Saturday, February 26, 2011



Subtitle—Why the Turkish Marriage Process Will Give You a Better Understanding of Kafka Novels

I have had my head in the clouds. Literally. The weather in Istanbul has been rather indecisive lately—am I rain or am I fog? And so the air is teeming with tiny, itsy bitsy swirling drops of powdery droplets that no umbrella can defend you against. They belt you in the wind. They go down and then swirl up in an assault from the pavement. They settle when you’re not looking. They are small enough to slip through and inside any sort of protection you might muster, and yet large enough to soak you thoroughly in ten minutes. It’s like a mist with balls, and this is the weather that Delal and I were priveleged enough to navigate the Turkish bureacracy in.

Everything started off brightly enough. We both took the afternoon off together so that we could go down to the Evlendirme Dairesi and register a date for the wedding. Oh right, back up.

The Hallowed Evlendirme Dairesi

To get married legally in Turkey, you have to register for an official to marry you—whether at a place of your choosing (for which they charge transportation fees) or at the Evlendirme Dairesi.

‘Evlendirme Dairesi’ means ‘Wedding Bureau’. Each section of the city government has one (a fact which will plunge us into the mire of government red tape very very soon). The one in Kadıköy is a gigantic complex near the train station—it has four large wings that sprawl over the land like an octopus and is easily larger than City Hall which sits right next to it.

The Dairesi on a nicer day--imagine this under water

Turkey is obsessed with weddings—at times it seems that its the only socially acceptable question to ask—‘Are you married? When are you getting married? How long have you been married?’ An average Turkish street has a million different little eateries, yes, but is also flooded with wedding dress shops, with frightening benippled (Turkish mannequins have headlights) and faceless mannequins in the display windows spookily guarding the street. Perhaps the marriage questions are a slick marketing ploy by the wedding dress makers—how else could they hawk their billions of gowns to a population of millions without employing intense social pressure?

An elite cadre of Turkish wedding gown mannequins, waiting to be dressed unsinfully and patrol the streets

Kadıköy’s Evlenme Dairesi is conveniently located in one of the worst traffic nightmares the city has to offer. It cowers on the confluence of an entrance ramp to a major highway, a major station in the railway system for all trains East, an exit ramp for another major highway, two city bus stops, a pick up place for the minibusses all driven by people freshly released from the country’s mental health facilities, and one of the only public parking lots for miles and miles. And oh yes, the stadium for Fenerbahçe’s soccer club—one of the most popular in the country--is also right there. Running through all this is also the sparkling brown Shit River—which floats all sorts of cultural refuse to the sea and smells of a sewer. A quaint silver bridge crosses the river between Wedding Salon 1 and Wedding Salon 2.

My journey to the Dairesi to meet Delal is complicated by the fact that my school is about an hour away in the best of traffic. In the worst of traffic, and using public transportation (I normally go by a private school-sponsored van service), it can take two hours to get back to Kadıköy. I left school after my last morning class—around 12:30. I arrived in Kadıköy around 2:30. Now the Dairesi conveniently closes around 3:30, so while I appeared to have plenty of time, we hit our first snag....

The Paper Work—Turkey’s Contribution to Global Warming

To register a date to get married, both Delal and I had to assemble a mountain of paperwork which easily put several forests on the endangered list (Sorry Western Canada!). First, we had to procure twelve passport sized photos each. Then we had to have a full battery of medical tests and bring the results along with with an affidavit from the doctor officially certifying what the printout it was stapled to already clearly stated—namely that we were negative for Syphylis, HIV, Hepatitis B and C. Interestingly—if your interested in ignorance at least-- a few years ago, you only had to take these tests if you were a foreigner or marrying one—the assumption being that only slutty Westerners could get AIDS. In fact, one reporter apparently disguised herself as a prostitute and combed the streets of Istanbul offering random men very cheap sex (5 bucks). ‘I have to warn you, though!’ she said. ‘I have AIDS!’. The grinning boys’ responses were, ‘So what? I’m Turkish! I can’t get AIDS.’ This story could be an urban myth—I can’t imagine any woman in her right mind posing as a prostitute here for any reason--but knowing young Turkish men, and young men in general, and the Turkish attitude toward being Turkish, it’s in the realm of the believable.


In addition to the doctors report, we had to have our Identity Cards of course (for me a passport and a residence permit), and I had to provide a paper from my consulate that certified I was, in fact, single, which then had to be taken across town to the Istanbul Municipal Government office to be stamped by a series of zombie like officials—three in all, lined up in a row so that I could walk assembly-line like from desk to desk until I came to the frowny official in the middle of the room who had to sign off on all these stamps.

