Five unique personality characteristics make Turks who they are and how we as expats can adopt and embrace them
Last week, many expats as well as Turk were thrown off when the expected time change was delayed due to the Nov. 1 general elections. If you are anything like me, this was a confusing time as my electronics automatically updated themselves, leaving me unknowingly an hour behind. However, true to Turkish style, everyone who was burdened by my delay was understanding of the situation, and in the end, giving or taking an hour, it really didn't matter. I have to say it was a refreshing break from the confines of time, and gave me insight into the unique Turkish personality traits I hope to adopt that has made this time transition an easy one.
'Go with the flow'
The Turks are known for their spontaneity. In fact, it is quite hard to pin down a Turk to any plans, as the arrangement usually comes with the additional "inshallah" (god willing). This certainly is not an avoidance technique, as the Turks strongly believe that everything in their destiny has already been prewritten. A historically nomadic culture, the Turks are also very equipped at adapting to change. They take unexpected obstacles with ease and most importantly with grace. When the electricity shuts down and water is cut off, they simply adapt, make do and wait. I, on the other hand, feel immense discomfort not knowing when the amenities will return, and end up looking like the freaked out foreigner who falls apart at the seams at the simplest things. They certainly don't let superficial things ruin their day and try to take as much pleasure as possible out of everything that comes their way. A lovely Turkish lady who was dating an English friend once told me that all of the planning required in the friendship was killing her spirit and excitement for what spontaneity could develop instead. Since then, I have paid heed to not over-schedule, take things as they come and certainly don't take it personally if things do not turn out "as planned."
'Living in the now'
The pleasure that Turks derive from simply enjoying the moment has a word, whose English translation simply does not do it justice. "Keyif' in Turkish has multi-faceted meanings spanning from enjoyment and happiness to health and well-being. A "keyifli" person is a fun one; if someone's "keyif" is in place, it means they are doing well on the grander scheme; and to simply have "keyif' is an activity on its own. Turks can derive "keyif" out of everything, a simple cup of tea or "kahve" (coffee), whose Turkish connotation means a beverage to enjoy with "keyif." For me, "keyif" is still a learning experience. If stopping for a spontaneous tea, I would end up planning and writing to do lists in my head instead of looking and listening to my surroundings. I read books about learning how to be "in the now," but it is a trait my Turkish partner seems to have inherited at birth. I am certainly trying to acquire this admirable quality of the Turks - after all, shouldn't happiness and enjoyment at any time and from anything be what life is all about?
'All or nothing'
Turks are known for their hospitality and if you ever end up with an invitation, I advise you to happily accept and "go with the flow" because the food spread you will most likely face will undoubtedly be of epic proportions. However, if you are seeking a restaurant off the beaten path, be aware there may very well be absolutely no food left. Another paradoxical personality trait of the Turks is they can be extremely inquisitive and their questions can delve deep into the story of your life within minutes. However, they are surprisingly secretive when it comes to them. I, the foreigner, end up seeming the inquisitive one when I ask the traditional questions of where someone works or lives. They are also extremely blunt when it comes to weight, a no-holds-barred topic and one that will easily slip into the conversation if you've lost or gained weight pretty much anytime they see you. Don't take it personally; for them, health is of the utmost importance - and rightly so. Thus, weight is considered a significant factor. Turks also don't like to say "I'm sorry" or "thank you" with the frequency that we do, as to them showing these sentiments in actions are much more important than in words.
When you do pass that initial barrier of friendship, which could very well be at the first meeting, then the sky is the limit and suddenly a simple get together for coffee or tea can turn into a lifelong friendship with future plans and projects or a whirlwind night of conversation leading to a sleepover and the next day's breakfast if you let it. When did sleepovers become a thing after our teens? In my past life in the U.S., if I did sleep over it was always a previously planned arrangement imposing on close friends or family. But for the Turks, which seem to be able to sleep anywhere, a sleepover is very much par for the course and now an outcome I brace myself for whenever I invite anyone into my home. But, I have also begun to love this. And although I don't reciprocate, I now understand the joy of letting the moment unfold on its own - making deep friendships and true connections, which makes giving or taking an hour truly insignificant in the grand scheme of things.
Have you ever noticed that the Turks are "Yes Men?" It seems in theory almost anything and everything is possible if you talk to a Turk. And if you require too many logistics as many a foreigner might, then we appear to be the uptight ones with no vision. Over a tea, everything is "yaparız" (we'll do it) and "olur tabi" (of course it's possible), insinuating that Turkey is a land where everything is possible. However, when it comes to actually following through with said ideas, it's a whole different story, and takes us back to the trait of being unable to plan anything.
In addition, there are many factors at play in planning or following through with a plan in Turkey. Suddenly, those grand dreams are reduced to minute tasks of vital importance that require running around the city - from bad directions and bureaucratic desks to ending up exhausted and often no further forward. For this I suggest acquiring the trait of "keyif" and accepting the journey as par for the course.
'Patient vs impatient'
When I was an hour late to a very important meeting due to the time change, my gracious hosts were kind and understanding as tends to be the case in Turkey when running late due to unforeseen circumstances. They know to be patient and mellow, and they pride themselves on their ability to switch to "relax mode" at any moment. They patiently wait for storekeepers to make change, and stopping for a cup of tea at said shop is also par for the course. They are extremely kind and helpful when you need something or ask for directions, although they may not be right - another enigma of the Turks.
However, when they get behind the wheel, the desk of a bureaucratic office or in any sort of line, all gloves are off. I find it so bizarre that this kind, compassionate and caring culture turns into one of the most impatient on the road. Likewise, their tendency to invade personal space and cut in line seems uncharacteristic, and I can only attribute it to their desire to be somewhere else that matters more or is at least more enjoyable.