I Live in Istanbul and Will Tell You How People Save Money in Turkey and Why You Won’t Need High Heels There

Hi! My name is Anna Fedorova. I was born in Saint-Petersburg, got my education in Germany, and then I worked as a German language teacher and as a translator. Now I live in Istanbul, and I’m doing my postgraduate studies to get my law degree.

I hope I will be able to convey to Bright Side readers how strongly in love I am with this old city. Also, I am going to tell you how to dress here and why every local woman has a bottle of lemon juice in her kitchen.

What surprises unexperienced travelers here

  • It is customary to kiss someone’s cheek 2 times in Turkey. Though it doesn’t sound very special, still, I am more used to giving one kiss. But I got so used to the Turkish variant that I sometimes get into confusing situations with my compatriots. When I start the second round of giving greeting kisses to them, they often move back.
  • Once, we were having dinner in a traditional Turkish restaurant. We finished the meal and asked for the bill, but first the waiter brought us a plate with cloves. “That’s quite strange!,” I thought, "We are about to leave and he has brought us some spices. Turns out, people chew cloves after meals here — it helps to get rid of the smell from the mouth. A Turkish mouth freshener!
  • People only drink freshly-brewed tea here and eat freshly-cooked dishes. Are you drinking yesterday’s tea? That’s poison!
  • Turkish people like their own things. For example, out of 30 TV channels, you can hear foreign songs on only 4-5 of them. Also, they wear pretty patriotic clothes here — dresses and shirts from local manufacturers. 80% of Turkish people prefer to take a vacation inside the country, while gastronomical tourism and visiting relatives are holy things for them.

How my man was drafted

His commander keeps playing jokes on him saying, “Did you come here through a special promo?” The thing is Turkey has compulsory military service. But from time to time the country issues an order, according to which a special fee can be paid in order to only have to serve 21 days, instead of 5 months.

Here are some interesting facts:

  • You buy almost all the necessary uniforms yourself. T-shirts, socks, underwear — everything should be of one set color and pattern. We spent about €115 ($135) buying all this stuff.
  • Waking up is at 5 am, going to bed is at 11 pm. They provide a lot of food — about 5,000 calories per day. They do play some sports, but not very regularly.
  • Rookies are allowed to use mobile phones without a camera or access to the internet. Our Nokia 3310, that had been uselessly lying at home for a long time, helped us greatly — we could call each other regularly.

About studying at a Turkish university

The most important person in the faculty is not the dean or even the head of the department, but a chai-ji — the person responsible for tea. When I first arrived at the university, I was instantly advised to go up the second floor, find Tarik-bey (the chai-ji), and ask him where to find the people I need. He knows everything about others: where their offices are and when they have consulting hours. And, of course, he has the best spot in the university — he’s in the epicenter of all the events and has a bird’s eye view, so he can watch everyone.

My first lecture started with the question — who is going to drink tea. Tarik-bey was called right away and after 5 minutes he appeared with a tray and started to give out the ordered tea. (Please note: I am talking about postgraduate studies with 7-10 students in a group, not 200 like in undergraduate survey classes). While waiting for Tarik-bey, the professor was discussing the latest news or asking everyone how their life was going. He was torturing me with questions about what my name and surname mean.

How to dress in Istanbul

Do not dress the way I look in this photo! Especially if you are not used to the increased attention from those surrounding you. I am going to list several things that will be useful:

  • A stole or long scarf is a universal thing. You can wrap it around your head when entering a mosque, wrap it around your neck to protect yourself from the Bosphorus winds, or put it on your shoulders to cover your open arms or neckline.
  • Comfortable flat footwear. Leave your high-heeled ankle boots at home — they will be useless in this hilly area.
  • Maxi fly skirt. This also serves 2 purposes: first, it beautifully flutters in the wind (you can take some interesting photos!), second, it covers your legs and you won’t need to change clothes to enter a mosque.
  • Windbreaker, parka, or a hoodie jacket. Guys, it’s not hot here all year round. Even in the summer, the winds can be pretty strong. In fall and winter, the winds are complemented by rain.
  • Sunglasses. So you don’t have to squint on sunny days and get wrinkles.
  • Undershirts. Do you remember how our mothers made us put on camisoles under blouses in our childhood? Well, Turkish people still do this, even adults. I support this idea: it prevents transparent blouses.

