Culture Clashes: Çek Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself!

I am feeling punny and philosophical these days.

One thing I’ve come to understand about Turkey and Turkish culture is that I will never truly understand Turkey and Turkish culture.

When I first arrived in Turkey in 2012, I worked with a really conservative group. When I was told they were conservative, I figured they were the Turkish equivalent of republican. I can get along with anyone, regardless of political affiliation, but Turkish “conservative” is a whole ‘nother ball game. Many of my colleagues were very kind, but I knew I couldn’t continue working there after my contract finished. By the grace of God, I found Job 2, which is perfectly tailored to my lifestyle. There, I can wear short sleeves, I can show my kneecaps, I can talk to my male colleagues, and not only when they speak to me first. It’s lovely.


My fiance, who is a progressive, modern, free-thinker, rejoiced with me when I accepted Job 2, because even he was stifled and oppressed by my Job 1. I have been at Job 2 (and also City 2, which is more conservative than City 1) for 8 months now, and I realize that I have gotten a bit too comfortable regarding Turkish culture and society. Now, I am not saying that any of it is wrong. There are things I love about it. But there are things that I cannot understand (or maybe I don’t want to).

I guess because Job 1 was so stifling and oppressive and Job 2 is much more free and modern (as is my fiance), I developed a false sense of security, like I am free to carry on like I would in the US. That is not the case. Every time Canim reminds me of this, like “There is no way you’re going to ride that train alone” or “That shirt is dangerous,” I feel my independent, feisty, Puerto Rican-American blood start to boil with indignation. I pout, I sigh, I roll my eyes, I may even stomp my feet or suck my teeth. In fact, I probably look less like an independent woman and a lot more like an irritable toddler. I don’t need a man to “let” me do anything. I do NOT need permission or approval for anything I want to do!!!!!!

…but yeah, I kinda do. Culturally, I am effectively his wife already. That means everything I do will directly affect him. That means if he “lets” me ride the train alone or “lets” me galavant around with too much leg in plain sight, it will bring shame on me, him, and his (precious, adorable) family. And I just can’t quite accept it yet. It’s not that he’s a dictator. Certainly not. In fact, when I was at Job 1 (and in the early stages of our relationship), he knocked my clothing and said I dressed too old for my age. “Matronly” is probably the word he was looking for. Now, my wardrobe has gotten a complete makeover and so has my attitude, and I am no longer as cooperative or accepting of the things I once accepted and cooperated with at Job 1.

I am very, VERY slowly starting to learn when I need to put my foot down and say, “Hey, this may be Turkey but I am still American and I can wear this sundress when it’s 85 degrees outside!” but I am also learning to pull back and çek myself, because I know Canim is not trying to upset me or to be the boss and control what I can and can’t wear. He is with me when I buy said dresses, but he has a very clear idea of when I can and cannot wear them, because it does matter and it does affect the way I am treated here. For example, it’s still spring here, but last week it was in the 90s. I’m sorry, but that’s pretty flipping hot and I shouldn’t have to wear opaque pantyhose and I SHOULD be able to break out the sundresses. Nope. It’s spring, not summer. Cover up those legs and those shoulders because Turkish women aren’t showing those body parts yet and all the men along the seaside will gawk at you.

We had that very discussion in the mall two weeks ago. He insisted that men were looking at me like hungry wolves and it upset him. I disagreed, until a man walked by and looked me up and down, just like a hungry wolf. I could’ve punched that guy because 1) ew, don’t be a pig (or wolf) and 2) he proved me wrong.

I know these cultural rules were not created by Canim, and I know he thinks they’re archaic, but yet he still follows them and I have to as well. Not because we want to move backwards, but because so many people in this part of Turkey are unwilling to move forward and truthfully, I don’t feel like making a spectacle (or more of a spectacle) of myself just for the sake of my right to dress the way I want to.

Has anyone else had trouble grappling with the rules and cultural protocol? Please tell me I’m not the only one!



2 thoughts on “Culture Clashes: Çek Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself!

  1. Great post! I battle with these issues every day too, and am yet to find a solution. I don’t mind dressing more conservatively when I judge it to be appropriate. It’s only when my canim tells me I need to cover up I object, even when I realise I have in fact called it wrong and probably shouldn’t be wearing hot pants… grrr!

  2. We live in a super touristy town (Pamukkale) so everyone there is used to seeing lots of skin. i don’t wear anything skimpy by American standards, but I do tanks and Bermuda pants and have caught a few stares every now and again, but a few years later I don’t mind it anymore

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