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I’ve been living in the US for three years now, I know it’s not the longest time but it took me ten minutes to feel like a New Yorker and to call it my home, so I’m in this position where I feel like I belong in the US but also I’m Turkish as hell. And because it’s 4th of July, I wanted to share my experience as a Turkish living in the US, and the ways American values are interesting to me.
Let’s start with a story. The first month I moved here the electricity bill came $254.77. Yes New York is expensive, but not that expensive. So I freaked out, called Con Edison, and turns out there is something called an electricity meter outside your building that once a month a meter reader comes to read it so that they can charge you for the amount you’ve used. And because they couldn’t read mine, they charged an average amount for the size of my apartment. What do they think I’m doing in that apartment?
Well, first I panicked. Then I tried to reach the landlord but couldn’t for a few days. When I eventually did, I learned that our meters are in the basement that’s locked. A couple more days past before they found someone who had the keys and I could finally get to the meter, take a picture and send it to Con Edison so they can charge me the correct amount, which was $45.05.
I felt so proud of myself being able to solve a problem without anyone helping me. It was like a “you’re by yourself in this world” kinda moment for me, because I was lucky to grow up with a family who supported me in every way so I didn’t realize how much I depended on their help with so many things before moving here. It was kinda scary but mostly empowering.
Meanwhile, individualism is such an integral American value that they’d probably be like, who else did you expect to solve your problem? They are trained to consider themselves as separate individuals who are responsible for their own situations in life, their own paths, themselves. So they usually don’t have tightly interdependent family relations, or they don’t strongly identify themselves as part of a religion, a nation, a group, but they are more likely to identify as this one individual person.
Their independence truly inspires me. I feel like I’ll be my Turkish family’s little girl forever, but I’m very inspired to be my own person here in the US.
Another American value that’s very inspiring and useful, is informality. I think this comes from the notion of equality, because “all Americans are equal,” they don’t have formal relationships with other people. Like, servers will introduce themselves by their first names and treat the customers in a casual, friendly way, not like “how I can be of service sir,” kinda way. It’s more like that in Turkey.
And it’s useful because they have this small talk culture here. You can go to anyone, and ask how they’re doing, or start talking about the weather, this is very normal. In Turkey, if you start talking to someone, they’d assume you have a special interest in them. Not everyone obviously, but usually when you make conversation in Turkey people think you’re flirting with them or you want something from them. But here it’s in the culture to talk to random people, be friendly, smile to people you don’t know, acknowledge each other when you’re passing by.
The downside to this is that it can come out as superficial friendliness, and it’s sadly very common that you just can’t move past this invisible wall with some people, and you can stay friendly forever but not be friends. Sometimes these conversations don’t feel deep enough to my Turkish intensity.
Oh boy, it’s been a while since I dated in Turkey so things may have changed there too, but dating in the US is serious! There are rules, there’s a timeline, there’s a structure to it. In some ways, I knew what it was like from How I Met Your Mother or Sex and the City, so it wasn’t like a huge cultural shock, but it’s interesting.
Because I don’t know these rules, they don’t make sense to me. Like, saying “I love you” is a big deal, and I don’t understand it. Btw, I don’t think they understand it either, nobody knows why. It’s just built into their dating culture and it’s not easy to escape. And here I’m telling everyone and everything how much I love them.
Another cultural shock around dating happened when I realized how respectful they are. American men are super respectful of your personal space and boundaries that you think they’re not into you. It’s hilarious, or sad, but we don’t have that kind of a respect in Turkey. We are all meddling in each other’s business, I don’t feel we have that strong of a sense of respect to personal life.
For example, to invite you somewhere, they can be like “yea you’re more than welcomed to join but no worries,” well to my Turkish ears it sounds like he doesn’t want you there, but actually he just doesn’t want to pressure you! Also, Americans are not jealous or possessive, unlike most Turkish men, which I think is related to them respecting your individuality.
Work and achievement
Americans value hard work and achievement. They have this admiration for people who achieve big, measurable things in their lives. They believe it’s very honorable to work hard and own a car, own home one day. They tend to measure success in material terms. In my experience, maybe for this reason, maybe because I’m in New York, everyone is super driven and motivated. And they’ll cheer you to be the same. I love dreaming big and the sky-is-the-limit attitude.
In Turkey, if you share your business idea with people, they’ll find a million directions it can go wrong and they’d most likely just discourage you. Here people are more positive about these things. And it makes sense to me, I mean they tell this story to the world that US is where dreams come true, so they think it’s plausible. You can as well be one of those “successful” people because there are more of them here, and there are more opportunities for material success.
So maybe Turkish people don’t mean harm when they discourage you from getting that loan for your startup, it’s just that we don’t have a lot of those stories around us.
This probably wouldn’t be considered as an American value, but I wanted to talk about my experience around food. Some of those driven people from around the world who came to the US to make their dreams come true opened restaurants to serve their traditional foods, so I love that we can eat all the world’s cuisine here.
Also, big portions, huge ones. And you get used to it and start to eat more. At first it was fun because whenever I went out to eat I’d take the rest of my meal with me and don’t worry about tomorrow’s lunch. Now my stomach just got bigger and I can finish a dish.
Lastly, being vegan in Turkey, if anything, is challenging. The temptation is real. But we have so many amazing vegan options here in the US that it makes it so much easier to go plant-based.
So, land of the free. We can get super political about this and discuss what freedom of speech means, or the hate, the racism, the prejudice, but I’m not really interested in getting into these things now, the way I experience freedom in the US is that I can be anyone and anything and nobody will care.
The simplest example I can give is that I can wear anything I want. 60 year old men tck tck tck me because I don’t wear a bra in Turkey, and here I can just wear a bra and go out and nobody cares. Of course, I’m generalizing and this is the not case for some places in both countries, but generally speaking, I feel I am free to express myself in whatever way I want and I wouldn’t get a lot of attention for doing so. It’s like, whatever.
I have a million more stories about how my Turkish ways were somewhat weird here, as well as a million things I can complain about the US. So let me know if you’d be interested in a part 2, otherwise happy 4th of July, and god bless America!