Tag Archives: Turkey

The doctor will see you now …

I think I’ve only ever been in hospital for treatment a couple of times in my life but, the other day, I found myself inside one in Antalya.

I’ll admit I was a bit worried for 48 hours but it was my own fault really; I was being a typical bloke. I’d known there was something wrong for a while but hadn’t gone to see a doctor in case I was told something I didn’t want to hear.

Without droning on about my symptoms, I’m happy to say it turned out to be nothing serious – at least nothing that can’t be treated with a few tablets.

But the episode did highlight preconceptions I had which, with the benefit of hindsight, I feel pretty foolish about now.

So, in case there are any other idiots like me out there who think it’s better to soldier on rather than consult the health experts, I thought I’d use this blog to share my experience of the Turkish system*.

(* The following is not the result of scientific or detailed research. Other people’s experiences are also available).

Clinics and GPs’ surgeries

Clinics serving expat communities may be a little different and geared to reflect the European experience but, if you visit a more authentic Turkish surgery, don’t expect to have to make an appointment to see a doctor or deal with a Rottweiler behind a reception desk; there may not be one. You walk in, take a seat and wait your turn.

The waiting area may seem pretty full on arrival but bear in mind not all of the folk hanging around are necessarily patients. It’s not unusual for Turks to bring a few family members along so as many as five or six could troop in to see the doctor at once.

In Turkish society, doctors seem to be held in some awe and are therefore used to being shown considerable respect. As a result, their manner can sometimes seem aloof or even brusque. It can take a little getting used to if your previous doctors have always spoken gently or hedged their bets when it comes to a diagnosis.

But it’s worth knowing that, if a GP decides further tests are required, you won’t have to wait weeks or months to see a consultant. You will probably be sent to the hospital or to see a specialist immediately. If you can drive, great; if not, you could find yourself being bundled into a taxi.

On arrival at the hospital

Unless it’s an emergency admission, the first port of call for expats is not the main reception desk but usually the Tourism Office or International Desk.

All you need to do is introduce yourself and explain why you’re there. Simple.

The interpreter will take your ID or residency permit, check if you have relevant insurance and, if it’s valid, guide you to the doctor or consultant you need to see.

Sometimes, you will have to wait a little while; on other occasions you may find yourself sitting across the desk from a consultant within minutes of arrival.

Not having to hang around can be a revelation but being swept along can also be a bit bewildering. Blood tests, ultrasound scans, X-rays or ECGs can all happen on the same morning – remarkable if you’re used to waiting months for an appointment. However, it’s probably not a bad idea to keep a note of who you’ve seen and why.

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An unexpected visit to the OFM Hospital in Antalya was nevertheless comfortable and, ultimately, nothing to worry about.

The consultation

If, like mine, your Turkish isn’t yet good enough to follow a technical consultation, your interpreter will stay with you to help you overcome the language barrier. It’s … novel, having an extra body in the room discussing your health but it’s better than important details being lost in translation.

You may also find Turks are not always shy when it comes to things like privacy or personal modesty – at least not when the patient is male. For example, if you’re asked to partially undress for an examination, you could be moved to another room or even another department without being given the chance to cover up.

Staff, orderlies or even the cleaners may come and go mid-procedure without batting an eyelid and Turkish patients don’t seem to mind; indeed, from what I’ve seen, a selfie with a relative looking wan and hooked up to a saline drip on a hospital bed is something of a staple on many a Turkish Facebook feed.

Also, plonking you semi-clad in a wheelchair and pushing you to the next test is probably quicker than waiting for you to get dressed and then undressed again, which helps speed the process along for those still waiting in line.

However, what you can expect is sincere and spoken sympathy from all who pass. Nursing staff, a hospital porter, members of the hospital administration team and even other patients wished me all the best on one short journey between consulting rooms.

Results

Feedback on your tests is impressively rapid. Analysis of blood samples or X-rays taken in hospital can be back within hours. It’s the same with ECGs while it’s likely the doctor will even give a live commentary on what they can see during ultrasound scans.