Istanbul is famous for its love for modern art.

Istanbul is all about urban graffiti. Districts like Beyoğlu, Cihangir, and Kadıköy all boast bright graffiti. But the Yeldeğirmeni neighborhood beats all the records. While walking around here, you’ll come across huge murals, that are the size of the condo building walls, on various topics.

The best foreign street art artists in the world are invited to Istanbul every year. Since 2012, the Kadıköy municipality has been hosting an annual International Mural Festival. Even the administration building here has 3 works from urban painters on it.

Delicate topic: Urban toilets

What do you do if you need a restroom in Istanbul? First of all, you can use the toilets in cafes and restaurants. If you are not a visitor, but you need to use the restroom, you can politely ask for permission, usually, people won’t say, “No.” You can also use the amenities in shopping centers, large grocery stores, home improvement stores, and even gas stations for free (they are usually very clean there). My least favorite options are the toilets on ferries, they can be compared with a toilet on a long-haul train.

There are also toilets that charge money here (about €0.1—0.2 or $0.1-0.25). These are city orange booths in parks, on embankments, and in any crowded public place. You can pay for them with a transport card called Istanbul Kart.

What is the “secret ingredient” of Turkish cuisine

It’s lemon juice. It is added to almost every dish. Need to season a salad? Use lemon juice. Need to add sourness to soup? Lemon juice is there for you! Need some refreshment in the summer? Well, you got me. Turkish people even manage to pickle this citrus.

In Turkey, people will serve lemon cake and lemon cream for dessert. They even have a special lemon soup. And, of course, lemonade. It’s an absolutely necessary thing in the summer. Each Turkish housekeeper has a big bottle with lemon juice at home (the juice is sold in stores, so they don’t need to hand squeeze it).

How people are thrifty in Turkey

Here are some life hacks from a local miser like me:

  • You can attend free state courses on any topic and specialization (ISMEK);
  • Istanbul has a wide range of free exhibitions, cinema shows, lectures, and concerts — all you need to do is watch the advertisements;
  • Make sure to take your own fabric bag when going to the supermarket — it’s both eco-friendly and helps you to save money on plastic bags;
  • It’s better to buy the clothes from local brands in ordinary stores, while it’s better to buy clothes in foreign brands from outlets;
  • Bargains! Everywhere: in a taxi, at counters and of course, in the market. Don’t boldly ask for a discount, but do it more delicately: talk to the seller, ask them some questions, get in their good graces. All of this will help them to have mercy on you and perhaps decrease the price.

How the TV show The Lives of Others: Istanbul was made

In 2019, I got a chance to help shoot this program that is hosted by Janna Badoyeva. I like her concept — to show countries through the eyes of locals, not tourists. That’s why when I was asked to take part in the project, I agreed instantly without thinking too much.

How to make a 1-hour-program? A lot of preparation is required: colorful locations, interesting characters, personal stories. That’s what the producer and I were looking for. The shootings were constantly rescheduled or canceled (some characters refused to participate, others got sick, others left for vacation).

Then the shooting started and we had crazy transfers from the Asian to the European part of Istanbul with a whole crew of cameramen. One month later, the program was released. I was watching this episode with a huge feeling of pride because the beautiful decor and the smiling characters were hiding our endless negotiations and meetings. I had to involve all of my Istanbul contacts — my friends’ husbands, the owners of cafes, and school headteachers helped us with everything.

And finally: Why Istanbul?

Yes, Istanbul is not what all of Turkey is all about. But at the same time, it’s the concentration of everything Turkish, mixed with a huge desire to be a European capital. It is a huge melting pot, where there are trendy coffee shops and chickens sold on the highway, Kadıköy’s hipsters and the conservative residents of Ümraniye, the dilapidated huts of Balat and the villas of the rich in Bebek are all mixed. It is home to wealthy students in private universities, people from the provinces, and Europeans-expats, who wanted to add some oriental exoticism to their lives.

And even though it’s Ankara that has been the capital of Turkey for almost 100 years, we all know what the main focus is here. Love you, Istanbul!

Have you ever wandered along the streets of this Turkish city? Or are you the one who prefers to take your vacation in a resort area, without leaving the territory of the hotel?

Preview photo credit anya_instambul / instagram
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