When I signed up for the Citizen of the Month Blogger Interview Experiment I got very lucky because I was given a double serving of good luck. Not only did I get to answer questions posed by Lara of Red, Red Whine but I also was assigned a great subject. For the Interview Experiment I had the pleasure of getting to know Natalie, the woman behind the curtain at Tell Me About It, and her husband Brian who stepped in to take a question. Natalie and Brian are Americans living in Turkey where they work, raise their kids and have a good time. Before I get to the Q&A let me tell you this: I could not have hoped a better interview subject, in short Natalie and Brian are awesome, as you’re about to see.
First, meet Natalie:
Let’s get the most obvious question out of the way; how did you and your family end up living in Turkey? Was it a difficult adjustment for the family?
Natalie – About 7 years ago my husband and I were ready to do something different. He worked for an oil and gas company as a computer analyst in their international office. He really wanted to actually work internationally, but the opportunities to do that were pretty rare. After their international office shut down and he was moved to the corporate office we decided to look around and see what we could find. We had a friend who had a company in Turkey, and he invited us to come and work with him. We said yes and have pretty much never looked back.
Now about the adjustment…that is a different question all together! The first year was the hardest. Turkish just about did us in. The sentence structure, grammar, all of it is completely different than English. And I’m lazy when it comes to studying anything! Just ask anyone who knows me and they’ll tell you! We put our kids in a Turkish school so they didn’t have a choice. Being immersed in Turkish 5 days a week pretty much guarantees you’ll get some of it. I think one of the hardest things to adjust to was not having our families close by. We were used to living within minutes of most of my family so to be mostly alone was hard. We’ve since made some great friends in our community who we like to treat like family. I’m not sure how much they appreciate the knuckle sandwiches and wedgies, but that’s too bad. That’s what being a family is all about! Oh yeah…adjusting…and the no pork thing. That pretty much still makes us cry. Just thinking about a nice crunchy piece of bacon makes my mouth water…
One of my favorite posts was the one where you stock your kitchen with free items that you got for buying certain products ( I remember my mother doing this about 25 years ago). Is this common in that part of the world? Did you get any unusual free items?
Natalie- I’m not sure how common it is for free things to come taped on products that you buy anywhere else other than Turkey, but here…you can pretty much live off of what you get for free! Well, not exactly. I think the most unusual thing we ever got for free was an iron taped to a bag of laundry detergent. We thought, “wow, an iron. that’s big!” but I think the only reason they were giving these irons away was because nobody would have ever bought one. It was the worst iron I have ever tried to use! The brand was something I had never heard of, and the only thing I think it might have been good for was to make a grilled cheese sandwich. I always wanted a sandwich maker!
I do wonder how they decide which products go together. I mean why would you tape a bag of pasta to a coke? I guess to make a complete meal. I do have free glass bowls in just about every size imaginable which comes in handy when you have to send a meal or a dish for some work or school event. If I never see my dish again I can always just go out and buy a box of tea or a some salami and get a new one!
So while the adjustment for you and your husband must have been difficult, what about your kids? Do they view your adopted nation as home?
Natalie – Oh yeah…the kids. I guess I should mention them in the adjustment. When we moved overseas they were 9, 6, 4, and 2 1/2. The two youngest have now spent over half their lives living in another country. At first when we would go back to America to visit it was like Disneyland for them. America had poptarts, and Chuck E. Cheese, and Dr. Pepper. It was the land where they were allowed to indulge in everything Reeses to their hearts desires. But they always viewed Turkey as home. We sold our house when we moved overseas so every time we went for a visit we always had to stay with family. While that was great they weren’t in their rooms, and their beds, with their stuff. After three weeks they were always ready to come back home. All that to say that Turkey was/is home.
We did encounter a different reaction when we went back to the states in June of 2006 for a 7 month stay. We lived in our own place, the kids went to public school, and we had a somewhat normal existence. When our 7 months were up and we were ready to head back to Turkey the kids were really sad to leave America. They had gotten to know family. They had made friends. They loved all the choices and opportunities America had to offer. The great thing was that we were coming back to our same house in Turkey. They were going back to the same school so it was almost like we had just had an extended vacation. They eased back into life overseas with no problems, but now I think that if given a choice they might choose to live in America.
