Friday, June 27, 2008


All day yesterday and today I have been thinking about that blog review. I wasn't offended by anything the reviewer said. Everyone who left comments gave me great feedback. Made me think. But one comment that wasn't even left on my blog really hit me. The person left a comment on the original review site. The comment said

I'm sure she's lovely, but she's that kind of expat (usually Americans like myself) who just don't assimilate. That's why you're not getting what you're after Gene.

I thought a lot about those words. About assimilating into Turkish culture. She's right that we haven't totally assimilated. And while there are many ways that we could further adapt to our host culture there are things we have done to fit into the culture. Things like buying all Turkish furniture. We didn't have any of our stuff shipped here. We don't own a car, but our company has one we borrow on occasion. I would much rather take public transportation anyway. Everyone here thinks Americans are wealthy so we try not to perpetuate that myth as much as we can, and, well...we aren't wealthy at all so that helps! We have studied Turkish since we arrived. We are by no means fluent, but can conduct quite a bit of our lives in Turkish. Our kids went to Turkish schools for the first two years so that they could get Turkish culture and language. Their education suffered some at the time, but they were able to catch up when we moved them to an international school. I have only been keeping a blog for the last 2 years or so, and 7 months of that was spent in America. I wish I had been blogging when we first arrived. I'm sure the culture shock we went through, the many language frustrations, the complete inadequacy we felt as we tried to help the kids do homework in Turkish...all of that would be really interesting for me to look back on now. I know those posts would have been vastly different than the ones you are reading now. So many people who commented when I asked for feedback on what I could do to improve the blog said that I needed to share more of myself...how I feel about things. Since this comment brought back many of those early feelings I thought I would try to capture some of them here.

We decided to move to Turkey in the summer of 2001. We had never been to Turkey and had no idea what to expect. Oh, we watched videos on Turkey and read books about the culture, and thought we knew what we were getting into. Let me tell you...we had no clue.

We sold or gave away all of our furniture, sold our house, and moved all the things we weren't ready to get rid of to a storage unit. After months of preparation we were finally ready to move overseas in March of 2002. We moved to Turkey with 19 pieces of luggage. That was all. It seemed like a lot until we were trying to pack all that we thought we would need in those action packers. I was given a list of all the things you couldn't get but would probably want by an American woman who was living in Turkey. It was mostly a list of kitchen items. I found out later that this woman loved to cook. Even though I had never used things like mint extract and sea salt I packed them anyway. Surely she knew what I would need better than I did. The good pots and pans she recommended bringing were taken out of the luggage to make room for toys. We had four small children. I decided I would just buy pots in Turkey so that they could have the space. She recommended bringing good towels. To Turkey...the home of the Turkish towel. She said all the good towels were exported so we brought a few towels. We figured we would just buy whatever they had here to supplement what we brought. And the list went on. We packed those 19 bags full and got on the plane.

My first bit of culture shock happened immediately after arriving in Turkey. We were met at the airport by the guy who was going to be Brian’s business partner. He led us out to his van. Our two youngest kids were still in car seats in America. The van we were now about to ride in didn’t even have seatbelts much less car seats. My 2 and 4 year old loved it, but I was a nervous wreck! For the next 30 minutes I just prayed we would make it to the place we were to call home without getting killed by the insanely crazy driving I was witnessing out my window!

On the way to our place we passed many run down looking houses and some tall buildings. I had no idea that the tall buildings were apartment buildings. I fully expected to be living in one of the run down things we were passing. When we pulled up to our building it was like a dream. Our apartment building was new so there were only a few other tenants in it. We were the only Americans. Our new friends had already purchased a stove, washing machine, and refrigerator for us so all we had to do was get everything else we would need to live!

Those first few weeks all we did was shop. We bought mattresses first and slept on the floor. We slowly purchased all that we would need to actually be able to live here. Including nice pots and pans and nicer towels than I had ever owned from a seconds bin at the pazar. I had never shopped so much in my life. Honestly I don’t like to shop so it got old quite quickly for me. Picking out furniture when nothing looked like what I was used to was difficult. The couches and chairs were so firm. Nothing like the nice soft furniture in America. Mattresses were the same way. I think I had bruised hips for a month because of how hard the mattress was.