If you’re the sort of person who likes the facts served straight, it’s refreshing to be given a diagnosis so speedily. It’s not so great if you prefer a sugar-coating though.

Perhaps it’s because Turkish society is generally less litigious; perhaps it’s because illnesses are generally embraced rather than being seen as a badge of weakness. But, whether you’re in hospital or among Turkish friends, don’t expect any discussion about your health to be dressed up or couched in cautious terms.

If you see a consultant, it’s likely you will be informed succinctly of any condition you may have and what you should do as a result.

The chemist

Personally, I find the Turkish fascination for the “eczane” perfectly understandable. There always seem to be hundreds of them around each and every hospital but I haven’t yet met one who isn’t unfailingly patient or pleasant.

Also, the array of drugs available over the counter is more extensive than you may be used to elsewhere in Europe; there’s no “nanny state” intervention if you want to buy more than one packet of Panadol, for example.

However, some favourite remedies offered in other parts of Europe may be absent for reasons I’m afraid I’m unable to explain. As a result, a bottle of Night Nurse is usually among the “contraband” in our suitcases on a return from the UK (purchased only after a lecture from the chemist on using it as a cold remedy and not a sleeping draught, of course).

So, in conclusion, if anyone’s new to Turkey and finds they’re not feeling great, I’d urge them not to worry too much about the complexities of seeing a doctor. Although its does rely on personal insurance, I’ve found the Turkish health system is pretty simple to use, generally well-equipped and very responsive.

Of course, I hope I don’t have to use it again for a while but, if I do, it won’t be with any trepidation.

* Sincere thanks to all health professionals who saw me in Fethiye as well as staff at the OMF Hospital in Antalya. Also to Mrs Parsley for resisting the urge to kill me anyway for being reckless with my health and to family and friends who rallied round for a couple of days to keep the house and business ticking over. You all know who you are …

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‘Ow much?!

When we moved to Turkey it didn’t take us long to work out that there are times when the local economy operates on a three-price structure.

There’s the price the tourists pay; there’s the price for expats – although, personally, I don’t like the word – and then there’s the price paid by the Turks.

We didn’t mind that much to begin with and, to be honest, when we found ourselves paying less for goods and meals out in the village shops and bars after a while, it felt like we’d made some progress.

But sometimes, when we venture away from our usual haunts, we find we’re back to square one. A little bit of the local language helps but, when Turkish friends ask how much we paid for this or that (no one’s shy about asking that in Turkey, by the way) they’ll wince and pronounce we handed over far too much.

It doesn’t matter if it’s a meal out or a big purchase like a car – the hiss of breath or a shake of the head has frequently condemned us as mere babes in the art of negotiation.

Mind you, we’ve learned the reason for their disappointment isn’t always the damage done to our finances. Sometimes, the hissers of breath and suckers of teeth are rueing a missed opportunity to take a cut themselves in return for the referral.

We’ve learned to haggle with the best on our own account when it’s appropriate. Even our teenage daughter is now proficient at bartering.

Nevertheless, it would perhaps be a little conceited not to concede that we’re sometimes still paying a higher price than the locals, although it’s never seemed a big deal in the scheme of things – at least not enough to make a song and dance about it.

Like many others, we’ve found our happy places, our trusted trades folk and taxi driver, and we tend to push most of our business their way.

Having said all that, when you live abroad, there will still be times when you suspect you’ve been well and truly had – and that can rankle enough that you’re still suppressing indignation weeks later.

And with the economy being what it is in Turkey at the moment, the risk of it happening has increased significantly. Inflation is currently running at over 20% and even the basics like bread and groceries are costing quite a bit more. As a result, some Turks are covering their losses by caning foreigners’ wallets.

Their arguments for it can be hard to swallow. We’ve been told some are doing it as they believe yabancı (foreigners) ought to feel privileged to stay in Turkey and should therefore pay an inflated price for it. Others presume that, if you come from overseas, you must have loads of money stashed away so you can afford to pay much more anyway.

Of course, those who see the expat community as convenient cash cows are not going to say so openly. They will present your bill with a smile and hope you will pay without a word – and, of course, many do.