Well, when I arrived in Kadıköy, Delal informed me that the Dairesi had informed her that our medical reports had to be reconfirmed by a doctor at City Hall, even though the doctor who had run the original tests was officially recommended and connected to the city government. So we dashed over to City Hall, took a number, and waited for our turn so that a doctor in office four could ask us ‘Do you have AIDS?’ , stamp a paper, then send us to office number 7 so that a zombie woman there could finger type something into her computer, put another stamp on our paper, and then moan ‘Goooood Luck’ (She wanted me to offer her a fresh brain, I could tell, but alas, none was on me. And believe me she could have used one, either to eat or put in her head.)

So off we go, braving the traffic snarl to cross the street and return to the Evlendirme Dairesi where we take another number and wait our turn. Remember, it closes at 3:30. It is now 3:00. Also, in the Turkish government system ‘Closes at 3:30’ loosely means, hoping to have the building vacated sometime before 3:30—times subject to change--so they often stop serving you much earlier, without warning (as they did when Delal went to get her passport). We get a rather chipper woman with piles of curls pinned to her head who has apparently taken one fingered typing classes with the zombie woman who last handled my health report.

‘May I have your paperwork and IDs please?’

We hand the mound over with an audible sigh of relief—we were both sick of having to keep track of all of this.

‘May I have your names?’

She only speaks to Delal, of course, since all foreigners are mute clowns who can’t understand a word of Turkish much less be useful in any way. And I suppose she’s often right.

‘They’re on the passport and ID cards we just handed you,’ Delal answers.

‘Right. And how do you spell them?’

‘They’re on the passport and ID cards we just handed you.’

‘And where is the gentleman from?’

‘The United States,’ Delal says. ‘It’s in big gold letters on the front of his passport.’

There is a computer screen conveniently on the counter in front of us that allows us to follow everything she’s doing. She has to select my country’s name from a menu and has scrolled down to the U’s for ‘United’ I guess.

‘Excuse me,’ I say. ‘But the menu is all in Turkish. Shouldn’t you be looking under the Turkish name?’

‘Oh! You speak Turkish!’ she exclaims though Delal and I have been speaking Turkish the whole time.

‘Yes, and you need to go to the A’s for Amerika Birleşik Devletleri...’

She stays in the U’s. What does a slutty Westerner know anyway? Delal also encourages her to go the A’s. She wanders about in the U’s for a while and then finally relents and starts at the top.

‘Oh there it is!’

Around 3:25 she announces that we can finally select the day and time we want to get married and pulls up a list. We decide on the 17th, at 3:00 and miraculously, it’s available. (There’s a rush in the summer months—everyone clamouring for the weekends of June and July) Elated to be finished with this whole process we enter our selection at the same moment the woman says, ‘Oh no! Your residence permit is not enough to register you in Kadıköy! I’m sorry. Do you live in Kadıköy, Miss?’

Delal sighs, ‘Like my paperwork says, I live in Üskudar.’

‘Well then you’ll have to register in Üskudar, get a permission slip from them, and bring it back to us I’m afraid.’

‘But we both took off work to come here! ‘ Delal protests. ‘It’s 3:30! How difficult can it be? Üsküdar and Kadıköy are the same city!’

‘A woman at my school just registered last month using the same document!’ I protest.

‘There was a change in policy last week.’


‘There’s nothing I can do,’ she says smiling. ‘But the good news is Üsküdar’s office closes at 3:45. You have 15 minutes.’

MOTHER *&%!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Üsküdar Part 1

Delal makes a quick phonecall to Üsküdar’s Evlendirme Dairesi and asks their closing time and whether or not if we actually arrive before that time, they will serve us. They assure us that they will, and so we leap in a taxi and tell him to ‘Hurry!’

This, in my opinion, is a word you should never say to a Turkish taxi driver. I said something about Turkey’s minibus driver’s in an earlier sentence. The taxi drivers are culled from a similar group of people. Turkey takes its most hopelessly insane mental patients, its most recalcitrant criminals—all its incorrigible maniacs essentially—and closes them in a small room without food or water until they start to devour one another with claw and tooth—then it releases them into the city with a cab. Our driver races so violently through the city along the slick streets in rush hour traffic that I am sure both our lives will end here and now—I love you honey! We were beautiful while we lived!-- but somehow he gets us to Üsküdar by 3:40 undecapitated. We rush into the office, completely out of breath and throw our papers on the counter in front of a startled head scarved woman.

‘I’m sorry,’ she says. ‘We’re closing.’

‘We have five minutes!’ Delal says. ‘I called and you said that as long as we get here before 3:45, you’ll help us!’

The woman sighs, glances at our papers, and then tells us to go next door to Mr. Kudret for a stamp to get the ball rolling. We thank her and rush next door. ‘Excuse me,’ Delal starts, ‘But we need a stamp or something from you to...’

Without looking up, the man says ‘You will come tomorrow.’

‘But we both took off work to...’

