1. Having a plastic Christmas tree on New Year’s Eve
As the religion followed by the majority of the country is Islam, Christmas is definitely not a nationally celebrated day in Turkey. However, almost everyone uses typical Christmas decorations and a plastic Christmas tree during New Year’s Eve. Parents give their kids gifts saying that they were brought by Santa Claus, yet the concept of Christmas doesn’t exist. Go figure.
2. The university entrance exam
The structure and the name of the exam tends to change on a yearly basis, but it’s always a multiple choice test and often remembered as ÖSS — short for “student selection exam.” Each and every high school student sweats throughout this stressful period. For some, it takes the teenage joy away during all of the high school years; for others, a year of intense torture of study is sufficient. In the end, it turns out to be one of those periods of life that no Turk would like to go back to, even in memories.
3. Incredibly crazy drivers
As law enforcement wasn’t (and still isn’t) exactly efficient, some Turkish folks seemed to take advantage of this to be as bad of a driver as possible in the traffic. Sad but true. Istanbul is where the traffic always got the most messy; however, bad driving was and is consistent all over the land.
4. Playing on the street with a plastic ball
And of course watching it get run over by an aforementioned crazy driver and collecting coins to buy a new one. Especially in the small towns and villages, street play was the most common activity among kids, an essential and very memorable phase in childhood.
5. Watching the movie series Police Academia on TV with Turkish dubbing
I’m not exactly sure why, but this movie series was so ridiculously famous. Ask anyone who grew up in Turkey and they will tell you that channels were constantly broadcasting one of these Police Academy movies.
6. ‘Manti’ making
‘Manti’ is one of the delicacies of Turkish cuisine, though it looks like a simple dumpling from outside. It’s made of pieces of dough filled with spiced meat (or with soy in the vegetarien version) and served with yougurt and spices such as dry mint, chilli paprika and sumac. Homemade ones were the best and their making was quite a community event which colored every Turk’s childhood memories. Usually there was always a grandma who ruled the mantı preparation and kids got to assist her by cutting the thinly rolled-out dough in squares, putting a small amount of meat on each of them and folding them by bringing the corners together.
7. The playlist and decoration in Dolmuş
As a peculiar public transportation vehicle in Turkey, Dolmuş’ had an substantial place in every Turkish citizen’s life. Like an unspoken agreement, most of the Dolmuş drivers very often listened to arabesque music as loud as humanly possible and the vehicles were decorated with macho love quotes, shiny stickers and most always some gaudy plastic flowers.
8. Shopping in local bazaars with your parents
Childhood memories are filled withvisions of colorful umbrellas, meandering between the vegetable and fruit stalls, walking down the narrow paths full of puddles, accompanied by the merge of strong smells, hearing sellers trying to get your attention with a phrase which they speak so fast and melodically that you feel unsure if it’s even Turkish. If there were tourists exploring the bazaar, all you hears was the salesmen saying “Yes, please! Yes, please!” repeatedly to get their attention (this happens to be the first English phrase I learned).
9. The smurf-like school outfits
In primary school, students wore blue or sometimes black uniforms with a white collar. You usually kept a spare one in case the one you wore got too dirty during the week. This outfit always made you feel like a smurf. Usually the girls wore tights under their skirt to be able to play comfortably without being teased by the boys.
10. Drum player visits during “Şeker Bayrami“
At the end of every Ramadan, which is an important month for fasting and purification for Muslims, the following 3-4 days is meant to celebrate life with good food and family meetings. During these days, a special drummer always played on the street travelling door to door, usually accompanied with a Zurna player. As a kid, it was always fun to invite them to your door, ask for a song, and tip them with chocolate and candies.
11. The personal ledger in local grocery shops
There was a local grocery shop in any neighborhood (which is sadly now being replaced with chain supermarkets and shopping malls) where you could have a personal ledger. When you bought things that exceeded your budget, the shop owner added them into his account book on a page dedicated to you, and you were trusted to pay it back when you could, usually in the following days.
Photo: Ekin Arabacioglu