Before we came to Turkey we were determined to make an effort to learn the language. We reasoned that if we wanted to integrate into village life, then being able to communicate without resorting to the usual pantomime of sign language would be important.
We made friends with the owner of a Turkish restaurant in Yorkshire and tried to visit once a week to practice the pronunciation of a few rudimentary phrases we thought might stand us in good stead. We bought phrase books and – although one evening with friends descended into an inevitable and puerile quest for rude words – made enough progress to be able to count to 20, say “hello”, “yes”, “no”, “pleased to meet you”, and even “Can I have the bill please?”
The thing is, once we arrived in Turkey, every attempt to use the language seemed to be greeted with accented but perfectly understandable English. Communication, it seemed, wasn’t going to be the problem we thought it might be …
But that was before we encountered officialdom.
If you’re a foreign national and you want to live in Turkey, then you need a residency permit – and that’s when you’re likely to come across bureaucracy for the first time.
I’m sure Turkey is no worse than anywhere else. Every nation has to have its established procedures and each one must seem equally convoluted to an immigrant. But here, anything official is definitely conducted in Turkish and, having been lulled into a false sense of linguistic security, suddenly, all our shortcomings were exposed.
Despite help from our Turkish friends who patiently tried to explain what was happening (thankyouthankyouthankyou), I’ll admit I lost count of how many offices we visited – or even why. All I can remember is sitting in front of a procession of desks while council officials, the village headman, tax officers and even policemen argued – sometimes vehemently – with our interpreter about details on the multitude of forms we’d filled in.
Perhaps the worst moment was when, during one encounter with the “belediye” – the equivalent of the district or county council – I noticed grins among the Turkish families waiting their turn at the desk as, without looking up, the official dealing with our case started waving our forms above his head, muttering something aloud which I took to be some sort of jest.
I thought smiling might at least help to portray my forbearance of the procedure, or at least that I was trying my best to co-operate – but the gimlet eye and sudden stiffness in the bearing of the officer suggested otherwise.
I still have no idea what our offence had been. Maybe there was a detail missing or a box not ticked … but, for an awkward ten seconds, it seemed our applications were in jeopardy. An interjection from Ahmed, our driver and interpreter, seemed to diffuse whatever faux pax we’d committed and minutes later the official’s stubby finger was tapping a final form I had to sign – but it felt like a close-run thing. The disdainful and pained look the official threw me as we left said it all.
After that, even the appointment at the harbour-front offices of the Fethiye passport police seemed more amicable. There were still no smiles, but at least the silence and the regular thump of an official stamp on a piece of paper felt reassuring. All we can do now is wait and hope our applications are successful.
If you found this blog and thought it was going to be an idiot’s guide to residency applications in Turkey, I can only apologise. I’m afraid I’m still none the wiser about the proper procedure myself.
However, if you are about to embark on a residency application, I’d thoroughly recommend having someone who speaks fluent Turkish alongside you at all stages of the process.
As for us, Turkish lessons have now begun in earnest with two-hour sessions booked for every Saturday. So far, we’re not much further forward than the Janet and John stuff – but at least we’ve made a start…