White Turks’ who want to move to İzmir should think again
Spring is turning to summer; you wake up early in the morning with that look of “wanderlust,” “la vie ailleurs,” or, in plainer terms “I want the get the hell out of dodge.”
Whether you are in the corporate rat race in Istanbul or in the bureaucratic greyness of Ankara, you dream of a greener life, where your garden grows and care-free friends sit at cafes after work. Then you read the now-viral article, “35 reasons to move to İzmir.” The 35 reasons (a wink to the city’s number plate number) is heartily adopted by Ertuğrul Özkök, Turkey’s greatest trend-setter for the last three decades, who says he will take İzmir, his hometown, any day. You have read “second career” success stories where high-flying executives find happiness in vineyards. And if you are a single girl, maybe, just maybe, you will meet the ultimate “Ege man” – suave, civilized, and easy-going who’ll sweep you off to the Alaçatı sunset. And surely, you can easily find professional and personal bliss in a city that would welcome accomplished and intelligent you…
Erospolis, with the arrogance of someone who has moved from the capital to İzmir, shares some tips with you before you set off on your Aegean dream.
1. A house, or even a sea-view flat, in the Aegean is no longer cheap – and the real estate prices are likely to go up. So, as far as rentals go, “half the cost of Istanbul” is a dream. “Less than Ankara prices” are laughable.
2. Be careful of what you wish for when you wish for a “slower life.” In this laid-back Aegean city, time wins over money every time. In everyday terms, it means it is you who will run after builders, plumbers and other service providers who do not have the habit of calling back. Getting things done fast is not a virtue here: İzmir municipalities and businesses race to become “slow food” or “slow life” – no pun intended.
3. You, the hierarchical-minded Ankaran or competitive Istanbulite, will not be welcomed with open arms. The İzmirian circles are hard to integrate into – after all, they have known each other for three generations. Ask İzmirians how they know each other, and it is not unlikely that the reply will be “well, our grandfathers were school chums.”
4. You cannot criticize anything that is İzmirian. Once you are here, you are supposed to adore everything, from crooked sidewalks to bad service. The İzmirians are rather like the European Union with candidates: “It is you who is trying to integrate into İzmir, not the other way around.” God help you if you say or hint at anything that indicates that İzmir is not paradise on earth and the only place an intelligent person would live in.
5. If you are not into a sea sport, learn it immediately. It is the best way to integrate. I will talk about this more as summer progresses. An intelligent Ankaran couple I know took sailing lessons together and made more friends than they did at work.
6. Your past experience and accomplishments in another city – be it Paris, Brussels, London or New York will not help you. Dropping international names won’t work either. İzmir has its own celebrity system which does not include politicians, high civil servants or scientists.
7. If you are a woman, accept the fact that all the women you meet will be prettier and better-pampered than you. The myth that all women of İzmir are beautiful is not an urban legend. Those who were born without the pretty genes got their nose jobs and liposuctions as a high-school graduation gift. While you were slaving away in an office, the İzmir girls spent hours at the gym, pilates and yoga; lightened their hair and darkened their eyebrows. Result: They are prettier than you at the age of 30.
8. “I may not be as pretty but I am intelligent and accomplished” does not work. İzmir’s accomplishment system is different than the city you come from. The fact that you have made million-dollar deals and sat with the prime minister is no conversation stopper. Your İzmirian friends will politely nod and go back to their topic of the best boat for sailing. Repeated references to anything work-related will just make you annoying, not interesting.
9. If you have arrived as a single woman on the look-out for coupledom, the chances are slim. Nearly all Ege boys have married in their 20s – to the girl next door at a Çeşme holiday resort or their classmate at university. Although you see large all-male or all-female groups in the sunny verandas, İzmir is essentially a couple’s town. The chances of you meeting a man “between marriages” are slim because “the whole village” tries to get him remarried with someone they know. My husband, who married me, an Ankara girl, was chided by one of his friends: “If we knew you wanted to re-marry, we would have introduced you to someone who is from here.”
10. İzmirian women Although they have outsourced most everything about their kids, their child is their main social activity and their main (often only) topic of conversation. Quickly learn about schools and other child-relevant topics and above all, do not even think about criticizing anything. The second topic for males and females is healthy-living, what to eat, what not to eat, yoga vs pilates. Come to terms with the fact that a little knowledge may be dangerous, but it is even more dangerous to argue with a self-styled expert who believes that Aegean herbs gives them eternal youth.
The above list is not one that aims to stop you. On the contrary, if your desire to move to the Aegean is not diminished, do come along. To be forewarned is to be forearmed.