep.

Stranger said...

I suspected Kinder Egg too (and yeah, where the hell do those come from? I've never bought one. I suspect BE or MIL). I can't remember any whitish Kinder Egg thingies, but it must be something like that.

Thanks for the love, Bri. I agree- mutiest is very evocative somehow.

renai said...

I have absolutely no freaking idea what that is, but it is very funny indeed!

Anonymous said...

I ran into your blog by chance. I'm a Turkish man living in the US planning to move back to Turkey after 15 years with my foreign wife-I'm in my mid 30's-. Your blog has scared me a lot. You are not super happy in Turkey but you sound well adjusted. The main problem it seems we Turks really treat newcomers as "yabanci." You may know the word "yabani" in Turkish. It means wild/wilderness. Something to protect against. The word "yabanci" comes from the same source and it is a very old Turkic word. Unfortunately I think we have this attitude. We are an assimilationist culture but in a way different from the US. The US is so welcoming as long as you have social and economic utility. Turkey on the other hand assimilates in multiple generations until it makes you a "real" Turk and even then some son of a bitch can try to find Christian/Jewish ancestors in your family tree if you say something he doesn't like (see Yalcin Kucuk
). It is very different from the US. Knowing this I am still hoping there are going to be good opportunities for my super well educated wife. I am still not a US citizen and I don't plan to become one. So I am a guy similar to your husband: The type that loves Turkey too much and would hate to raise his kids in a different country.

Stranger said...

I didn't mean to scare you, Anonymous. Without knowing you guys, I think you and your wife have one thing working in your favor which is that one of you already knows what it's like to live in a foreign country for a long time. However welcoming the US may be, it's still not your home and you must have had all those times of feeling desperately far away from your family, friends, and home. So when this happens to your wife, you can at least empathize.

I've always found it interesting about Turkey how many generations a yabanci stays a yabanci, or that anyone would give a rat's ass about Christian or Jewish ancestors. But they do. It's like how people say "I'm from Tünceli" or "I'm from Sivas" when they were born in Istanbul, and maybe even their parents were born in Istanbul. Or if someone does something another person doesn't like, they go "Well, he's from Kayseri/Kars/Whereever and that's what they're like." My husband's family hates Oldest Uncle's Wife, and whenever she does something snobby or buys something overly expensive, they all say behind their hands, "Well, you know she is Tatar after all." Huh? Her grandmother was from Romania back when the borders were all different!

Americans do this too, of course, but I think our memory doesn't go as deep. At least not for white people. Many people are often quick to make assumptions about someone who is black, Latino, or Asian no matter how long their families have been American. And there are a lot of Americans who still talk behind their hands about Jews, and increasingly, Muslims (at least among the educated liberals where it's no PC to Muslim bash), as I'm sure you know.

The big difference, I think, is that America is willing to change according to the people who live there. Partly newcomers have to assimilate, but America responds in-kind to an extent and takes on the differences. No matter how kind Turks may be to newcomers, Turkey would take approximately 1,000 years to change her ways to fit newcomers, and newcomers are entirely expected to change to fit Turkey.

Which is weird because it wasn't that long ago that Istanbul was one of the most flexible and mutable places on Earth!

Bulent Murtezaoglu said...

Stranger, perhaps you could help the anonymous commenter and people in his situation by writing more about (I quote from one of your comments in another thread): "[...] that Turkish people (husband included) just don't freaking get it what a Western woman has to give up to be here."

I'll just say that the amount of money you can afford to spend for the basics and the lifestyle you are after will affect the level of comfort you have here. Both electricity and water service can be erratic here, for example (depending on where you live). You can throw money at this and fix it (large water tank in the building and a generator). Likewise, driving here (on top of parking, like any big city) is or can be a problem, but it can be fixed to the tune of perhaps $200-400/mo by getting a part-time driver (people I know tend to hire retired guys around 50 and pay them cash). This may or may not be a lot of money depending on how much you are pulling in and where your kids need to be driven to to socialize. This is the easy part in that it can be fixed with money.

