This week marked three months since my arrival in Turkey, and I finally feel that I’ve adjusted to life in Izmir. I understand and speak enough Turkish to get by (but that’s about it so far…), I know my way around the city, and most importantly, I feel comfortable here. My schedule has been getting busier, so I haven’t had the chance to write as much as I would like recently, but I promise that I’ll keep updating this blog!
One part of life in Izmir that I love most is the slow pace. Especially coming from the East Coast and a hectic summer job, I’ve really come to appreciate the culture here. I know that this isn’t necessarily Turkish culture — Izmir locals will never miss a chance to insult the general craziness and hustle and bustle of Istanbul — but at least in Izmir there’s a noticeably relaxed vibe. Maybe it’s the nearby sea and the (usually) warm weather or maybe something else entirely, but people here just aren’t in that much of a hurry.
From my observations, part of what it comes down to is a shared national addiction: tea. There is tea (in Turkish, cay) everywhere you look. Just about every restaurant offers you a glass of tea at the end of a meal, store-owners brew it daily (my barber insists I drink it!), and there are even traveling tea-sellers who walk around parks and busy streets. There is also never a bad time to drink it. From morning to late at night, Turkish people (and now me…) are downing the stuff. Though Turkish coffee is more well-known, it’s not as popular as tea here (but it’s also delicious). In fact, Turkey can boast that it drinks way more tea per capita than any other country. I love it and I would say at this point I’m drinking quite a few cups a day!
To go with this caffeine culture, there are countless cafes and restaurants here, all with outdoor seating (I’m in one right now, as I write this!). Even during the coldest nights you can sit outside under the electric heaters and fleece blankets provided by the cafe. Unlike our American on-the-go coffee culture, here it’s common to sit and enjoy a tea or coffee for a long time, whether over good conversation or games of tavla (backgammon/shesh-besh). Even on weekdays, these places are open until late. For an over-caffeinated place, Izmir is pretty relaxed.
This mentality transfers over to daily errands. In many cases there are different stores here for different needs — a fruit and vegetable shop, a fish store, a butcher shop, a store for nuts and coffee beans, etc. Though there are supermarkets, it’s still common to see people taking their time and visiting a number of stores to fill their shopping needs. If you can’t carry everything home in one trip, it’s perfectly normal to do two shopping trips back to back.
From a professional point of view, time here is more flexible as well. If you are a few minutes late to a meeting it’s just fine. Meeting times also aren’t set in stone and they can even change the day of, if necessary. There’s a sense of mutual understanding that everything will still get done, and it does. Though people here are serious about what they do, I don’t sense the same levels of stress as I did in America.
In case you couldn’t tell, I’m a big fan of the way of life here so far. There is more to come, but for now I’m off to drink more tea!