Still not looking up, in the same undead monotone. ‘You will come tomorrow.’

‘Please. We...’

‘You will come tomorrow.’

‘Thanks for nothing!’ I mutter. And then Delal and I stare at each other in utter rage, defeat, humiliation and frustration, our mounting mountain of paperwork clutched to our mutual bosoms.


We have a consolation nice dinner at a restaurant in the center of Üsküdar and take turns raging, as we eat our İşkembe Çorbası (Turkish menudo, that is, intestine soup—hey, it’s good!) This is part of our relationship that works like a well oiled machine. I will rave like a madman (or a taxi driver) and she will keep positive and tell me things will work out and blow things off, and then she’ll start raving and I will play the keep-it-cool nothing-worries-me guy until we are both raged out. We each get to let off steam, but are both calmed down by the end. If we raged together, we might end up burning down something.


Üsküdar is pretty in the rain. Above the shop rooftops, the spires of centures old minarets rise into the darkening sky. I watch a gang of cats crawl single file along the eaves of an electronics store. Right in front of the window where we sit a man charged a lira to refill lighters for passers by.

‘Why don’t we just do the ceremony in Üsküdar?’ I suggeset. ‘We have to register here anyway and it will save us the trip back to Kadıköy.’

‘Makes no difference to me,’ she says.

Well that will be more convenient.


I don’t sleep well. I’m reading a book about the history of the PKK to have an informed opinion about it. I have dream after dream of my house being raided by Turkish police who accuse me and Delal of being terrorists. They throw us in jail for murder. We insist we did nothing. But they have films of people who look nothing like us setting bombs and firing machine guns on Turkish troops. ‘This is you!’ they say. ‘You murdered Turkish soldiers!’

THE NEXT MORNING—Üsküdar, Part 2

The weather is the same. Gray. Dark. Wind and the fog that wants to be rain—occasionally turning to sleet.

I have only an hour before I have to leave for work (I have weasled the morning off and could have had the whole day except two other teachers are out—so I HAVE to be there) My timely arrival depends on me catching all sorts of dubious connections from Metrobus to normal bus to a possible taxi.

We arrive at the Üsküdar Evlendirme Dairesi about 7:45, soaked to the marrow. We had to walk there from the bus stop because all the construction for the subway line that will go under the Bosporous Straits is happening between the busses and the Dairesi, so the roads are closed and lined with ugly tin sheeting. We are forced to walk along the coast and right into the wind and rain raging off the sea. Waves pound. Ships rock dangerously in the docks. I am carrying a cheap umbrella, one that you can buy from Gypsies on any rainy day in the city for three bucks. ‘How many of those have you had since coming here?’ Delal asks with a smirk. ‘Oh I don’t know, five or six or...’ At that moment, as if she had cast a spell with her question, a gust of wind comes off the Marmara Sea, rips the umbrella out of my hands and smashes it against a sea wall. The handle breaks, the wires bend upward, and it gives one screech of metal against rock as it skips across the sidewalk and into the water.

‘Thanks,’ I say.

The only person in the Dairesi when we arrive is the janitor. He wears what looks like pink scrubs and has a bushy red moustache. He is surprised at anyone else being in the building. ‘Welcome!’ he says, putting down his broom. ‘You two are soaked!’ He is round like a hotair balloon with high girlish voice. He walks with a small skip and quickly takes it upon himself to give us a tour of the building. He shows us the ‘wedding salon’, a huge room that looks vaguely like a cross between a planetarium and a church. There is a stage draped in white and a huge dome of windows arcing over auditorium seating. Across the way is a ‘Garden Wedding Salon’ that looks vaguely like a traditional Japanese mansion. Windows look out on the Marmara Sea and the Palace of the Sultan across the water.

‘I like it here,’ I tell Delal. ‘I’m glad we decided to do it here instead.’

The wedding hall in Üsküdar

‘Actually,’ she says. ‘My Dad says we need to do it in Kadıköy. He thinks my relatives will have a hard time coming to Üsküdar from Kadıköy.’

Anyone remember the ten minute taxi ride? There are also about ten different buses, two or three shared taxis and several minibusses that go there in the same amount of time. But, of course, the Diaspora of her entire village lives a two minute walk from the Kadıköy Dairesi so Üsküdar basically feels like Texas for them (Texas by the way, is the default for Turkish speakers trying to say ‘the Sticks’) What can I say? It’s ridiculously provincial, but then one of my cousins back in Florida refers to anyone north of the Florida state line (even Georgians) as ‘Yankees’, so I have no room to rage about the extreme localism of relatives. In any case, if the officials arrive on time and there are no new problems and they speed us along our way, I should be able to make it to Kadıköy and work on time. (Fool! Fool! Fool!)

