Turks and Their Rugs

Imagine a Sultan from your history classes, with the poufy clothes and that large headpiece, seated in a domed throne room. Amongst the huge marble pillars that hold up the chamber, just how many rugs and how many colors have you imagined rolled out along the floor and covering the walls? That elegance transcends the Ottoman Empire to daily life in Turkey, and there isn’t a single craft that Turks take more pride in than their rugs. Turkish apartments are adorned with rugs that have been passed down generations, and the quality of Turkish rugs is unmatched when it comes to the intricacy of their patterned weaves and the level of effort put into producing each one.

The modern day version

When I’d moved into my first apartment in Izmir, I’d needed to wait an extra day for the rugs to be properly cleaned and ready. While they weren’t the Hereke rugs that foreign leaders are given when they first visit Turkey, it’d still been worth the wait as I’d watched my landlord decorate the bare apartment with rugs of every shape and color. Over a year later, I’ve gotten lucky enough to tour one of the government subsidized rug Corps in Cappadocia, and to even buy one of my own! Well, my family had bought it, but a major and awkward part of the sales pitch had been that it would eventually become mine… morbid implications intended.

The finest

The Turkish rug industry is still very much a cottage industry in that rugs of all kinds are made in villages at the homes of families dedicated to the craft. These rugs make their way to major cities to be sold by either middle man, or what’s called a Corp (we’ll get to that later). Those middle men are the carpet sellers on the streets of downtown Istanbul who will try lead you to one of their shops. They line the corridors of the Grand Bazaar, approach you outside of whichever monument you’re near, and heckle you as you pass by their small shops in the tourist area of Sultanahmet. You can count on at least several approaching you every day, and don’t be surprised if they’re pushy as hell.

Death of a carpet salesman

When a carpet seller approaches you as you’re sightseeing, it’s all so obvious from the get-go that they’re only out to make a sale. They’ll try to break down your defensiveness with small talk or compliments, and some will even offer to give you a free tour of whichever museum or mosque you’re nearby. Expect them to chide you if you’re not being open enough to a casual conversation, because damn are they persistent. They’ll say or offer just about anything to eventually get you into one of their shops. Carpet sellers are essentially the used car salesmen of the rug industry, and with that comes lemons and suckers. It’s not that their rugs aren’t necessarily good, it’s just that that who knows what you’re actually buying, or how much it had originally been purchased for. It’s for this reason that carpet sellers are listed among the common tourist scams of Turkey.

Wanna make a rug look old and ornate? Lay it out in the harsh sun and let tourists walk over it before one eventually buys it for quadruple its worth

This is where the aforementioned Corps come in. Corps are the rug wholesaler institutions which the Turkish government have subsidized in an effort to curb the migration of village people to major cities in Turkey. This migration is fueled by the desire for better jobs and the comforts of city life, but more often than not results in poverty and struggle for the villagers that move. As the refugee crisis continues to worsen and further stretch the Turkish welfare networks thin, Ankara has begun to take a financial interest in the rug industry. Weaving co-ops have been established in villages with modern looms and equipment, and master weavers have been employed to provide vocational training and ensure quality. Wages are subsidized and materials are provided for the production of these rugs. The Corps are the outlets at which these village rugs get sold, and overall this social welfare program has created artisan opportunities for village people that allow them a chance at prosperity without ever having to move. And for the savvy buyer, they offer trustworthy and quality rugs at an equitable price. It’s the crop sharing of textiles, sans carpet-baggers (heh).

The master weavers

The Corps

And the subsidized silk

Silk, wool, or cotton, it’s the material as well as the level of stitching that affect a rug’s price. One that could cover your living room floor might be a fraction of the price of one that could only barely cover your laptop, and it all comes down to the intricacy of the patterns and how many knots are in each square inch. They’re graded from level 1 to level 10, and a level 10 the size of your table could take several years to complete by a master weaver. A level 4 is your standard village quality, while anything finer than a level 7 must have been knitted by hand. You very much get what you pay for, and if you’re looking for the perfect souvenir from Turkey, then a rug will be well worth your money and carry-on room. Just remember to haggle no matter where you’re shopping! And be patient, if one of your parents is purchasing it…

A Grand Bazaar rug merchant; “Half the price? Still a 500% profit”

Rest in Pastry

For myself, this Saturday had been just a typical day of enjoying Izmir’s amazing weather and seaside parks, but for several local Turkish families, it’d been a time of mourning. And how had I found this out? Well, the families were giving away delicious fried dough to honor their losses.