If, on the other hand, one's the kind who'll ask about the equivalent of the NY Public Library when the highly cultured and sophisticated plaza people assert that Istanbul is like Manhattan, no amount of money will really fix one's problem. This is not, at the present time, the kind of society that supports or gives rise to that kind of a public facility (same goes for schools: with a bit of a stretch one could say that good ones exist despite the people, not because of them).

Stranger said...

Bülent is right-- I was afraid of scaring Anonymous further. But I should add that I often feel very jealous of the few moneyed friends I have here (and I never really felt envy for other people's money before I came to Turkey) because not only can they buy what Bülent points out, they can insulate themselves from Turkish culture to the point where it's not like they're living here at all , or like they're living in some glorious holiday village.

Money means you never have to struggle with speaking Turkish beyond a few words. It means your friends are from the elite money class and they don't like average Turkish people or their uncouth ways, and so don't see any need to deal with them. It means you can buy all the foreign products you want or have them shipped here. You can hang out in the 'nice' places-- Etiler, Cihangir, Maslak, Bağdat Caddesi... Places where I'd never set foot because I couldn't bring myself to pay what they want for a cup of coffee, but they have proper cafes where people read books and most of the clientele are either foreign or interesting, well-traveled, and cosmopolitan Turks. It means you can live in a house that insulates the sounds of your neighbors out, and the thingies where you stick the plugs stay in the walls. Plus, you can fly home whenever you feel blue.

Women in this situation rarely have to feel second class. They can dress and behave how they like (meaning normally) without fear of much stalking because they never have to go to places where stalker-types or tut tut tutters hang out. The kinds of Turkish people they hang out with are trying to emulate the Western model of men's and women's roles, so there's no one who'll try to put you in your place.

Anonymous said...

You make great points. Unfortunately I already know these. I come from an "elite" family not in the money sense but in an intellectual sense. I'm from Izmir. In my house we never spent money on expensive clothes, my mom didn't really care, but we housed 25,000 books by literally attaching to the corridoors of our decent sized apartment bookshelves, packing books rather than clothes. Eventually we had to rent a small store "dukkan" to house the books.

Living in the US I've lived like an American where I really didn't care about buying my Starbucks mocha on a daily basis as long as I made decent money. In Turkey the Starbucks charges twice the amount the thing costs in the US. I see some of my friends' families moving into million dollar homes in Istanbul. I don't know how they make the money since as a very very well educated person with graduate degrees from top schools and with significant work experience I don't know how and when (actually if ever-likely never) I will make that kind of money in Turkey.

My key focus now is to make sure my wife can get a job at an international company where speaking English and utilizing her MBA will be the key factors. I just know that she will go crazy in Turkey if she doesn't have a job she likes. Same goes for me. I want to get an academic job in one of the private universities ( I am finishing my phd)

But a lot is up in the air. Nevertheless I am an optimist. Turkey is a growing economy and there must be opportunities for me. That's how my thinking goes.

Don't you have like minded Turkish-international people to hang out with? Do all these people have to be from Turkey's super rich class? I know them they really act as if they live somewhere else. That much isolation is too much for me. After all I want my kids to get the "regular" Turkish culture. It has many good virtues.

Anonymous said...

25,000 books is a number I just pulled from the air but. you get the picture: thousands of books rather than good clothes. Money for education rather than vacations. I know my wife is not exactly like my mom...We'll see...

Bulent Murtezaoglu said...


I agree with pretty much all you say, though there might be interesting ways around many of those things and in the process of seeking those one does tend to learn a lot (don't ask me what I have learned just yet, I have a vague awareness of the process and not a solid grip of the results). I am from here though, and, in some sense, of here, so what I'd find interesting and worthwhile is likely to be different. Anyway, the experience of a single male whose native language is Turkish will be different than an American woman who also needs to deal with language issues.

Bulent Murtezaoglu said...


Your pals with $1M houses are probably telling you what the price of their house is rumoured to be in the present market. Prices more than quadrupled in the past 5-6 years (worse in US$ if you take '02 or '03 as your base). Anyway one thing to keep in mind is that property taxes here tend to be ridiculously low compared to many states in the US. They might not even be paying about $400-500 p.a. in taxes for those $1M houses.