I think back on those shopping days and how frustrating it was. We couldn’t do anything by ourselves since we didn’t know any Turkish. I remember being laughed at by a check-out clerk and the lady standing behind me in line when I had no idea what she was asking me. I remember being flabbergasted by the lack of a line at a customer service desk. I will never forget the frustration I felt when our heater wasn't working and it took a gas man, a plumber, and an electrician to fix one appliance. Through all of that we managed to persevere. And we had several people who were gracious enough to take us places and translate for us as we pieced together a new life.

But all of that was nothing compared to how I felt about my kids. I had uprooted them from the only life they had ever known. I had taken them away from grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins as well as friends. I had plopped them down in a place where they knew no one and not one word of the language they heard in the streets. I had to make sure they were adjusting before I could even think about myself. One of the things I remember repeating to them over and over was that we were a family, and as long as they had each other they had friends. I knew that would only work for so long though.

Next door to our apartment building was a vacant lot. It was littered with trash, broken bricks, and all kinds of treasures. It quickly became my kids’ favorite place to play. One day while they were outside playing a boy who looked to be about Will’s age came out of the building and started to play in the lot as well. For a while they played separately each observing the other. I watched from the window to see if they would play together despite the language barrier. Finally the Turkish boy joined my kids in building their playhouse. Words were exchanged, but I don’t know if they really understood each other. Later that afternoon when my kids came in they were so excited about the games they had played with their new friend. They went into a long drawn out story about the game of princess and bad guys they played. I have often wondered what the Turkish boy said to his parents about their game. Did he call it by the same name?

I think I will stop here. My mind is full with thoughts from those first few months. I think I will spread them out some.

(Oh...and Sra I totally had doner for lunch today and thought of you.)


Anonymous said...

I think you hit the nail on the head with this post Natalie... as far as what some people want to know about you.

In all seriousness, it is one of the best things you have ever written... I can't wait to read the next installment!

Thanks for opening up a bit more and telling the beginning of a wonderful story.... I am sure it will be enjoyed by many people!

Brittany said...

This is such an exciting post, I have been wondering the back story on why you moved to Turkey!

LiteralDan said...

Great post-- I can't wait to hear more!

SuperJediMom said...

I didn't comment on the last post but I am going to comment for both right now. I personally love your blog. I knew nothing about you until I started reading it. I am glad that you write what you do because it will help me know what my parents are going into when they come that way someday. Or I might fall in love with the place through you and move my family there. Either way I love your blog and it has helped me learn lost of good things about Turkey. Thank you!

Mike S said...

OK, now that hits a sour note with the Old Indian!! It reminds me so much of all the times over the years when we lived near an American base or large company with foreign managers. I finally got used to the two groups of folks, the GIs who NEVER left their little enclave or lived 'on the economy' but never tried to fit in, the Embassy folks who were mainly the same, and the foreign workers who were also a mixed bag, but similar. The other group invariably was composed of a number of young adults who had taken positions as English instructors(or other nationalities) who were almost totally assimilated and let everyone know it with their haughty attitudes, not all, but a great deal of them.

I was sort of in a group of my own, fluent in the language of whichever country it was, knowledgeable of the customs & culture, literate in whichever language it was, and not associated closely with any large organization to all appearances. One of my biggest kicks was in joining in conversations about myself or my family/friends being held within easy earshot of us by either the locals or those instructors. I'd wait until they'd speculated & gossiped a bit about us and then casually and smiling politely answer their speculation in whatever language was involved. The real fun was when there'd be several nationalities together from one of the schools who were switching around in the course of the conversation. The looks on their faces when I'd speak to them in each tongue I was able to was almost as priceless as the one they'd get when my kids were younger and would pipe in and add something in perfect local dialect. They usually attended the schools of the country whenever possible.

The person who made that comment just sounds so like one of those young instructors. You dun just great in the assimilatin' department, all of you. It's not every foreigner in any country who can succeed, especially not for an extended time as you've done.

