I am fascinated by relationships between foreign women and Turkish men. What is the attraction? Do they work? Having recently created a website where I intend to blog about ‘Love in Turkey’ in all its forms, I decided to do a survey to find out more. I used various Facebook groups and websites whose members are expat women living in Turkey who have had or currently have Turkish husbands or partners to elicit information and their views. I received 375 responses to the survey and there was an even distribution of ages between 20 and 50+, with a slight majority of 30-39 year band.
I am so appreciative of the many women took the time to comment or elaborate further on some of the questions. Their remarks were sad, tragic, funny and often enlightening and I will use examples throughout the article. Actually some of them made me laugh out loud so I will make sure to share these.
Initially, I was worried that the survey might attract those wishing to vent about relationships that had gone badly and that the results would be skewed by their negative responses but I was pleasantly surprised by the number of overwhelmingly positive responses and the interest the survey created. Sometimes being in such a relationship can feel like a lonely place to be, so hopefully, the women who participated will realise that they share many common issues and some of the frequently spouted myths about these relationships are not true.
All too often, the foreign tabloid media is eager to sensationalise stories portraying Turkish men as liars, thieves and cheats, where they have duped women out of significant amounts of money or lied about not being married. While I know there are examples of this being true, it is wrong to generalise and make the assumption that all Turkish men are the same.
It is also important to point out that Turkey is a huge country with many regional differences and is not just one culture. Modern day Turkey is a melting pot of old and new cultures and people’s experiences of living here and their relationship with their husband or partner very much depends on what area you live in. Foreign women living in large cities, such as Istanbul and Ankara, have a dissimilar experience to those who live in rural towns and villages or in the tourist resorts along the coast. Those who live in the south east of Turkey or whose husbands or partners originate for there, where the culture is more conservative and religious practices are more widely observed, have other challenges to face.
There is a common belief that relationships between foreign women and Turkish men don’t last and we all know that holiday romances don’t last don’t we? Wrong! A huge seventy-eight percent of respondents in my survey met their husband or partner while on holiday in Turkey and the results showed that the majority of those couples have been together for more than ten years. A significant number of women met their Turkish husbands/partners whilst living and working in Turkey: some were teachers working in private schools, some worked in tourism and some in other international institutions which had offices or branches in Turkey. Others met in social settings or met through friends or met while studying here. Fifteen percent of participants met their husbands /partners online, while seven percent met while their Turkish men were studying in their home countries.
The majority of respondents, sixty-four percent, were British, with a significant number of Americans, Eastern Europeans and Scandinavians followed by a wide array of other nationalities, including Brazilians, Australians, Filipinos, Jordanians and Belgians. Does this correspond to the most common nationalities coming to Turkey as tourists? Probably.
As I have written in a previous blog, ‘The Language of Love’, language plays an important part in cross cultural relationships and it was interesting to see that while more than half of the Turkish husbands/partners speak, read and write English fluently, only a fifth of their wives/partners speak, read and write Turkish fluently. However, as one respondent wrote, ‘Although he speaks fluent English, some things get lost in translation.’
Language and communication was one of the areas twenty-six percent of the women questioned said was a challenge they faced, with several saying that they wished they had learned Turkish in the early days of their relationships. A large proportion of women (fifty-seven percent) understand Turkish but their reading and writing is limited while five percent don’t feel a need to learn Turkish at all. Perhaps this is not surprising as English seems to be the main language of communication between the couples and the fact that the Turkish men will have learnt basic English at school and then either gone on to study abroad or at universities in Turkey where a certain level of English is required or improved their English through their work in the tourism industry.
The decision about where to live causes much stress between cross cultural couples. The current political climate means uncertain times for many and even those who have happily settled here are hesitant about a future in Turkey. However, sixty-four percent of those questioned say they plan to stay in Turkey for now, with half of those planning to stay forever. Several women stated that his was a source of tension in their relationship: ‘Neither of us likes each other’s country! We have lived in both but we are specialists at compromise.’
What is the attraction of Turkish men? According to the survey results, seventy-nine percent of the women stated that it was their husband/partner’s personality and character which was the main attraction. Physical appearance, a sense of humour, being romantic and how the men make them feel, along with shared life goals were also important factors. Only twenty-one percent of those surveyed said it was love at first sight. A couple of ladies reported that their men were ‘sexual stallions’ and one delighted that ‘he strummed on my guitar and it made me wee a little!’ One man was described as ‘ambitious, hard-working with a deep masculine voice’ while another ‘lived on his own and did his own housework, so I knew he wanted a wife and not a second mother!’ One couple met at an Argentine tango festival in Ankara: ‘We had a strong connection while dancing and matched perfectly.’
