Thursday, November 26, 2009

An IKEA Update

The crib and wardrobe are up and in place, and a few days ago IKEA called to say the chest-of-drawers and changing table unit we wanted were back in stock -- three weeks early! It's on its way and may even be in my hot little (and puffy and sore and so stiff, I feel arthritic! Just another lovely side-effect of being nine months pregnant!) hands by this afternoon.

Of course there's still so much to do to make Baby's nursery look warm and cozy, but getting the furniture was key. Now I can focus on finishing touches like lighting, making the bed, and getting that darned rug mounted on a rod and hung on the wall! I can't believe I've managed to leave that this late!


I am completely annoyed by how often shops in Turkey, particularly grocery stores, run out of a certain product. You'd think that they could anticipate the event and reorder when stock runs low. I feel a little forgiving when it's a small independent shop, who may not have the money to be stocking a lot in advance, and whose owner certainly doesn't have any real retail training. But when major chains, Turkish and foreign, are regularly out of something I've made a special trip to buy, it drives me crazy.

My local supermarket, Carrefour, only seems to carry Sütaş brand light yogurt half the week. But since it is the only brand of yogurt whose non-fat version tastes any good, I refuse to settle for another brand, and often go home empty-handed. My local Carrefour doesn't even sell the müsli or bread I like, and has only a very limited selection of real fruit juice, but that's a topic for another blog post. For those items, I often go to Metro Grossmarkt in a neighbouring city thirty kilometres away.

I am smarter than to make a speacial trip just to Metro, and usually combine it with other errands, stopping in at Metro on my way past. But that doesn't make me any less annoyed when I can't find what I'm looking for. After all, it's a German company, and its employees have presumably been trained well. Last week there were several items on my list that I couldn't find, including Hahne müsli, the only musli available here that is reasonably priced and doesn't have an exorbitant sugar content. A stock clerk informed me that there had been a sale on the item the previous week, and so they'd sold out. Is that an excuse? I thought to myself, outraged.

And to add salt to my wounds, when I complained to a manager, who then investigated my müsli crisis, I was informed that according to the computer, there was indeed more müsli somewhere in the store, but that it had been misplaced and was sitting on a skid somewhere high up on a shelf, and needed to be found.

The no-sugar-added fruit juices I like were likewise out of stock that day, and rather than settle for a sugary variety, I bought none.

If I seem unusually picky, might I defend myself by explaining the incredible joy I felt when I finally found these favourite grocery items of mine in the first place. In the case of the yogurt, I taste-tested a different brand's fat-free variety every week, deeming them all absolutely awful, before discovering Sütaş' delicious, creamy, you'd-never-guess-it-was-low-fat yogurt. And with the müsli, I went from one extreme -- no müsli -- to buying extremely expensive 150-gram boxes of sweetened Turkish varieties, which would be empty after three breakfasts, it seemed. And I'd gone over two years without drinking any juice at all, stubbornly refusing to drink the admittedly delicious sour cherry and other flavoured 'nectars' which contained no more than 20% real juice and lots of added sugar, and fondly reminiscing about my freezer back in Toronto, which had always been full of tins of Minute Maid frozen pure orange juice -- with pulp and added calcium. So the discovery of new products I truly loved was so sweet, that the disappointment of not being able to find them is all the greater.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Fake or Forsake?

Which is worse: a fake tree or no tree?

I've lost my objectivity, my perspective, and don't know whether I've cleverly adapted to my surroundings, making do with what's available to me, or sunk to a new low.

My first year in Turkey, I went back to Canada for Christmas, where I enjoyed my family's real tree -- which my father had sawed down himself -- and all the wonder that comes with it, good and bad: the wonderful scent of the pine, the needles on the carpet, the dripped candle wax.

My second year, I got lucky: even though I'd started the job I have now, that gives us foreigners only one day off at Christmas, it fell on a Friday and I went to my brother's in England for a few days, where I enjoyed sevent-two hours of snow and Christmas cheer, and even a traditional Weihnachtsmarkt courtesy of Birmingham's twin city, Frankfurt.

But by my third year, I was stuck: Christmas fell mid-week and I was going to be stuck in this Mediterranean city, snowless, family-less, Christmas spirit-less. So I decided enough was enough; if I wanted to truly call this place home, I had to recreate Christmas for myself and my new Turkish family.

So I hunted down a small potted fir tree of some sort, a few baubles and twinkle lights, and set them up in my tiny living room, extremely satisfied. It wasn't the traditional Christmas I'd grown up with, but it was better than the guilt I'd have felt, had I relied on my expat friends' efforts to create some holiday atmosphere. I was able to host a few lovely get-togethers around the tree, replete with Christmas music and mulled wine; I even put presents under the tree!

