Hi! I am Hannes, father of three children aged 2,5 and 1,5 years (the third one is waiting for to be born) and husband of Matleena, a journalism exhange student in Yeditepe University. I will now tell you some experiences and feelings about our five months stay in Istanbul.
When we left Finland for exchange studies in Istanbul, we wondered, how it would feel to live in a border of West and East with people of whom 99,8 % are Muslims. As we had supposed, Turkish people have had hard time understanding our situation as a family: I as a home father without work or other masculine status and Matleena going to school when being pregnant. Other cultural challenges we didn’t even try to quess in advance!
Now, four days before going back to Finland, I can say that our life in Istanbul has been very good despite of big cultural differences between Finland and Turkey. Actually we have found Istanbul much more ”European” city than we supposed before.
We have been unbelievable politely and friendly treated with our children. I suppose that children have simply melted Turkish people’s hearts… It seems to be a very good thing to be a blonde family of two sweet girls and four couple of blue eyes. We have always got very positive attention when moving in the city, and people seem to admire us without any reason.
For example, in restaurants waiters and waitresses are absolutely always hosting us very warmly, even though we eat very messy and we never buy any expensive foods or drinks. In the company of both Turkish men and women, I always feel myself very welcome and handsome, only because I’m taking care of our children. Turkish men show me very positive attention: they seem to imply that I’m a good man because I have persuaded my wife to have three children with me.
Anyhow, in the middle of this positive attention Turkish people cannot really understand, how we can share our roles in the family this way. Once we went to a hospital and introduced ourselves as a father and mother. The nurse asked me what do I do for living. When I said I’m taking care of children, she said: ”oh, then you’re not a husband of Matleena.”
In playgrounds women keep on asking me who I am. I tell them that I am a dad taking care of my children. That makes them surprised. After saying that my wife is studying, they become wordless. Once, when I was walking with our daughters, one man didn’t even greet me but shouted sharply from the other side of the street: ”Where is their mother?”
Some university students have been the only contacts who has made us to feel uncomfortable. Sometimes they are very childishly pinching children, teasing them and asking unpolite questions about Matleena’s pregnancy. It seems that some people in the university have really limited vision of the world. They cannot imagine that there are families like us.
Sometimes we have found ourselves being those who don’t understand or who don’t want to adapt. I get angry every time when someone asks me more money than normally. I am always suspecting shoepolisher’s rates. Our Finnish friends, who are living in Istanbul, have made us to be afraid of lyers. Still, these little problems are just normal things that anyone has to face when living abroad as a stranger. We have had to realize how badly a human being is able to accept diversity, even here in Turkey, where cultural differences are relatively small.
Altogether, these five months have been the most interesting time in our life. Still we feel ready to go to Finland again. I think that a person, who has grown in countryside as myself, can’t take Istanbul seriously. It is full of adventures and exiting things, but it is too Something to live permanently. Too busy? Too crowded? Too big? Making us to feel ourselves too little? Something…
We feel that Istanbul is too big to like or to hate. Everything depends on where you are, with who you spend time, how much you have money etc. There are huge contrasts in the same surroundings: beauty and ugliness, happiness and horror, joy and sorrow, wealth and poverty, health and sickness.
You have to try Istanbul yourself: You have to see which sides of the city you can see.
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