While I know a lot about Turkish history before 1918, my knowledge of contemporary Turkey comes exclusively from the Rod Stewart hit “Young Turks” which used to play constantly on MTV around 1982; here’s a clip if you need refreshing. I doubt that Rod Stewart paints an accurate picture so I’ll ask someone who knows. What were the biggest surprises about everyday life in Turkey? Have you faced any difficulties because you’re an American?
Natalie – Oh my! That was funny. I have no idea why it is called Young Turks…nothing about it looks Turkish at all. And somehow I must have missed that back in 1982. I can’t imagine how though! I wasn’t allowed to watch mtv at home, but my best friend’s tv was permanently tuned to that channel. Ahh…JJ Jackson and Martha Quinn were so gnarly…um…awesome…like totally.
Oh wait…this question isn’t about mtv…ok. The biggest surprises about everyday Turkish life. Hmmm…that is a hard one.
One of the things that drove me crazy when we first moved overseas was how much time it took to do everything. There was no such thing as paying bills online or even mailing in your payments. We had to take our bills to a bank, the post office, or the actual phone or electric company to pay them. Not only did we have to pay in person, but we had to pay during a certain acceptable week printed on our bill. The electric bill could be paid between the 6th and the 12th, but the water bill couldn’t be paid until the week of the 14th. This meant that there was at least on bill to pay every week. It drove me crazy! The waiting in line to pay. Now they have added a pay online feature if you have an account at the proper bank, but we still choose to pay by hand. It doesn’t seem so insane anymore. And there is a place that will take all the bills next to my husband’s office. That means he gets to take care of them! Maybe that’s why I don’t mind it so much!
I think the other thing that surprised me about Turkey was how modern it looked on the outside. The girls wearing tight shirts and pants surprised me. The guys with their hair greased and spiky. Didn’t expect that. And what was interesting about it all was that we would see girls walking arm in arm with each other and one would be dressed pretty skimpily while the other was covered with a headscarf. They coexist here without a thought as to what they are wearing. I’m sure there are more things that took me by surprise, but it has been so long now that I can’t really remember.
As far as how American’s are treated…well that really depends. We have always been treated well. We hear from the mouths of many Turks statements like, “we don’t like America, but we like you.” I think the people who get to know us like us just fine. We have been to smaller towns and as 6 foreigners parading through the streets we get all kinds of looks…many of them not very pleasant ones. But other than that we are mostly accepted. Many people also like to have a token American friend. We are shown off to family members like trophies. They ooh and ahh over the kids light hair and blue eyes. My kids’ cheeks are permanently rosy from all the pinching that goes on.
I find your husband’s new role as athletic coach fascinating. As a big sports fan I too believe that I could coach a team. Has he found it more difficult than he expected? Also, what is with the scarves?
Natalie – I forwarded your football question to my husband since he was doing the actual coaching and here is his answer. Much better than mine would have been. (He was also secretly glad to be able to answer a question, because the blog he thought about keeping in the spring of 2007 has only 4 posts on it. He didn’t feel like he could sign up to be interviewed.)
Brian – The football coaching thing sort of fell into my lap and I was initially a reluctant participant. I was invited to coach in an assistant role by another guy that works over here with me. The guy he had been coaching with went back to the States for a few months and he needed someone to help. The conversation went something like this.
Coach Andy: “Can you help me coach Football this season?
Brian: “I played baseball; you need someone with real experience… someone who really played the game… someone who really would be helpful and not a hindrance.”
Coach Andy: “Trust me; it’s not going to matter. And I really need your help”
Well, after being guilted (is that a word?) into it. I finally resolved to help out. The first conversation I had with a player went exactly as I feared it would.
Player: “Brain Coach, what position did you play?”
Coach Brian: “In baseball? Oh that’s easy, I played second base.”