But the little potted tree was unhappy, and eventually died. I also felt silly for having paid as much as I did, and for the number of people I'd had to involve in my quest to find it in the first place. I'd felt like I was the only person in all of Turkey looking for a Christmas tree, and was puzzled to see all the Turkish households with ''New Year's trees'' of their own, bigger and better than mine.

Of course they were all fake; but the effect was lovely nonetheless, and so this year, I rethought my own strategy. I considered using my baby's December 24th due date as an excuse to let Christmas pass by unobserved; but I thought that was no way for a responsible parent to behave! My multi-cultural family was depending on me for the western, Christian part of our blended traditions!

And so I've just bought and erected my first ever fake (gasp!) tree. And I have to say, the effect is not all that bad. I think I'm wise not to stubbornly insist on hunting down a real tree in a semi-tropical area of the world; I think my fake tree is an intelligent compromise, allowing me to be efficient with my energy. Now I have time to make eggnog and mulled wine and bake gingerbread cookies, things I can't just run out and buy!

Or am I just deluding myself?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Pilgrimage to IKEA

There is no IKEA in this city, although there have been rumours of one opening for years. There is likewise no online shopping in Turkey, at least not in the true sense of the meaning. (You can send an email to a specific IKEA location elsewhere in Turkey, tell them what you want, and wire money from your bank account to theirs; then, for a hefty delivery fee, they'll send you the items you want.)

So a few weeks ago, I extended a business trip to Istanbul by a day and spent my Sunday at one of their two (they have two!) IKEA stores. I went armed with a list of items I'd pre-selected from the online catalogue, and did my best to stay focused. That was however extremely difficult to do, since almost everything I saw appealed to me in some way, and I was overcome with that panicked I-must-prepare-for-being-being-cut-off-from-society-and-hoard impulse -- not knowing when I may next find myself among such reasonably priced good-looking glass vases and light fixtures and sofas. I wanted to buy them all.

But the thought of something breaking in transport back east, and the impossibility of travelling with so much luggage, stopped me. Instead, I got the items I'd come for (crib, dresser with changing table top, cupboard), plus a few little extra goodies, and high-tailed it out of there. The hardest part of my IKEA adventure was over. Or so I thought.

Now, my extremely heavy, flat brown boxes had to make their way via courier to my city. I employed a company my husband often uses for business, and got the whole load here for just thirty-five Lira! (It would have cost me around 250 Lira, had I allowed IKEA to send it.) Easy enough.

We got the crib set up in an evening, despite horror stories I'd read by disgruntled customers on the Consumer Reports website. Although my Turkish husband had never assembled IKEA furniture before, something I think every North American probably has -- a right of passage into manhood, isn't it? -- he was genius, as long as I interpreted the pictures in the instruction booklet and forced him to do the steps in order. I guess it really does help to have an engineering degree!

The cupboard is taking a little longer, partly because we've been coming home from work late and exhausted, and if we get to the assembly at all, fizzle out after about ten minutes of work. And it didn't help that it turns out we needed two different kinds of screwdrivers to put together the cupboard, which delayed us a day -- I thought IKEA was famous for including all the necessary tools? What happened to the trusty IKEA key?

Although our cupboard is slowly taking shape, there is still no changing table in sight. At this rate, baby's nursery is going to be finished around the due date. Here are some 'before' shots, which I hope to soon replace with 'after' pictures.

What's left of the cupboard's many pieces:
The cupboard in its current state:The crib, ready for mattress and sheets!

Spa Lady

I think I could easily be a spa lady -- one of those 'society' women who has weekly salon appointments for nails and hair and other unmentionable grooming rituals. I never would have thought this of myself. For one thing, one needs time and money, and as soon as I spend either on something frivolous, I tend to be overcome with guilt, which interferes with the pleasure of the whole thing. Which is kind of the whole idea, isn't it? To enjoy the process?

Midway through my twenties, I admit I started to enjoy indulging in the occasional pedicure or massage. And since it was 'occasional' at best, I was able to maintain the perfect balance between guilt and pleasure.

But since such services are so incredibly inexpensive here in Turkey, I have taken to having my hair styled just a little more often; paying a little less attention to my eyebrows, knowing I can always get them reshaped for a few Lira; and have stopped shaving altogether, opting instead to have my legs waxed once a month -- it's fast and inexpensive, and you never have to think about stubble.

However, where Turkey excels in hair removal, it sadly lacks in nail care. The manicures I've seen involve nothing more than removing and reapplying polish, quickly and only slightly better than I could do myself. So I've been getting one pedicure a year, namely when I go home to Toronto each summer, and then try to maintain it as best I can until I'm next in Toronto. (Qualifier: I knew there are good places out there, there had to be, since I've seen Turkish women with great nails. But it had been more than three years in this city, and I had yet to crack the mystery of where they go to get their nails done.)