I know we have and it’s not because we don’t realise we’ve just been stung. Often it’s simply because we Brits are just so …. well, British … and don’t like to make a fuss.

We’ll fume afterwards of course; we may even vent our spleen on Facebook or vow never to go back. But we can still be bounced into paying well over the odds because we’re just not that keen on confrontation.

I know the Turkish love of banter or even bare-faced cheek has sometimes loosened a little extra from my wallet but I’ll also admit to letting something slide just because I didn’t want to cause a scene.

But, using tactics recommended by friends, we’ve learned it is possible to sidestep at least some of the wide boys simply by asking for a price for whatever it is you’re buying up front. If you don’t like it, walk away. Sometimes, the asking price drops considerably before you’ve reached the door.

Similarly, some good advice we were given after living in Turkey for several months was never to buy from a business which doesn’t advertise its prices. Of course, it’s supposed to happen by law anyway but, like many things, it’s not a rule regularly enforced.

And, lastly – although I suspect quite a few would disagree – some of our Turkish friends have advised against tipping at restaurants. In their view, it’s something tourists do; if we do it too then it reinforces the argument that Brits have more money than they know what to do with, increasing the risk of being overcharged next time.

I suppose none of it is rocket science really. In fact, as a naturalised Yorkshireman, it ought to be harder to prise money from my wallet anyway.

But if I had a rewind button and could do the last five years again, I don’t mind admitting I’d be applying our friends’ top tips from day one. I suspect quite a few others would too.

Eyes Wide Shut

Isn’t it funny how quickly we take things for granted?

One of the many beautiful views we enjoy on a regular basis.

I know how lucky I am to live in such a beautiful part of the world, but even in the short three years we’ve been here, I don’t always appreciate it on a daily basis.

Last night, driving out of the village to meet a friend for dinner – a rare occurrence; people think our lives are one big holiday but they really aren’t – I was struck afresh by the sheer beauty of my surroundings. Nothing in particular – simply that the sky was so blue and the woods still so green; Babadağ’s imposing presence loomed in front of us while the sun cast a soft, glowing light over the hills as it began its evening descent.

Due to the fierce summer heat, we’re currently walking Dill the Dog at the extreme ends of the day – around 6.30am and 8pm – and I realised I don’t always make the most of it. With the local goat population seemingly on hiatus during the hottest weeks, you feel like you’re the only person in the world as you walk in the woods sometimes – especially on the early shift. (I’m not a morning person and when it’s my turn I mutter and groan when that alarm goes off – but it’s a special time of day once you’re up and about.)

One of the storks – I disturbed it drinking from a pond.

We’ve been fortunate in recent weeks to observe porcupine scuttling across the path, a badger that’s set up home in the dried-out river bed, wild boar snuffling among the trees, a pair of eagles, a young fox, the village storks who have come back to nest for another season…. Sitting quietly and watching them go about their lives is a privilege.

Yet I know on occasion, when I’ve returned home and Steve’s asked the question we always put to each other – “Did you see anything?” – I’ve responded along the lines of: “Only the eagles.” Only? Since when did seeing a pair of eagles start out of a nearby tree and soar overhead become so commonplace? Ridiculous to think that I can get more excited about seeing a tortoise – as commonplace here as hedgehogs are in the UK – bimbling along the track ahead of me.

So, my summer resolution is to remind myself to take more notice of my surroundings. To look at and appreciate the things I see every day which I had already stopped noticing. I’m fortunate enough to live a life many would love – I should relish it every single moment.

Looking down across Fethiye from one of the mountain tracks.

The sun rising through trees in the local forest.

 

 

 

Silver Service

When we were first married, our silver wedding anniversary seemed a very long way into the future. And if anyone had told me we’d be living in Turkey by then, I’d have laughed in their faces.

Wedding

Our wedding day, 1992-style.

 

Yet fast forward 25 years and here we were, feeling like the big day was only yesterday. Plans for a big party or vow renewals had gone out of the window – after all, who would we be doing it for? Life’s had its ups and downs, naturally, but we’re still happy together, secure in our feelings, without feeling the need for any public affirmation.