Funny you mention Starbucks, I'd never been in one (that I remember) until I came here from the US in '03 and some friends forced me to meet them in Starbucks in one of those blessed malls people seem to flock to. The equivalent of small and -- possibly family-owned -- diner does exist here, of course, as a corner kebapci or a coffee house that also serves tosts but you won't get coffee there for $1.25 with free refills (and waitressess who'll fill or warm your mug up w/o you needing to flag them them down) and you probably will not see women going to those places. All this is changing at a visible/detectable speed, but this is still a gender-segregated society. Even in places like Ortakoy where the crowd is mixed you may have a hard time getting a sea-facing table at teahouses if there's no women in your party (happened to me and a pal just last month and wasn't the first time). Izmir is likely to be different in that regard though.

I'd recommend, as a general rule, that people who go to school in the US also get a few years of work experience there and not come here right after school. I think the point of going out of your way and to a foreign country for schooling is to absorb not only the material that's taught (or researched) there but also the attitudes and general know-how about the performance of such work and whatever institutional culture that enables that work to be performed. You can only do so much of that as a student (eg for the academic profession, the experience of passing your qualifiers or thesis defense gives you half of the picture, the other half is gauging the performance of the candidates and making the unpleasant decisions about their fate in the program or figuring out how to get better work out of them). Besides, you'll have much better bargaining ability here when you are there and employed than here and unemployed. (The 'tok satici' thing we all know.) This probably is somewhat inapplicable to you since you do have work experience and are used to the, um, the sharkish aspect of business dealings.

The bit about 'regular' Turkish culture and wanting your kids to absorb it might acquire a different and perhaps more realistic meaning once you come and live here. I'm in my mid 40s and, much like yourself, spent 15+ years in the US but I grew up in the pre-Ozal pre-12 Eylul Turkey which might as well have been a different planet. So I cannot even give you hints about the changes you'll notice in the culture. I can tell you, though, that if you are doing or are intimately familiar with any kind of science, you can expect to be confronted by religion in surprising contexts. I'm a computer scientist, and here I go whining about this.

Given your family background, I think you'd be used to being odd and outside of the mainstream. Our -- necessarily -- subjective experiences and what we choose to relate or whine about shouldn't deter you. There are advantages too. I can walk out and get simit (probably 'gevrek' to you Izmir folks), consume all the kokorec I want, and comparison shop for groceries (with free delivery for even a $40 basket) through the web here. There are also very important matters like tavuk gogsu and iskender (yes, with a double helping of artery-clogging sizzling butter).

Stranger said...

Mmmm. The butter comment made me decide to make browned butter garlic sauce for our pasta tonight...

Anonymous, I directed my comments sort of at you but I also have in mind this "audience" (the 20 or so regular readers of this blog)-- I didn't mean to be so presumptuous telling you what you already know, and probably know better than I do. If I'm not mistaken, I think this is what the expression "teaching your grandmother to suck eggs" means. I'm always looking for a chance to use that expression.

I think I wasn't clear about money-- I really meant foreigners with money who get to hang out with the Turkish "elite," and by elite I mean what you describe-- the intellectual elite, not necessarily wealthy (though they often are). That ephemeral group of highly educated, intellectual, cosmopolitan folk who read books and get it that there's a world outside of Turkey and that said world isn't inferior in every way. People whose families have been this way for generations. I know some foreigners who aren't especially rich but they're in a university crowd and also get to hobnob with the same folks. Sadly for me, they live on the other side of the world-- the Asian side.

Like anywhere else in the world, the Turkish rich aren't a homogeneous group. Everything from the plaza people Bülent mentions (they sound like the Kardishians, which I've never seen but someone once described to me) to the Orhan Pamuk faded old money folk, to the growing population of new money in places like Florya and Yesilköy where guys drive (like shit) in $80,000 Mercedes SUVs with tinted windows stuffed to the gills with headscarved and çarşaflı women. Not exactly my first choice of buddies, that last group.

I'm not sure what "real" Turkish culture is any more than I can put a finger on "real" American culture. But I sure as hell don't want my kid going to a school where there are 60 kids in a class and the Atlas of Creation is their biology text...

Bulent Murtezaoglu said...