Player: “No, Brain Coach, football?”
Coach Brian: (thinking, thinking) “In the yard?”
Player: “Yeah, Brain Coach, in the yard.”
Coach Brian: (royally relieved) “I don’t want to brag, but I played every position in the yard.”
I don’t think he or the others believed that I played every position in the front or back yard. But, as soon as he and the others saw that I could throw a pass that turned out to be a spiral (which nearly every boy and girl in the States can do) they knew that I could be their coach… I still had my doubts but Coach Andy turned out to be right… It really didn’t matter.
That’s how I fell into it. As I started to learn more about both football and coaching, I became more and more frustrated. These guys are soccer players at heart. They want to be the star. Soccer teams are known for their individual players. The skilled position players are stars in American Football, however, the stars know that they would be nothing without the other guys on the team. (T.O. is of course the exception to this rule.) Teamwork is not an ingrained value in this country, so telling the players to do an assigned task that everyone else on the line or in the backfield is counting on is all Greek to them… and they hate the Greeks.
Difficulties continue to include attitude, foreign language, commitment to the team, financing, smoking, and drinking. Because they are out of shape and tend to get banged up rather easily we had to start asking, “Are you hurt, or are you injured?” In this culture there is a very fine line. They do love to play the game, but they don’t like to practice….who does?
The scarves are worn because it’s cold and there are no uniform accessorizing rules here. Also, the scarves tend to add flare to their play. I guess you can compare it to the guys sporting dreadlocks in the NFL now.
Check out the scarf and matching socks, fancy!
Now let’s talk about blogging, what inspired you to start your blog? Do your family and friends know about it? Does the fact that people are reading affect your writing?
Natalie – I love blogging. I’ll just get that out of the way right now. LOVE IT!! I was introduced to blogging by a friend several years ago. She had a blog, and while it was interesting and all I often forgot that she had one. I never checked to see if she had updated unless I got an email from her telling me so. A year or so later another friend showed me his blog AND also showed me how I could start one of my own. I decided that it sounded like something that could be fun so I signed up. As you can tell from my first year of posts I was a haphazard blogger. I just did it when I thought of it which wasn’t very often. I think I had 48 posts in 10 months. I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t a daily commitment. Then something happened to me. I really don’t know what. I just loved writing. Writing was easier than not writing. I still wasn’t a daily writer, but something about putting my thoughts down somewhere made me feel good. I love that people read them, but really for me it was more like therapy. I am not a verbal processor so writing down my thoughts or my feelings or explaining something cultural was a good way to sort it all out. Now don’t get me wrong…I love that people read what I write. It is somewhat validating. Knowing that there are people I don’t know out there reading my blog feels right in some strange way. And yes, my friends read my blog. I have some faithful readers in my family, too. And now I almost have to post daily. I feel like my day isn’t complete if I haven’t posted at least once. One of my favorite things to do in my blog is to post cryptic messages. Most people will find the postings a rambling of randomness that makes sense, but they are really there for a reason. And usually at least one person gets the message. Cryptic messages…you gotta love that!
How does your husband and family feel about your blogging obsession? Does he read it and offer input or is this more of your
ongoing pet project? Is it something you’d want your kids to do?
Natalie – It’s funny that you ask this question. While my husband was talking to me I received your questions and promptly ignored him to read the email from you. Actually he is fully supportive of my obsession. He sometimes wishes I would do other things once in awhile, but he understands that it is a nice outlet for me. (Those were his words exactly when I asked him your question!) He doesn’t ever read my blog, but I pretty much sit him down and read it to him along with the comments or emails concerning that particular post. I don’t know if he would check it out on his own or not. I don’t give him a choice.
The only input he usually offers is to “please use some discretion” in what you are saying. I tend to think no subject is off limits, but in order to not rock the boat too much I will listen to him. Confession…sometimes I like to rock the boat.
As far as my kids go…my oldest has a xanga and a facebook account, and the others beg for them. I honestly don’t care if they have a blog, but I really can’t see them doing anything with it besides the initial excitement that I have a blog posts.