Friends, though, said we really should mark the occasion in some way. They kindly agreed to look after the furry members of the household, and we headed off on a minibus – along with 11 other travellers and our wonderful guide, Yalçın – for a whistle-stop two-day tour of Ephesus and Pamukkale. Both were stunning, and I especially fell in love with the hot springs and terraces of Pamukkale. Some places speak to your soul, and this was one of them.

Pamukkale

On the terraces at Pamukkale.

Lovely Yavuz, our travel agent, had told the hotel we were celebrating and they’d made a real effort – flowers and wine in the room, rose petals on the bed spelling out ‘Seni seviyorum’ (‘I love you’), towels twisted into intricate swan shapes. We truly appreciated it, but as always it was the less-than-perfect details that made our trip. (We have form here. Our mini-break to Oxford wouldn’t have been nearly as memorable without the hotel that had corridors too narrow to walk down facing forwards, reeked of cabbage, and had an en-suite shower that was in the wardrobe.)

As it was still early season, our party were the only guests and staffing levels were low. When it came to bar, kitchen and restaurant duties, one guy was covering them all – and with very bad grace. (He occasionally shouted at a sulky-looking girl at a nearby table, exhorting her to help, but she merely sipped a glass of water, looked disinterested and stayed put.)

The Turkish answer to Basil Fawlty was obviously irritated at the disruption these British visitors brought to his otherwise peaceful existence, and banged down plates with bad grace. The food looked ok – a butterflied chicken breast coated in spices served with chips, rice and vegetables – but it was cold. We realised all the meals had been plated up for the start of service at 7.15pm.

As we ate, we spotted a cat slinking in through the door and under a table, from where emanated a low mewling. “There’s a litter of kittens under there,” said Steve. “She’s come back to feed them.” (I was glad the hotel was being kind to them, of course, but it’s not what you’d usually expect to find in a restaurant.)

Afterwards we retired to the covered but open bar area to watch a pretty spectacular thunderstorm – but didn’t stay long. The rain dripped steadily through leaks in the canopy, and Basil had to dash around moving furniture and putting out buckets to catch the puddles.

For some, such incidents are cause for complaint or mar an otherwise enjoyable trip. For us, it’s added entertainment value. Being able to laugh together is a mainstay of our marriage – along with sarcasm and an irresistible urge to take the mickey out of each other at every opportunity.

It might not have been the grandest or most lavish way to celebrate 25 years of marriage, but it was special, memorable and very ‘us’. Next milestone? We’re going for gold.

 

 

Don’t Call Me Baby

Angry baby

I was sitting on a beach chatting the other day with friends who are not resident in Turkey but who visit regularly. Naturally, the conversation sometimes turns to the challenges we face living abroad and, although I can’t remember now which particular one I was addressing, I know I was elaborating on differences between life in Turkey and the UK.

Suddenly, in a pause, a compact, dark-haired lady sitting nearby interjected abruptly, asking: “So you live here?”

“Yes,” I replied, smiling, expecting the usual questions about what it’s like to reside in permanent sunny splendour, surrounded by beautiful scenery and such lovely people.

“How long for?” she added. And, suddenly, I knew what was coming.

“Just under two years now,” I said – and waited.

“Oh, well, you’re just a baby then…” And BOOOOM!  She was off, relating stories of her own about her 18 years in country and very deliberately putting me in my place as an inexperienced incomer.

I’m not sure why it happens but I think it’s maybe because, as a resident of a country where so many head for their annual holiday in the sun, you sometimes find yourself the subject of some fascination. After all, you are living their dream and they want to know what it’s like. Start talking about it, and you can soon find yourself the centre of attention. Personally, it’s not something I’m particularly comfortable with but I’ve come to realise that others crave it.

I’m by no means saying all ex-pats do, but some seem to believe their years in Turkey are a badge of honour which ought to be respected and they don’t want to see a relative newbie steal their thunder.

