Jack: Perking the Pansies
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Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Turkey, etc.
My name is Jack Scott. I am originally from London and I moved to Bodrum, Turkey, in November 2009 with my civil partner, Liam. Prior to our exodus, I was a petty bureaucrat and had ascended a career ladder to middle management, middle income and a middling suburban house. Liam was working for a cut and thrust, slash and burn private company trying to coax the unemployable into work. We’d both reached a professional impasse and a change was on the cards. We decided it was high time to take a break from our labors, put our feet up and watch the pansies grow while we were still young enough to enjoy it.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
A common mistake that many retiring expats make is to see the move abroad itself as the be all and end all. It isn’t. What really counts is what you do after you wade ashore. We made that mistake. We didn’t give the slightest thought to how we would fill our days after we’d uprooted ourselves from the comfortable familiarity of our old lives. After a year or so, we descended into a kind of benign boredom. That’s why I started the blog, Perking the Pansies. It’s very much a joint enterprise and it keeps us off the sauce and on the straight and narrow (most of the time).
When the blog was first launched, I honestly thought I would be talking mostly to myself. Thankfully, this hasn’t proved to be the case and the blog has just surpassed 200,000 hits; not bad for an obscure English language website reporting from a minor peninsula on the Aegean coast of Turkey. My sincerest thanks go out to all those who pop by to show their support. I was also blown away when I attracted the interest of a publisher who asked me to write a book about our lives as Lotus Eaters. Perking the Pansies, Jack and Liam moved to Turkey came out just before Christmas 2011 and is selling well. It’s been quite a journey.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
I’ve written nearly 600 posts and so it’s terribly difficult to choose, but two that continue to catch the imagination with readers are:
Tell us about the ways your new life in Turkey differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
The opening words of my book are:
“Just imagine the absurdity of two openly gay, recently ‘married’ middle aged, middle class men escaping the liberal sanctuary of anonymous London to relocate to a Muslim country.”
That just about sums it up. London is a world city – magnificent, cultured, cosmopolitan, international, outward-looking, frantic, uncaring and unforgiving, a coffee-on-the-run kind of place. Bodrum is an ancient whitewashed resort on the Aegean shore where life is slow and deliberate, where taking tea with the neighbors is a time-honored tradition of enormous social significance. Bodrum-life is village-life where your business is everyone’s business. All in all, Turkey has been a benign host; it’s a great place to rest our weary bones and Turks are warm and obliging. However, many have absolutely no sense of personal space and a natural inquisitiveness that borders on the intrusive at times. I assume this derives from a long tradition of large tight-knit families, crowded houses, little privacy and a strong sense of community, long since lost in the West. This is difficult to get used to but it’s definitely worth the trouble.
Interestingly our discrete but obvious union has never attracted bad publicity from any Turk. I just assume, as non-Moslem foreigners, we are infidels and Hell-bound anyway so it hardly matters what we do. However, I strongly suspect if we moved a few miles inland our situation might be less favorable. As it is, the only disapproving glances we receive are from some of our fellow expats. Ironic, don’t you think?
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Turkey? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
When we first arrived we settled in the pretty little resort town of Yalıkavak, about 20 kilometers northwest of Bodrum Town. We were utterly seduced by a three bedroom, three bathroom detached villa with an uncluttered view of the Aegean. Summer nights were spent watching magical sunsets and listening to the sound of randy crickets. Come the winter, our summer palace became a rain-swept igloo with a view on the muddy edge of a closed, battened-down town. After a year, we decided to relocate to Bodrum, a chic, cosmopolitan and happening kind of place attracting serious Turkish cash and an interesting cohort of Bohemian types. More importantly, it was open all year round. We decided we didn’t need three bathrooms and now manage with just the one.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
We don’t drive in Turkey. Turkish drivers are insane, roads can be perilous and driving is best left to the foolhardy or the suicidal. We get about by dolmuş (or dollies, as we call them), the cute mini-buses that traverse the peninsula. We took an excursion to Bodrum to visit the market. As usual, the dolly was chock-full of commuting locals. We were jammed into the front, next to a man carrying a second-hand car exhaust. Live entertainment was supplied courtesy of an unseen female passenger at the back of the bus, a woman obsessed with the distance covered by an indi-bindi, a short hop fare. Her loud and persistent protests were met by a robust defense from the driver who feverishly waved his official fare chart to anyone who would care to look at it. Turkish arguments are different: loud, passionate, sometimes physical and ultimately pointless. No one gives in, no one wins and no one loses. Our distracted driver was oblivious to the three large teenagers snapped together like Lego on a small scooter that weaved ominously in and out of the traffic around us. A disaster was only averted by an evasive wrench of the steering wheel, prompting a sudden lurch of the bus. Indi-bindi girl shrieked at the driver and decided to vent her spleen by throwing plums in his direction. We all ducked for cover. When her supply was exhausted, the over-heated lady alighted and the dolly pulled off. She stood at the roadside, flailing her arms like a crazed evangelist, screaming profanities and ruing the careless loss of her plum crop. We arrived at Bodrum bus station a short time later, grateful to be alive and relatively unscathed by the random plum-thrower.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Turkey?
Moving to a foreign field throws up a host of practical and cultural issues. With the right advice, a guiding hand and lots of patience it can be a hugely rewarding experience. My strongest advice is to:
- Develop the patience of a saint. Turkish red tape is staggering in its pointless Byzantine complexity. Everything must be completed in triplicate, duly stamped and accompanied by multiple copies of official identification. There are enough copies of my British passport in circulation to supply the Israeli Secret Service for years.
- Try a place on for size. Rent before buying and then only buy with the right legal advice and through a reputable agent. Too many people have lost their shirts on a dream that turned into a nightmare. Act in haste and repent at leisure.
- Try and learn the lingo. Turkish is not an easy language for Europeans to assimilate as it is thought to belong to the Altaic language family and is distantly related to Mongolian, Korean and other inscrutable Asiatic tongues. Despite Atatürk’s valiant 1928 adoption of the Latin alphabet and the fact that the language is phonetic and mostly regular, the word order, agglutinations and the absence of familiar sounds all conspire to make learning Turkish a very daunting prospect. I’m the first to admit that I’m hopeless, though Liam has fared better. Fortunately, Bodrum is a tourist town and English is widely spoken. Mercifully.
How is the expat community in Turkey? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
There is a thriving expat community living along the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts of Turkey as they are a popular choice for people retiring. The support network is well established with online forums, newspapers, groups, expat bars, restaurants and an active InterNations group. Having said that, we avoid the temptation to remain within the extraordinary expat bubble and try to explore our new environment and meet the locals.
How would you summarize your expat life in Turkey in a single, catchy sentence?
A rollercoaster ride with the mean and the mannered, the cultured and the classless, the awful and the joyful.