You've really accomplished a lot and have memories and stories that will be told long after we're just ancestors. A record of achievement to be proud of.

(ps...when I said it felt like talking to an old friend, I meant when reading your words. Only been a short time, but you have a way of telling everyone who and what you are without effort or being obvious.)

Anonymous said...

sounds to me like you have adapted to your environment just fine!
I soooo remember those feelings of being overwhelmed but I didn't have kids to add to the mix.
As far as 'assimilation' goes (and here I for once will draw upon my moldy old thesis that I wrote about that very thing), that is a very long process taking years and years and, seeing as how you are a sojourner, not an immigrant, no, maybe you will never 'assimilate' but you have more than adapted to your second culture, which is more than a lot of expats do. I'm not sure what the comment was about regarding you 'not assimilating'. I wonder if most people understand what it technically means.
I'll get off my academic high-horse now and say good for you for writing this all down. Not only will you love having it to reference later, it will help you process your experiences and it will REALLY ENTERTAIN us, your readers, which is OF COURSE the most important thing :)

Sue Doe-Nim said...


Now I love you. But it'll suck when you get a book deal and I have to pay to read...

Nanny Goats In Panties said...

I'm not sure which site you are referring to, but I just submitted mine to a site that tears people apart too, I wonder if it's the same one... I thought it might be fun. Or funny. And having seen the review you got, I'd say they were very nice to you, compared to what I've read about others (and if it's the same site). I have no idea if I'm going to take it well when they review mine...we'll see.

I hope you haven't been upset over that review. First of all, it's one person's opinion. You should just take what you find useful and forget the rest. And don't any of it personally. And I didn't read all the feedback you got from your readers so for all I know, I'm simply repeating what they've said.

The Over-Thinker said...

I admire the heck out of you and your family. My review? A+


Natalie said...

charlie girl - thanks. there will be more.

brittany - thanks. if you have any questions don't hesitate to ask.

literaldan - thanks

supermom05 - thanks. i'm sure you've heard a lot from your parents! we would love for you to visit!

mike s - well. i just figured this girl didn't know me or what my story was. i saw it as a challenge to tell my story. i do know what you are saying though. i get frustrated with those people on both sides...those who don't even try to adapt and those who think they know it all. being a lifetime learner is the best we can do. there will always be someone who knows more than me pretty much everywhere i go!

mdwest - i know. assimilating is almost impossible. adapting and trying not to offend is what we are going for. i don't expect people to take american names when they move to america. i don't expect them to change all their habits or customs either. i expect them to retain some of their own culture and heritage. i have no idea why some americans think we should be turkish. the turks don't expect us to be!

sue doe-nim - thanks. i think the pressure to actually write a book will be what keeps me from doing it!

nanny goats - i wasn't upset about the review at all. and it may be the same one. i was just glad i didn't get any flaming fingers! i did find it useful. and the reviews from the other readers helped me see what else people want to know about me. it was all good!

over-thinker - thanks! i appreciate that!

Anonymous said...

I loved reading your story of how you got there, and I think it is hilarious that "another american lady" told you to bring sea salt and mint extract and you obeyed and brought it! I can remember when we first got there and I was told never to wear sleeveless dresses, only to see women wearing alot less everywhere I went! love the blog!

Natalie said...

dana - i know...i should have thought through what we were packing a little better...but you know how it is! you honestly have no idea what you will really need until you are here and start missing something! i did use that salt on pretzels i made, but i think the mint extract was given away.

Andrea said...

Super! I felt anxius for you as I read this post.

I hate the feelings of embarrasement when you can't communicate with store clerks and others in your environment.

It is hard to assimilate. We are one of about ten or so American families in our town. It's hard to be the ones that get a second glance. They are friendly, but you still get looks. I wish that my kids would learn to lower their voices also...

Natalie said...

andrea - thanks. it was an interesting time for sure! it is hard to assimilate. i don't see many people who do it successfully. i think we have adapted quite well, but there are some things i will never do like my host culture. and i am ok with that. and i agree on the lowered voices thing! americans tend to be loud. i had no idea until i came here! i can spot an american on vacation so fast! i usually hear them before i see them!