The woman arrives on time—the same head scarved woman as yesterday. Her scarf today is a bright pink pattern of roses. (Üsküdar is notorious for its religious conservatism by the way). She’s surprised to see anyone there so early. We give her our whole story in hopes of arousing some kind of sympathy that turns into speedy processing. She takes our papers one by one, tells us to have a seat, and proceeds to finger type the information into her computer, all the while carrying on two conversations with women on either side of her who have nothing to do.

Peck peck peck

After about fifteen minutes , she calls me up to the counter and says,

‘Your health report is from a Kadıköy doctor.’

I don’t like where this is going.


‘We need one from an Üsküdar doctor.’

A wide variety of murder options flash through my mind—my favorite being to stuff gas stained documents down her throat and then setting it on fire, or, covering her in raw meat and tossing to our vicious Kadıköy street hounds--but Delal leaps up, smiles ingratiatingly and begins to argue. ‘We are trying to register in Kadıköy but we have to register here first because his residency permit turned out not to be sufficient so we were sent over here with MY documents so that we could pick up a permit from YOU...’

And all the while I am sending a rather different tone toward the rose scarved woman with ‘angry thoughts’ as the school counselor calls them.

‘Are you crazy you stupid f%&%% twat? Is this a different goddamn country or two neighborhoods in the same F&%& city? Did I change blood when I crossed the heavily mined border into Üsküdar? Did I have sex with the AIDS infected army you keep there to guard against incursions from Kadıköy? Is that what you are f%% afraid of you sick, twister, bureaucratic, b&%&? DIE! DIE! DIE!’

Instead I give a strained chuckle and say, ‘The paperwork between America and Turkey is nothing compared to the paperwork between Üsküdar and Kadıköy.’ This is true. My paper from the consulate took five minutes and it was the only thing anyone wanted.

‘Let me check,’ the woman says and disappears for ten minutes. She returns with a sour face but good news. They will except my foreign Kadıköy doctor's report.

When all is done, we go next door to the accursed Mr. Kudret from yesterday who has reformed from the moisture and nutrients that gather in his predawn office. He’s a bald man with a shiny domed head who doesn’t look up when we come in and only mumbles a guttural oturun ‘sit’ in acknowledgement of our existence. He bends far down over our paper work and over the papers the woman next door has just prepared and goes over each line with a dull pencil with teethmarks on the eraser end.

‘There’s a mistake on the gentleman’s passport,’ he announces to Delal though I am sitting right there.

‘No there’s not,’ I say.

‘On his application form his last name is spelled Gibbs. On his passport it’s GIBBS. This could be a problem.’

‘Those are CAPITAL letters,’ I tell him.

‘Well is it an i or an ı?’

Oh yes, ha ha. Back in the first days of the Republic when Atatürk was getting rid of the Arabic alphabet and adopting a Roman one, he created a new letter, ı, the decapitated i, completely out of his own head to stand for a back vowel in Turkish. The capital ı is I and the capital i is İ. So my name Gibbs should look like GİBBS in Mr. Kudret’s world. But where’s that precious nanometer dot? Now everyone in Turkey has a compulsory 12 year education in English. Not everyone can learn the language, fine, but you would think a general awareness of the alphabet would be widespread among government officials, who also need a university education on top of that.

‘That letter only exists in Turkish,’ I explain. ‘No one else uses it. My passport is correct.’

After an agonizingly long moment of hesitation, he sighs, signs, and still without looking at us once says ‘May you have a happy marriage!’ And sends us on our way. This is the ‘Sevk’ form, a permission pack of papers from Üsküdar that we now have to take to Kadıköy in another harrowing taxi ride so that they can prepare a similar set of papers there and then let us register for a day to get married.

The woman at the Kadıköy Dairesi laughs at our troubles. ‘There has always been a little enmity between our two sections of the city!’ she says. ‘I’m surprised they didn’t send you both packing.’ She then pulls out her trust index finger and begins to type.

Peck Peck Peck.

A typing class! A typing class! Our first born child to give these people a typing class! But then comes our second and last piece of good news. I don’t have to stay. I’ve shown my face. I can run off to work and Delal can choose our date and time alone.

At lunch—three hours later!--she sends me a text message that informs me the deed is finally done.

‘We are getting married at 3:00, Sunday, July 17th.’


And all of you are invited.

And it's in Kadıköy


ad said...

that is a very long funny process with a happy ending,i reside on the north of cyprus and am thinking of getting married in turkey,but we don`t reside there and non of us is turkish,OMG this is gonna be a great funny story

Popenfloos said...

Oh dear, oh dear. And here I was trying to convince my boyfriend that we can get the marriage paperwork in Istanbul done on our own without paying anyone to do it. Talk about second thoughts... And neither of us speaks Turkish. He's English and I'm Lebanese. I can see a monumental headache coming up.

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