It had been a few months since I could reach my toes, though, and I was feeling grizzly. And grizzly leads to desperation. The not-having-an-emergency-go-to pedicurist had really been bothering me. It's like the Starbucks syndrome -- just knowing there's a Starbucks out there if I want one is enough, without having to be a regular customer. But there wasn't a place to 'grab a coffee' in this city for years, so now that there's a Starbucks, I go every chance I get!

In Canada, I took certain things for granted. Now, stumbling across the smallest difficult-to-find thing moves me to tears. I've just discovered that my local Metro Grossmarkt carries celery, and even though it's smaller and thinner than more expensive than the hardy, ubiquitous, rather boring, it's-really-just-water staple it is at home, I can't get enough of it now! I can't stop making celery soup, and flavouring everything else I cook with its leaves, and I'm almost tempted to make a Bloody Mary, just so I can stick a piece of celery in it!
But then, just when I'd given up, I finally asked the right person, and found a kuaför that does good manicures. And inexpensively at that. I put this new salon to the test yesterday, not daring to get my hopes up, and left feeling like a princess. Next week I'm going back for a pedicure, and who knows, I may just have to get my manicure touched up!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Of Irons and Other Small Appliances or Brand Power

What does it say about me as a powerless consumer, caught in the firm grasp of companies and their marketing machinery, when I find myself faced with three choices of brands I've never heard of, unable to choose one? Each one has a pretty picture on the box; each has the product's specifications detailed on the package, some in more languages than others; and each tells you where it was made. That should be enough information on which to base a decision, right?

But when the subliminal signs as to which is the best are absent, I find myself at a loss. This has happened to me again and again since moving to Turkey, and it's gone from unsettling and disorienting to just plain annoying.

A few years ago, I needed an iron. I quickly established that Tefal and Vestel were popular, but they seemed overpriced for what they were, no doubt to their ubiquitous ad campains; Philips, Braun, Bosch and Siemens were incredibly expensive and I probably didn't need to go that far. So what was left? What were the in-between brands? Where were the Black & Deckers of Turkey? I wanted quality without the cachet, I wanted a reasonable price. I was totally lost.

I eventually stumbled upon a simple Kenwood iron in a supermarket for 35 Lira or so, and bought it immediately. I'd owned a Kenwood microwave -- or was it a toaster oven?? -- back in Canada and had been happy with it, and the price was roughly what I would have spent in Canada.

It was not the best iron I'd ever used, but it was simple and functional, and I'd avoided spending close to 200 Lira, which seemed to be the average price of an iron in Turkey, so I was happy.

Until, a year and a half later, it suddenly stopped working. It just went cold. I dug up the receipt and warranty card (see the note at the end of this post about activating product warranties in Turkey), and enlisted my husband to call the company to find out what I had to do. But wouldn't you know it, for three days, there was either no answer, or the line was busy. Ready to throw in the towel, I resolved to buy a Philips or Braun or other expensive western European brand and pay several hundred Lira, if it meant that the iron would last ten years.

And here's where the plot takes an interesting turn: a friend of mine had two irons (why she had two irons I don't know) die in the same week as mine did. Strange, isn't it? But she, a little more patient than I, showed them to our grounds maintenance manager, who had his electrician fix them free of charge! So now I'm waiting for him to have mine looked at, and can hopefully postpone my entry into the world of expensive European appliances for a few more years.

Activating a product's warranty in Turkey:
1) pay the cashier
2) take your receipt and the manufacturer's warranty card that is inside the box to the customer service area of the store, where they sign and stamp it
3) keep the original packaging -- long, painful story here, don't want to recount it now. Just trust me.
4) within 7-10 days, call the service company on the warranty card to register; they may have a home pick-up and delivery service for people who register
**5) if you don't speak Turkish, bring a translator with you for steps 1-4. You don't want to do this alone.

Monday, November 2, 2009


Autumn seems to have arrived, albeit tentatively; there are still peaks of high-twenties temperatures in the afternoons that leave you sweating for a few hours, but mornings and afternoons are cool enough to wear long sleeves.

I gave in and did some fall shopping on the weekend. I really had to reign myself in, and settled on three sweaters, only one of which was admittedly grossly indulgent at seventy Lira! But I just couldn't resist its warm rusty red scratchy wool and its oversized cowl-neck. (Considering my closet is full of sweaters, though, the whole expedition was indulgent. But everything's relevant, right?)

I realized earlier today that it's been six months of summer! It's almost like eating a whole box of chocolates and then wishing you'd stopped after one. Or two.


I love the way umbrellas are suddenly for sale everywhere when it rains. And I don't mean in shops. On street corners, outside buildings ... anywhere you could want one.

Just the other day, it had started to rain while I was on the bus, and I had neither an umbrella nor a raincoat with me; when I got off the bus, there was someone to sell me an umbrella -- almost as if they'd been waiting just for me!