Yeah, Stranger is right, Anonymous probably knows all this. Let's just say we're jotting things down as they occur to us. At least I am.

That ephemeral group of highly educated, intellectual, cosmopolitan folk who read books and get it that there's a world outside of Turkey and that said world isn't inferior in every way.

Actually I am not sure I know many of those people. I do know a lot of people with the right paperwork (ie diplomas with brand recognition) but I am unsure what they actually 'get.' Repeating nonsense (that's popular in some circles) isn't the same as having a genuine or at least respectable understanding of things. You can tell how much those folks understand freedom of expression and censorship, for example, by their demonstrated inability to make coherent objections to or explain the goings on about what descended onto the Turkish part of the 'net.

OTOH, nobody tells me that the world outside Turkey is inferior. Perhaps they only do that to 'yabanci's.

I know some foreigners who aren't especially rich but they're in a university crowd and also get to hobnob with the same folks. Sadly for me, they live on the other side of the world-- the Asian side.

What's out there? Sabanci U.? Bogazici, ITU and Koc are on this side. Plus, there's always the net.

I think if we were not prevented from bringing the 'net to Turkey for as long as we were (yes, I was among those who tried) we'd have gotten a somewhat older crowd active on it. The so-called elite were of course oblivious and their warped statist [supposedly] left-leaning ways and influence had something to do with the inability of the small and mid-sized business people from helping unleash the creative forces of the non-elite (now it seems being liberal/libertarian is what's advertised but you wouldn't know it if they didn't claim the label). Let me just add that the kind of multi-generational family background you have in mind also tends to bring with it the view that the regular folks are no different than cattle which -- most certainly not incidentally -- is not far from the meaning of the official term, reaya, that their grandpas used.

But I sure as hell don't want my kid going to a school where there are 60 kids in a class and the Atlas of Creation is their biology text...

Hah, well, they do exhibit their stuff in Metro stations occasionally. It seems the municipality takes this "Culture Capital of Europe" thing very seriously and makes sure we are exposed to the right kind of culture. Of course our elites are mostly silent about all this or are brown nosing the glorious and ever-so-moderate you-know-who whose volunteer and paid propagandists are doing far more insidious damage than the Atlas of Creation guys.

Stranger said...

Sigh. You're (sadly) spot on about all of that. I often have a serious case of the grass always being greener somewhere I'm not. It does seem to me, though, that my female friends with money or the ones with cosmopolitan husbands/in-laws/colleagues have a lot fewer limitations/unpleasant expectations being placed on them because they are women.

The "elite" vs. average folk thing makes me crazy. I used to hang out with a lot of officer types and they were by far the worst. However provincial BE's family might be about a lot of things, at least they think average people are human and treat them as such (though MIL can be little tough on cleaners IMO).

And here I am whining about money and friends or whatever while forgetting how truly priveleged we are here. We can go to a (shitty) doctor whenever we want without pushing through masses of pushy sick people, we have some choices about educating our kid (none are great but at least there are choices), and most importantly, we can swallow the cost of these insane price hikes in utilities and KDV (gas is about to crazy and our electricity bill has tripled since May). I can't imagine what the minimum wage and under folks are doing. :( Worse, it's like they don't exist in the public eye.

Pardon my ignorance, but I'm not sure who "you-know-who" is-- I have a few guesses but they're all quite different.

Bulent Murtezaoglu said...

Stranger, here's your hint.

I often have a serious case of the grass always being greener somewhere I'm not.

Are you sure we're not Turkifying you to a far greater extent than you realize? I often have this conversation not about the US, but about Turkey vs. the 20 or 30+ countries with an Ottoman past or the two neighbors (Russia and Iran) who don't. Some do seem to be doing better than us now, but if you figure in the various (Nazi, Communist, British, French, American) invasions, civil wars that are incomparable in their devastation to any strife we had/have here given the population numbers etc. that happened to those people post '23 we don't seem to be doing all that badly. This part of the world is not and hasn't been particularly kind to ordinary people.

It does seem to me, though, that my female friends with money or the ones with cosmopolitan husbands/in-laws/colleagues have a lot fewer limitations/unpleasant expectations being placed on them because they are women.