An otherwise happy day on the Aegean Sea

Roaming the neighborhoods of Izmir

Friends and I had been cutting through some residential side streets when we’d come across a food cart frying this doughy dessert called Lokma. Street food is pretty common here on the pedestrian streets, but never directly outside of an apartment building like this unless it were a private gathering, and I would’ve just kept on going if Soner and Sezgin hadn’t stopped to get some. Unable to understand what was being said in Turkish, I’d naturally went for my wallet until one of my friends stopped me. Soner gave me a reproachful look even as he’d motioned for me to put my wallet away, pointing to the pictures of an older man on the cart and instructing me to say what I would later learn means Take him to Heaven. Confused yet conscious of a cultural gap, I’d listened with curiousity as Sezgin went on to explain that the old man in these photos had recently passed away, adding in that these people were that man’s relatives as the female relative had handed him several of these churro-like pastries as a means of remembrance. In between mouthfuls as we’d made our way to the seaside, Soner and Sezgin took turns telling me more about this Izmir tradition that was just so perfectly befitting of everything I’d experienced in Turkey so far.

Comfort food?

Lokma is a common dessert across all of Turkey, but here in Izmir it holds a deeper symbolism. Lokma celebrates life and death, and when a relative passes away or a baby is born, families in Izmir rent a cart to prepare this food for their community as a means of good fortune. The families set up their carts either outside of their homes or in parks nearby, and both neighbors and passers-by are presented with lokma after having paid their respects to the relatives (whether in the form of condolences or congratulations, depending). Several companies are dedicated to lokma cart rentals for families whose numbers have changed for better or worse, and it’s commonplace in the workplace that on such an occasion a colleague might purchase a batch Lokma for their office as well. Several weeks after I’d first learned about this tradition in the context of grieving, two different coworkers had stopped by my office carrying plates of pastry drizzled in honey, and I’d sheepishly hesitated to accept mine before it had become clear to me whether to come off happy or sad. Thankfully both offerings of lokma had been prepared for the birth of a niece or nephew, and the pastries were celebratory as opposed to comfort food.

Rest in pastry, Mustafa and Ruhuna

Kicked off the Grid

I’d always thought I was so slick for having bought an unlocked iPhone that could be used anywhere in the world, but little did I know, that phone would later become the most expensive paperweight ever within Turkey’s borders.  The day I’d landed in Istanbul was the day the clock began ticking; I’d only had 4 months to register the foreign device before it would be blocked on any and all telecommunication services. Uninformed and already overwhelmed with every other aspect of moving to a foreign country, it wasn’t hard to overlook trivial issues like tariffs and censorship measures as I’d instead focused on researching the amazing things to see and do in my new home.


Fuck tariffs, visit mosques

Like clockwork, exactly 120 days from my first day in Istanbul and in the middle of a phone conversation, one evening in May my phone suddenly lost all service whatsoever. No service found was displayed at the top corner of my screen where bars normally would’ve been, and every attempt to log into my city’s public Wi-Fi had failed without explanation. Restarting my phone had had no effect either, and after almost an hour of frustration, I’d given up and set out for the nearest Turk Telekom shop.

The clerk kept asking me whether or not my phone was foreign, and I kept telling her it didn’t matter as I’d insisted on just adding more money to my account. The manager spoke decent English, and it was only once he’d gotten involved that I’d realized this wasn’t a problem I could just throw money at. He explained to me that foreign phones get blocked after 120 days, and that if I’d known this in advance, I could’ve paid a tax and registered it. The damage was done he told me, because if my phone was already useless, it would stay that way. At least I hadn’t been too late to get in on whatever sale they’d been having on domestic phones that week, but I wasn’t about to so readily trust a guy who would make commission off of my negligence. A visit to the tax office the next day confirmed that I really was too late though, as they’d pointed at the entry stamp in my passport and yet again mentioned 120 days. I’d left empty handed, with a past due passport and a 600 dollar brick in my pocket.

Inconvenienced to the point of asking everybody I could and revisiting both the tax office and several other Turk Telekom branches, I eventually came up with several options. The most obvious option was to buy a domestic phone, while the most inconvenient was to leave the country in order to get a fresh entry stamp in my passport and reset the 120 day clock. The shadier options were paying a friend who had recently returned to Turkey to register the phone under their name, giving it to some agency in order to reset the IME and essentially make it a fresh phone, or hiring one of the Russian students that a Turk Telekom manager happened to know for just such an occasion in order to register a locked phone. I still find it really weird that he’d felt the need to explicitly mention they were Russian during his pitch. Gotta love jingoism.

