A few years ago one would have asked oneself if Turkey is slipping back into troubled times. These days things seem to be going well. One could say things are progressing. Many are asking if Turkey is an easy place to live.
In this complex and modern world we live in every nation has its struggle to some degree between liberty and censorship, dictatorship and democracy. I wonder if there is any place easy to live. Just what does this mean?
Soon I will be visiting the United States for a couple of months. I will be visiting friends and family and have various speaking engagements. I am preparing for questions I am going to be asked about Turkey and about Turks. I want to portray Turkey as accurately as possible to those who do not have the opportunity to visit and form their own opinion. Although part of my role in writing for this column and the book, “Culture Smart: Turkey” (2006) has been to help Turks better understand foreigners and help foreigners understand Turkey, trying to explain Turkish culture and politics, even in the simplest terms, is not always easy. As for those who have never traveled to Turkey I have found over the years that people tend to be more apt to believe the pictures in their heads than come to a judgment by logic and critical thinking, which leads to wrong impressions.
Countless friends who have come to Istanbul for a short visit have often remarked that Turkey would be a great place to live. They say this having spent two or three days here. Nearly every visitor I have at some point of their stay asks me what it is like to live in Turkey. Usually visitors who have spent longer than a week here begin to see that being a tourist here is very different from actually living here.
The friendliness you experience as a tourist in comparison to that which you experience from living here and the relationships you observe around you can vary. In my piece “Coming from different sides of the tracks” (May 19, 2011), a couple of replies came in that demonstrate the stark contrast in opinion. Here are the two comments:
“You have got a point. I agree with you. There is still a long way to go until social interaction between classes is not so rigid.” Ahmet
“I have worked for many years in Turkey, and I have observed quite a lot about these “beautiful people” and “nice society” that you incessantly allude to. Let me tell you this ... they seem to hate each other. And, the other side of the coin, they are very vindictive and nasty. As neighbors sharing a block, they are almost always reluctant to “fork out”; and where money is concerned they are the greediest, most acquisitive people I have ever met, and I have traveled the world too. “John (You can read all of John’s comment on the web page.)
In my piece “Appearance, hospitality and family ties (2)” (May 18, 2011) comments were both posted and sent by email. Here are just a few of them to help you have more insight on what it is like to live here and the diversity in thought.
“I agree that you can not generalize the behavior of Turkish people with Islam or by defining generalizations with the Arab world. Turkey doesn’t have a homogenous culture.” Yasemin (You can read her full details on the web page.)
“First of all, I have to mention to you that Turkey is not an Arab country, so the proverbs cannot be telling what Turkish people are.” Dawn
“Very well observed, I guess this can be a good subject to work on for both side of cultural differences. Nevertheless, Westerners intend to overlook Easterners, thinking sometimes we are far beyond that good mixture of culture.” Baris
“Yes, this is right. Appearances are not everything, and everyone should be given a chance. ... I agree with you.” Ahmet
Turkey continues to be in transition. It would be good to hear from you if you have visited Turkey recently or resided here. Tell us about your experience. I must admit most people have communicated to me that they left feeling good about Turkey.
With national elections around the corner, all eyes are on Turkey to see what the future holds.