Usually I shrug inwardly and leave them to it. In the early days then yes; sometimes the interest from holidaymakers we’ve met was flattering. But now, if anyone asks about my life here, I try to keep my answers brief. It’s partly because I don’t want to stamp all over people’s dreams with tales of the reality; they don’t want to hear about freezing cold houses in winter, flaky internet, unreliable water and electricity supplies and life with no Cheddar cheese. But I’m also aware I’m still learning every day myself and one of those lessons is that there might be someone with more time under their belt than me lurking somewhere nearby ready to pounce – and sometimes, as on this occasion, I find it irksome.

I’ll happily listen to good advice and I recognise there are plenty of people who have lived here much longer and know far more than I do about the potential pitfalls. But being patronised always puts my teeth on edge and I found being called “just a baby” particularly presumptuous.

The thing is, although I may have only lived in Turkey for a couple of years, I have lived overseas before. My work has also taken me abroad many times, even to a couple of war zones. But this particular lady seemed determined to pigeon-hole me as a romantic fresh from the UK, still wearing rose-tinted glasses with nowhere near the experience necessary even to talk to tourists.

It’s by no means the first time it’s happened. If you live in Turkey, I suspect you’ll find as we have that there is often someone itching to tell you how little you know, how naïve you have been or how much better they have managed or adjusted to life here. The trick is working out which ones are worth listening to.

Of course I don’t have all the answers and probably never will. I’ll freely admit we’ve made some howlers and learned a few things along the way. But isn’t that what life is about? I certainly feel I’ve as much right as anyone to tell a few funny stories to anyone who shows an interest.

But do me a favour. If we meet and I ever describe you as “just a baby”, slap me. Okay?

“Do You Want To Phone A Friend …?”

Remember Chris Tarrant? I do … and let me explain why.

Genial and quick-witted, there was a time when it seemed Chris was everywhere. Radio shows, games, books and of course perhaps his most famous role as host of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. And that’s why he sometimes pops into my mind when I try to speak Turkish.

Why? Well, in the show, if you didn’t know the answer to any of the questions Chris fired at you, you had three “lifelines”. You could ask the audience, you could go 50/50 and eliminate some of the wrong ones or you could phone a friend. And, if I’m honest, I’ve done the equivalent of all three while trying to make myself understood in Turkish.

As an example, let’s use our attempt to buy some tempered glass for the wood-burner after the last sheet detonated rather dramatically in the middle of a family evening in front of the telly the other night.

We looked up “glass” “fire” and “wood-burner” and set off for the shop in Fethiye and, on arrival at  the workshop, found three guys in conversation, the middle one stopping to raise an inquiring eyebrow. We’ve done more than a year of Turkish lessons now and I had been reasonably confident we’d be able to say something like: “Hi, we need two sheets of tempered glass for a wood-burner.” Sadly, despite the preparation, nothing came out.

Try as I might, I just couldn’t marshal the words into a sentence quickly enough and, as I became increasingly aware of the long pause, I panicked. I pointed at some glass, I said the Turkish word for “fire” and hoped that was enough.

But no. The shopkeeper replied with some quick-fire Turkish and all I could do was look at him helplessly – and that’s usually where Chris Tarrant steps in.

“Do you want to use one of your lifelines?” he asked in my head, when actually, what I wanted to do was just make myself coherent. “Do you want to ask the audience?”

I looked hopefully at Bec. Nope. No help coming from there. The other two guys in the shop had wandered off and there was no chance of catching their eye either.

“Do you want to use your 50/50?” Chris was asking. I fumbled with my phone hoping the translation app was still open so I could show the shopkeeper the words we looked up earlier in the hope he could make sense of what we’re after from that. It wasn’t.

“Do you want to phone a friend?” inquired my imaginary Chris, although in the real world, it was actually Bec with her own mobile in her hand.

“Hmm?” I asked dazedly.

“Do you want me to call Bayram? He’ll be able to explain what we want …”

“Oh. Right. Yes. I suppose so.”

And minutes later there was a telephone conversation going on between the shopkeeper and our bilingual friend while I stood ashamed that, yet again, I couldn’t string a sentence together in Turkish – or at least not one that I was confident would make any sense.