All relationships need work and commitment but interracial relationships have the added dimension of cultural differences to contend with. Cultural difference is a broad term meaning how people’s lifestyles and beliefs differ. It includes aesthetic issues like language and communication, cuisine and eating habits, punctuality, traditions and dress. The survey results showed that this was the main challenge, with forty-seven percent of women citing this as the one issue that caused the most tension in their relationships. Initially, learning about Turkish culture and traditions can be a fascinating journey, where all the quirks and anomalies seem quaint and interesting. As time goes on, these same things can either become an accepted part of daily life or the basis for irritation and frustration. A third of respondents wished that they had known more about Turkish culture in general before moving to Turkey.
My advice to anyone moving to Turkey would be to do your homework first. Google the place where you will be living as the climate, culture and way of life can be different depending on which area of Turkey you live. If there is no induction process with your job/university, I suggest joining the many Facebook pages and websites where you will be able to ask questions and look at previous discussions about living in Turkey. As one lady wrote: ‘I took nearly three years to learn about Turkish culture before I would agree to move here and marry my hubby. We think very differently and have had very different upbringings but I don’t think I am any better or any worse than him. I respect his beliefs as he does mine. We spent many hours before we were married talking about our lives, hopes and dreams for the future. Fifteen years on and with a child in tow we are still happy, still talk (and disagree!) and are still in love.’
Interestingly, I received very few comments about dress being an issue. Jane, from Muğla, wrote, ‘I’m not risqué in any way but leggings have caused a few arguments.’ Is the reason for this that foreign women are happy to change the way they dress to suit their Turkish husband/partner’s wishes or is it really not a big deal? Do we unconsciously dress more conservatively to avoid any conflict?
Moral values, ethics, religion and the status of women also come under the umbrella of cultural differences. While Turkey is a modern country, it still remains a male dominated society where some women are forbidden to do things that could bring shame on the family. A source of tension that some women commented on was the role of women in their families. Half of those surveyed wished that they had known more about their husband/partner’s expectations of a wife before they had committed to the relationship: ‘Our different expectations in our roles as husband and wife cause many arguments.’
Unlike many western societies, the mainstay of Turkish society is the extended family. It is not just the couple’s expectations which can be an issue. As one lady wrote, ‘The extended family’s different views on women’s roles is a problem for me.’ Another wrote,’ I don’t like the intervention of his family in our private life.’ However, several women wrote that they were appreciative of their Turkish extended family who supported them with child care and filled the emotional void of not being with their own families. Thirty-eight percent of the women questioned said that the most challenging issue of living in Turkey was missing friends and family back home.
It is hard not to be able to pop round to a friend’s for a cuppa or meet up for a spot of window shopping and missing out on celebrations back home can bring on feelings of homesickness and isolation. We rely on social media to keep up with what’s happening back home, sharing photos and posting messages to show our loved ones we are thinking about them. When there are children, it’s even more important that ties are not broken and they stay connected to their families in our home countries. Many of us wait with anticipation for parcels of goodies sent by friends and family to give us a longed for taste of a much missed food item or to receive something which is unavailable here. Giving up a career, a well-paid job, a home you have spent years creating or a life that is familiar are significant sacrifices to make to be with someone you love. Does your husband or partner acknowledge the sacrifice you made? A couple of women commented that their husbands were not at all sympathetic to the fact that they had given up their lives in their home countries to move to Turkey.
Differing values in bringing up children was a challenge fourteen percent of those surveyed face. While none gave specific reasons, I have twelve years’ experience of showing prospective parents around an international school in Ankara and have seen at first-hand how our western expectations of children can seem horrifying to some Turks. Upon hearing that our school expected a four year old to be able to wipe his own bottom and feed himself, one parent called me a ‘cruel witch!’ Conversely, the Turks doting attitude to their children can come across to us as being over-protective and the children being spoilt.
Finding work as an expat women can be tricky. Again, language can be a barrier to finding suitable work in our area of expertise, even if our expertise is acknowledged here. This, of course, has a knock on effect on finances. One quarter of respondents said they had problems finding suitable employment and that their financial situation was challenging.
Despite all the trials these relationships endure, it was heart-warming to read the many positive responses and see that the majority of women are very happy with their Turkish men. This is beautifully summed up by one lady’s reply: ‘We committed to make it work and we have for nearly forty years. It has made an amazingly diverse life for both of us through hard times and good times.’
In conclusion, I think it’s safe to say that relationships between foreign women and Turkish men are no different from any other. It is vital to be tolerant and respectful of each other’s cultures, to participate fully in the life and traditions of the country where we live and not blame the cultural differences as the reason a relationship doesn’t work. As one lady put it, ‘Our only problem is him just being a man!’
I would love to hear your thoughts and comments. Click on the ‘Comments’ tab on my Home Page and let me know what you think.