None of these options came without a price, and while beggars can’t choosers, each would be inconvenient in its own way. Any friend who might register the phone on my behalf would no longer be able to register another for 2 years, agencies that reset IME numbers have a sordid reputation for swapping out parts or overall fucking up a phone permanently, and hiring one of the Russian shills would have cost me close to a quarter of my monthly salary. Eventually though, I was able to find a friend who was both able and willing to help out. And all it ended up costing me was a steak plus several rounds of Tuborg beers. After almost a week of hassle, I was back on the grid.

What you need to register your phone

  • An entry stamp dated within 120 days
  • Your phone’s IME number
  • Roughly 140 Turkish Lira
  • A Turkish residency permit (your kimlik card)
  • Foresight

Steps for registering a phone purchased abroad

  1. Buy a SIM card at any Turkish telecom company, which you’ll need your passport for
  2. Wait for your employer to finish your residency permit and give you your kimlik card
  3. Go to your local Turkish government tax office (Vergi Dairesi) with the phone, your passport, and your kimlik card
  4. Pay the fee in order to register your sim card to your kimlik card, and receive a print out of the receipt that includes an important identification number for your SIM card
  5. Pay a minor registration fee at any post office to make that identification number viable
  6. Either go to the website of the Office of Information Technologies and Communications Organization (BTİ), or call them directly at 0 312 294 94 94, to officially register your SIM card’s identification number
  7. Viola, you’re all set

If you used this guide to register your phone instead of just laugh at my negligence, let me know how these directions worked out for you in the comment section!

New Man New Land Syndrome

Nobody knows you and you’re a novelty. You’re one of a few representatives, if any, of where you grew up, and the locals treat you like a C list celebrity for coming from New York. Your personality flaws are forgiven because that’s just your culture. You’re not actually rude, that’s just how Americans act they all assume. You played some ball back in high school but always wanted to have been more? Fuck it, you were great at it. The MVP of senior year even. Playing up the passport at a club gets you dances with girls who’d never talk to you back home. Even the unwanted attention at a Starbucks for being the only white guy there inflates your ego. Your white skin doesn’t make you stick out like a sore thumb, it makes you shine bright like a star. Jobs you’re unqualified for are flung at you left and right because your status as a foreigner means more than your résumé, and the political science degree that you’ll never follow through with has gotten you starring roles in commercials and teaching positions at top level schools. You make more than most of the locals and you live like a king. You can be whoever you want to be over here.

Thousands of expats a year suffer from a complex known as new man new land syndrome. If you’re living abroad, you’ve most definitely met several. They’ve been here awhile and aren’t planning to leave, because the more they set themselves up here and the more connected they get, the easier their lives become. They’re the self-proclaimed kings of their fiefdoms, the regulars of the local Irish pub and the all-knowing settlers of this foreign culture. Unsolicited advice and condescension layer your conversations with them. They’ve been here longer, and when you’ve eventually been here as long as they have, it will all hopefully make sense to you too. It doesn’t matter who they were back home, because there are no social anchors to ground them back to reality. They just better hope they don’t ever run into anybody they once knew.

Courting Employers from afar

I gotta say, applying to jobs abroad kind of sucks. I don’t have much experience with online dating, due to the fact that it also sucks, but from the limited amount I’ve gathered from friends and by browsing tinder nightmares, I’ve come to the conclusion that they suck quite similarly and I’m prepared to back it up. If you were one of over 10,000 eHarmony members that met your spouse through their website this year alone, my bad.

No standardization whatsoever

Some profiles are just better put together; they’ve provided good information about themselves, were written interestingly, and have plenty of pictures that aren’t just selfies. Then you’ve got profiles that only have a sentence each and force you to judge the person solely off of their looks, as well as ones written so terribly that you’re unable to even make it past the second run-on sentence.

Employment ads for international jobs end up having the same downfalls. If you have to scour through paragraphs of varying fonts to find relevant job information, they’re probably not an organized employer with streamlined management experience. If the ad is in broken English with ridiculous pragmatic errors, read through it because that shit is hilarious, although this is also an indicator of inexperience working with foreigners… despite promising a Fortune 500 sunny everyday worker living. And then, some ads have been formatted and structured to give you everything you need to know upfront and a clear view of what life will be like there, while others read professionally enough to make you confident about buying a plane ticket with your own money to wherever it is that they are. Although when it all comes down to it, writing structure really isn’t going to be what you look at if you’re going to judge a book by its cover…

First impressions boil down to a single detail

Shallow as it might be, there’s a necessary first step for each of these, regardless of whether or not most people would admit it this openly… physical and fiscal attractiveness. How do they look? Are they attractive enough to meet my friends? What’s the pay? Can I live well and save here? If these requirements aren’t met, then it won’t matter how cool they’d seemed or how cushy the job would’ve been; the offer is simply no longer on the table. Only once this initial barrier has been crossed can personalities/job details start to be explored, with concessions being made based off of just how good they look. To avoid appearing as anything but a gentleman, I’ll keep it only about jobs for the rest of this.