I understand that you’re teaching, how does teaching in Turkey compare to teaching in the US? Are you happy with the education your kids are getting?
Natalie – I mentioned in an earlier answer that the kids went to a Turkish school. That was only for the first two years. After two years of Turkish school we moved the kids to a newly opened international school in our city. They have attended this school for the last 3 1/2 years. We love it! The curriculum is an American curriculum, and the classes are taught in English. This is great from our standpoint…Turkish homework was hard! One of the greatest things about the school is the exposure the kids are getting to all different kinds of people from all over the world. The school has about 180 students in grades pre-K – 12, and these kids are from about 25 different countries. Because of this their world view is huge compared to what mine was at their ages. The downside to the school here is that their opportunities are somewhat limited. They don’t have many choices for electives or many sports opportunities. Those are the things that they loved the most about the semester of school they had in America. I’m not actually teaching in Turkey. I do sometimes substitute at the kids’ school, but I haven’t even done that in awhile.
What are some of the things you miss most about living here? What about things you don’t miss? Do you ever see yourself moving back here?
Natalie – Living in America is easy! Actually I know that’s not true for everyone, but it sure seems to be true when I go for a visit. One of the biggest ways I can think of is the whole language barrier. In Turkey I have to plan my conversations…making sure I know how to say everything I need to say in Turkish. If I am going to the doctor or need to ask for help in some other aspect of my life I have to think through what I need to say. And then I hope that the person I am talking to sticks to the script I have memorized or else I’m in trouble! When visiting America I will often start planning my conversations with people before I remember that I can just speak English. It takes some pressure off just knowing that I can communicate with people.
Most everything else I miss has to do with the three f’s…friends, family, and food. And not necessarily in that order! Dreaming about and drooling over pork, good seafood, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, and Diet Dr. Pepper…
What I don’t miss about America…how busy everyone always is. It seems like you have to make plans to see people well in advance of the actual date you want to see them. In Turkey things are much more relaxed and spontaneous. I can visit someone at their house or their shop and end up spending several hours with them without feeling like I am in the way. They are pretty accommodating.
Also I feel much safer in Turkey than I do in the states. That might come as a shock to many people, but it’s true. In Turkey my kids are pretty free to roam the neighborhood. They can walk to the store and buy a coke or a snack without worrying about anyone bothering them really. There have been a few occasions where they have been followed by other kids, but it was because they were curious about where the American’s lived not because they were going to hurt them in any way. I don’t worry about them being kidnapped or murdered or harmed by anyone. Once after we first arrived I was getting my haircut at a local place. One of the hairdressers took my youngest who was three at the time out of the store. I wasn’t sure where they went or what was going on, but I had been told that they loved little kids here so I really wasn’t worried. She came back several minutes later with two handfuls of candy bought at another store around the corner. When we go back to America I always have to give my kids the ‘don’t take candy from strangers’ talk. They have a hard time understanding that!
I’m not sure when we will move back to the states. I have no doubts that we will one day, but I really don’t have any idea when that will be. I guess when I can’t stand the sight of kebabs or meat on a spit…
Finally, since this is a blogger project what are your favorite blogs or bloggers and why? Do you know of any “unknown” bloggers that you think deserve more attention?
Natalie – Man…this is where I can’t really answer the question! There are so many good blogs out there. I am a lurker on several sites, and I’ve “met” some really cool people through their blogs. I actually have met one person in person, but since I haven’t asked her permission to send her name out to the world I’m not sure if I should include it here. (Check out Kerri…linked on my blog. Instead of linking her here I’ll just make you work for it.) Ok…now…hmmmm….this is where I must use some of that discretion my husband refers to. Ok…how about Ree from www.thepioneerwoman.com. She is hilariously funny, and her stories about her retarded brother Mike have almost made me pee my pants numerous times! She has quite a following already, but I’m sure she would love more fans!
Well there you have it, now that you know a little bit about Natalie, Brian and the family, head on over to the blog to learn more about their adventures on the other side of the world.