Tuesday, February 21, 2012
Th LIFESTYLE LETTER FROM ISTANBUL THE FAMILY UNDER SIEGE The Family Under Siege WEDNESDAY, 08 FEBRUARY 2012 15:48 BY BETTY CAPLAN One can easily become dewy-eyed here in Istanbul imagining that families have stayed close because of bonds of affection. The truth is often different: young people stay at home until they get married because they can’t afford to move out. Read this: “There are 17.5 million households in Turkey. The average size of a household is 4.2 people. It is significant that in France, which has about the same population, there are 25 million households. The fact that there are so few households in Turkey has a negative impact on consumption.” Levent Erden, Board Chairman of EURO RSCG Istanbul, believes that the reason that the number of households in Turkey is low is that in Turkey people do not move to their own houses when they reach a certain age which has a negative impact on consumption and many sectors. Indeed, Erden notes that only six million of these households have a reasonable income. In fact, the statistics support Erden’s opinion. According to data from the Turkish Statistical Institute, 45 per cent of the 17.5 million households in Turkey have an income of over YTL 1,000 per month ($US 571). Only 15 percent have an income of more than YTL 2,000.” Eminë (not her real name) has, like many others, joined an organisation for expatriates called “InterNations.” She is beautiful, 35 and single. There is a sad look in her eyes. But she is Turkish. Why would she want to mix with foreigners, many of whom don’t have a long-term commitment to the country? (Like Kenya, Turkey has its fair share of “two year wonders.” ) We wait together at the bus stop after a long outing and chat. Eventually I can’t help asking her about marriage. A writer is always minding everyone else’s business. She sighs. I notice that she doesn’t smile at all. “I was going to marry someone but we broke it off.” How? Why? She looks wistful. “We had been going together for more than a year and wanted to get married, but my mother didn’t trust him. She set out to find out about his background without telling me anything. He had been divorced, which we knew. My mother contacted his ex-wife and eventually discovered that there was another woman who was after him. He had been having an affair with her for some time. He had borrowed money from all of us.” Why would he borrow money from her? Salaries are not that great in Turkey as you can see, and like her, he was a graduate. She even took out a loan for him as he was unable to. Like private detectives her parents beavered away and when the time was right sprung the bad news on her. She was understandably shocked. She confronted him with the accusation that he had been unfaithful and after initial resistance, he admitted to it. She broke off the engagement immediately and has not seen anyone else for a year. “I don’t think I could ever love anyone else like that. Or trust a man ever again,” she said. So now she is living with her parents who never mention marriage. But she wants to go abroad. She needs to break away and make a life for herself but while she is working in Istanbul, it would be unheard of to live alone. Besides, she can’t afford it. Turkish parents encourage their children to stay at home; they mollycoddle them and make it hard for them to leave. And then there is the religious taboo against pre-marital sex which is applied more to the girls than the boys. Professional people tend to retire early and then want their children to fill the yawning hole in their lives. The children are conditioned to accept this but more and more are finding it a strain. Men look hungrily for women who are young enough to make babies; many marry foreign partners and then discover that there are irreconcilable differences due to the culture gap. A Polish woman is on the same outing accompanied by her 20- something daughter. They are like best friends. “I’m trying to find Mr Perfect for my mother,” she says. She is completing a Masters in Clinical Psychology. The mother is bitter. “Yes, Turkish men put on a show of loving their children but it doesn’t mean anything,” she said. She had put up with 20 years of misery just for the sake of the children but had finally gotten a divorce. “All he did was work, come home late and kiss the children good night.” But working hours here are inordinately long, and there are few government regulations regarding health and safety to protect workers. Men might well argue that they have little choice. Turkey is industrialising fast; huge swathes of land which were formerly farmed are now covered in ugly factories and pylons as the country produces petro-chemicals and their valuable by-products at far lower rates than in Europe. Eminë has applied for jobs abroad and has had some interviews. She is a well-qualified and experienced pharmacist but her conversational English is poor. As we are neighbours I offer to help. Soon she will be earning a first-world wage and find a life elsewhere. Too bad for her parents – and for the country.