After over a year of trying to learn a new language, I’m okay in the markets, bars and restaurants and I can even manage rudimentary car maintenance phrases after a series of issues with our Land Rover. But it’s when you enter a new scenario or when you’re dealing with officialdom that linguistic shortcomings become far more evident – and it can underline just how far you still have to go.

We’re fortunate to have a teacher with endless patience and a sense of humour too. Indeed, Bülent seems to find the stories I tell about how I’ve struggled this week quite amusing. But, then we’ll settle down to run through where I went wrong.

Besides, as Bülent points out, if we added up all the time we’ve spent in lessons together, it only comes to just over 100 hours, which is about three weeks if we worked on a nine-to-five basis. Is it really realistic to expect to be able to speak a new language fluently in such a short time? Probably not.

It’s true the effort you make to speak even rudimentary Turkish is appreciated by locals, and reciprocated in their smiles and even in the price you pay in the lokantas and at some of the market stalls. It is definitely worth the effort.

Nevertheless, I suspect it’s going to be a while before I’m free of Chris Tarrant.

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Ode to the Defender

IMG_3417“Why have you bought this?”

“Because I like them and I’ve always wanted one of my own.”

“But you will die in this in the summer. It will be so hot inside.”

“I could just open a window.”

“But no Turkish person would buy this from you!”

“Good. I have no intention of selling it…”

“You’re mad. This will cost you money after money; you are going to be so embarrassed. Why not just buy a nice little Fiat..?”

And, if we’re honest, looking back, our neighbour Tommy wasn’t completely wrong. Our big, unashamedly blue Land Rover Defender 110 hasn’t proved to be completely reliable. So far, we’ve replaced the rocker gasket, the head gasket, the clutch (twice), glow plugs and air filter. We’ve never enjoyed the luxuries of power steering, turbo power, windscreen washers (front or rear) or any form of heating, save that which radiates from the engine compartment. If it rains – and it does frequently in the winter – you get wet, rivulets finding their way inside and dripping from the roof onto knees and down the back of collars.

Progress on hills is, let’s say, sedate and, until we tinkered with the fuel pump, often accompanied by clouds of black smoke. The transfer box likes to dribble a little oil on the drive occasionally just to keep you on your toes and, after a cold snap, the engine can steadfastly refuse to start and then, five minutes later, fire up on the first turn of the key. Physically demanding to drive, it is without doubt the most challenging car I’ve ever owned.

But, despite the garage bills, the deafening engine noise at anything above 40mph, and the distinct lack of mod cons, not once have I regretted buying it. Indeed, “Lenny”, as he has become known both to us and our friends, has developed a character and become one of the family in his own right.

Our house is at the end of an unsurfaced lane which is often submerged under water after heavy or prolonged rain. To say your “nice little Fiat” would struggle with the pot holes is something of an understatement. And neither would I be that keen on chucking wet dogs in the back of a tidy family saloon after walks in the hills. Indeed, many of those walks have only been discovered because we’re not confined to roads and can explore along the old goat tracks which criss-cross the mountains around our home.

We’ve foraged for firewood, rescued broken down cars, transported up to 10 passengers – all seated and belted – to family events, all without problems. In town, a Land Rover is big enough to intimidate most drivers considering cutting you up at the next junction or set of lights and it’s somehow reassuring to know, if anything did hit you, nine times out of ten, they’re the ones who are probably going to come off worst. He may be slow, but like any Land Rover, he was built to last and, despite claims to the contrary, I have actually had three offers to buy him in the past 12 months

It’s sad therefore to know that today is the day the last Land Rover Defender will roll off the production line. The ultimate off-road vehicle, which has become a British icon as distinctive as the Mini or the Rolls Royce, has had its time.

Personally, I find it somehow demoralising to read there just isn’t the will or desire within Jaguar Land Rover to overcome the issues with emissions or whatever which appear to have led to the marque’s demise but, from today, there will be no more new Defenders to become farm work horses or heading for off-road adventures all around the world. We have ours though and, even though I’ve no doubt at all there will be more flappy clutch pedals, steaming radiators, leaky gaskets and infuriating intermittent electrical faults, I still have no intention whatsoever of letting it go …

SP