Well, I definitely wasn’t looking to work that much, but damn could I hammer away at my debt there

You want me to work in the desert?! Staying on an alcohol-free compound of only men?!! Wait, how much did you just say? …Oh, yea, ok, when can I start?

Teaching kindergarten students makes me want to do somersaults down stairwells, but damnnnnn look at what they’re paying.

The I’ve got personality flaws/baggage warning

Dating websites give their users full reign to express what they’re looking for, which I guess is exactly what they should be doing. How this goes wrong though comes from the fact that people are people, and some of those people have crazy shit orbiting around them that they’ve chosen to type out in a paragraphical red flag. Employment ads generally aren’t as obvious as and if you’re this type of person, don’t even bother messaging me, although depending on where you’re looking white candidates only isn’t uncommon at all.

The way employers try to not make the same mistake twice is instead within their policies. The contract clause “payment for winter holiday will be withheld/staggered until Party B has re-attended their duties at their school for X amount of time” should have a face next to it, with a big ‘ole this guy ruined it for everybody else caption underneath it. Foreigners can come and go as they please, and the more financial controls and penalties that a contract has written into it, the more previous employees of theirs had probably dipped out unexpectedly. Or this place is managed by jerks. Either way, red flag.

Safety concerns are another one, like how this one job in Indonesia I’d looked at suggested getting daily malaria medication before coming, and how an international school in Brazil had promised to put us in a very safe, gated community. Why do they emphasize that they’ll routinely rotate vehicles when driving us to and from the school? The worst by far though had come up during a phone interview with a job I’d actually almost chosen to accept; Oh, and before we proceed further, I’m legally required to inform you that in 2003, a suicide bomber had managed to gain access to our compound and kill 9 people. Don’t worry though, since then we’ve upgraded our security with Jersey gates and a second guard checkpoint. A lot of guys will tell you crazy girls are fun, and since this article is all about drawing parallels, dangerous jobs are lucrative.


“Just keep your head down and you’ll be debt free in no time, Mr. Collins”

Sending out large amounts of messages and waiting for responses

Did they get my message? Did I say the wrong thing? Am I just ugly? Did he manage to get back with that ex he couldn’t ever get over? There’s no way of reading the person you’re contacting, and communication is limited to typing alone. Applying to job ads feels the same, and I haven’t always gotten responses. Maybe they’d already found somebody, or maybe on paper I just wasn’t right for them. Perhaps that recruiter had recently quit and nobody will never even know I’d applied. A headhunter who’d been enthusiastically up my ass for several days unexpectedly dropped off the map for a week… Did he fill the spot with somebody more preferable? Did he lose the contract? Did he skim my email while driving and then forget to get back to me once he was actually free to respond? Applying from abroad has this feeling of always being kept at arm’s length, and until you’ve received a contract to potentially sign, it’s hard to count on anything. Juggling so much with preparing to move to another country, buying reasonably-priced plane tickets as far in advance as possible, and settling up your affairs wherever you currently are… it can get really stressful without a tangible offer. There is one thing to be said though, being clingy when applying internationally will get you a whole lot further than it will on tinder.

You’ll never know if you’re being cat-fished until it’s too late

Just outside the city center, assuming you’re commuting by helicopter

Enter on a tourist visa and work illegally while we attempt to process your working visa in-country.

Of course accommodation is provided, or you’re free to get your own place if you wouldn’t like living in a closet or with 7 other teachers.

Our license to legally hire foreigners is on its way, don’t you worry! Just don’t mention you work for us in the meantime if anybody asks.

Only 20 classes per week, unless we can get more students to sign up, in which you’ll need to work like a dog six days a week, because our profit matter more than your happiness

Nobody will ever be this straightforward about these unfortunately realistic and very possible scenarios. You’re at the mercy of these people’s honesty, and unless you’re able to contact current employees or find a scathing blog post forewarning any would-be applicants, then you’ll just need to have faith that you’ll be flying into a good situation. Nothing’s worse than showing up at a cafe and realizing that photo was from 3 years ago when they had actually exercised. But don’t you worry, that’s just winter weight, and living so far outside of the city that you’ll never have a social life is a great way to pay off your student loans. Perhaps this is the biggest similarity, some just want to screw you. Best of luck in your search.