Time to move on?


Back in the summer I was talking to a friend who has been living in Turkey almost exactly the same length of time as I have.

She, too, had initially settled in Cappadocia, although a couple of years ago she moved out, tired of being woken up in the early hours of the morning by the noise from the hot-air balloon traffic. The last straw was a chimney built right in front of her house, which meant that smoke would billow onto her terrace. For her, the time had come to make a new life elsewhere.

In September I was chatting to her on the phone as she hemmed and hawed about whether to move again. The list of possible destinations she ran through was lengthy, but one suggestion on it jumped out at me immediately. It was Swindon.

“So you’re thinking of going back to the UK?” I asked, surprised.

“Thinking about it, yes,” she said. In the meantime there would be a brief trip back to England to help her decide.

In December I phoned again. “I’ve made up my mind. I’m going back,” she said. “It just feels right.”

That friend has family in the UK, so perhaps her decision shouldn’t really have come as such a surprise. But somehow I’d thought of her as a fixture, someone who’d invested a lot of time and energy in Turkey, who’d done her best to master the language, who’d thrown herself into all sorts of enterprises with the vigor of someone who thought of this as a home for keeps.

Then as we talked she made a passing comment that was perhaps a little telling. “I don’t feel as welcome here as I used to,” she said. “It’s not the people. They’re as nice as ever. It’s just something in the atmosphere.”

At much the same time as I was having these exchanges with one friend, I was emailing another whom I knew had enrolled in the Turkish social security system a couple of years ago. Now the rules looked as if they might be changed in ways that would work against her. This friend was also caught up in a legal battle with builders who had completely failed to carry out the work she’d paid them to do. “We’re seriously thinking about moving to Spain,” she wrote.

Two swallows don’t make a summer, as they say, and I don’t want to make too much of what are ultimately personal decisions. But the fact is that during the 2000s Turkey became home to a sizeable number of what I would call “lifestyle expatriates,” people who’d moved here not because of work but because the zeitgeist made it seem a reasonable thing to do. Many of them were able to sell properties in northern Europe for prices that made it possible to buy a new home here outright, then bank the difference and live off the interest.

Many of those people chose to come to Turkey because they loved the country. But ultimately they came because they thought they would have a better life here. The sad truth is that as circumstances change, some may well be reconsidering that decision. Hopefully most will decide that Turkey’s For Life (to namecheck a popular expat blog). Others may well conclude that the time has come to look again at what their home countries have to offer.

Charlotte McPherson is away.