I have no argument with that but those people are still a minority in a more-or-less gender segregated society. They can probably ride their 4x4's past the ordinary folks, but, say, their doormen and janitors or even their kids' teachers have things to say about them that are different than what one would expect on the basis of economic class alone. This is changing fast, I think, but not fast enough for women like yourself obviously.

Stranger said...

Okay, that's one of the insidious forces I thought of. I can think of a lot more though. In fact, I've just quit paying attention to the news in any language. That's how I missed out when Ted Kennedy died.

Quite true what you say about Turkey's current situation. Don't get me wrong-- I did plenty of feminist bitching in the US too. It's just that here I feel like I should be reading the old school feminists like Simone de Beauvoir. Even the Gloria Steinem-types haven't begun to apply.

As for some people I know, since they don't speak Turkish very well, they never have to know what everyone is saying about them. It's that yabancı bubble I used to enjoy so much before my Turkish got good enough to understand when I wasn't paying attention.

Bulent Murtezaoglu said...

Hahaha, and I wish I had listened to some of the feminist bitching that was going on around me when I was in the US instead of rolling my eyes and making faces. Now that a lot of Turkish stuff is readable on the net both from religious and secular sides I often detect or sense similar and rather unpleasant attitudes towards women just underneath the surface. I can sense things but cannot quite name them or make clear why I find them unpleasant (well, one reason is that I have a sister and two nieces, but I think it goes beyond that). I suspect whatever their excesses were, articulate feminists elsewhere probably identified and analyzed much of the stuff that's taking place in today's Turkey.

Stranger said...

Feminists, like environmentalists, can be intensely annoying. But I think a lot of people are starting to wish we'd listened to those strident environmentalists 20 years ago...

Rebecca said...

This thread is really interesting and everyone has said so much I agree with. Anonymous, I think the problems your wife will face are not all about being a woman in Turkey but partly about being someone from an individualistic culture entering a collective culture.
There are many things I like and admire about Turkish culture but some things are hard to adjust to. Things that are important to us, such as privacy, individual responsibility and independence are just not valued here. As far as I can see the concepts of not interfering, minding one's own business and giving space barely exist here!
The idea of kindness is sometimes different and manners too. For example, Turkish people relentlessly give unwanted advice. My husband tells me this is their way of being kind, helpful and showing interest. To me it feels patronising and intrusive and although I tell myself not to mind, this is their culture etc. inside I still feel resentful and intensely irritated.

Stranger said...

Rebecca is absolutely right. It'll especially drive his wife crazy if she has a baby.

The individual responsibility thing is an important one too. People have a way of never holding themselves accountable for anything, ever. There's always some outside force that causes them to go wrong. Like when my husband gets drunk or stays out at the barber until midnight-- it's never his fault he got drunk-- it's because Galatasaray won or lost a match, and it's not his fault he didn't come home from the barber in time to tuck in his son-- it's because some guy got pig flu and went to the hospital plus the video store guy was upset because the cops busted him for pirating movies.

It used to drive me mad when students would be late with their work, and I'd tell them they had to turn it in by 5pm or whatever and they'd go "İnşallah," as though it were up to God whether their work got finished or not.

Rebecca said...

Yes, I think Stranger is right about the baby bit. I don't have any children (much to the disappointment/incredulity of most Turkish women) and therefore I am out and about, working and meeting people. I would imagine having a small child here can be isolating. I was very depressed when I first came here, I lived in a Black Sea town and had no one to talk to at all. When I came to Istanbul I thought I had gone to heaven.
There are so many variables, for example I think my in-laws are easier than Stranger's, although that could change if a child came along. My neighbours are very nice too. So all in all I am not unhappy here although I have my bad days. I am also geographically nearer my home (Britain).
There is plenty for your wife to like as well, Turkey is a really beautiful country and well worth travelling round.
Also my advice would be not to take it too personally if she gets fed up and vents about the place. Sometimes I cringe when I remember the quite unkind things I said to my husband about Turkey and Turks, which was really just homesickness speaking.

Stranger said...

Wise words indeed.

Anonymous said...

Hey guys....I'm reading all you're writing. I will get back with more comments later on.