Belfast Telegraph

A holiday romance can become the sweetest thing

The murders of two Newry women in Turkey have sadly opened the debate on holiday romances. Jane Hardy talks to three people whose hearts are happily tied to the country.

The tragic double murder of Newry women Marion Graham and Kathy Dinsmore that took place in Kusadasi in Turkey last week illustrates the risk of misunderstanding when people from different countries and cultures get involved.

But this news story presents a slightly skewed snapshot of Turkey which happens to be the country of Ephesus, where St Paul preached in the first century, as well as of bars, cut-price holidays and second homes.

Raymond McGuinness, the father of 15-year old Shannon whose relationship with waiter Recep Cetin was the catalyst for this disaster, has said he thought her boyfriend, known as Alex, was a gold digger.

Alex has been reported as saying he committed the crime because Shannon’s mother Marion refused his offer to marry her teenage daughter and destroyed his dream.

In spite of what this says about the unequal contract between the industrialised north and less developed south, many encounters between northern and southern parts of Europe work very well at many levels in spite of the different cultures.

There are successful Turkish-Northern Irish marriages and partnerships in Belfast and elsewhere as well as people from here who have integrated there, and the other way round.

Ayca Lacey, who originally comes from Turkey and is married to the Northern Irish guy who she met at Lagan College, Jonny, says mixed marriages can work well.

“We have been going out since we were both sixteen and he's a very decent guy. We like the difference, but there's no culture clash in our relationship.”

We talk to other people with personal experience of positive Turkish-Northern Irish relations.

Love matches that broke down barriers

‘This was a tragedy. It could have happened anywhere’

Jonny Lacey (25) is a bar-restaurant manager from Belfast who now lives with his Turkish wife, Ayca, in Liverpool. He says:

I heard the news about the murders the day I returned from Turkey, where I’d been on holiday with my wife. We go back every year to visit Ayca’s family, who still live there. My mother texted me and I looked at Sky News.

We were staying in Bodrum, a two to three-hour drive from Kusadasi, where the attack happened. I would say our cultures are different, but that Ayca and I happily bridge the divide.

It’s partly love, but also the fact she’s not a practising Muslim so we both come from a fairly |liberal background. But we didn’t talk about our relationship and living together until we got engaged.

Turkey is very family orientated, it’s all about sharing meals round the table. Many of Ayca’s family don’t speak English, but for me, there is a real sense of |belonging.

Ayca’s family have summer houses in Bodrum, but I stay away from the areas where it’s boozed-up Brits abroad. They aren’t there for the monuments, but for cheap beer. It is a Muslim country and my father-in-law, who is very liberal, was still shocked and embarrassed when he saw girls in Liverpool wearing almost nothing.

There is no culture clash in our marriage. What makes it work is common values and humour. Yet the sense of being with someone originally from a different country is fun and not just because of going to Turkish restaurants.

I think because some of the people out there have nothing and work all summer long next to richer tourists, maybe they do see an opportunity.

Of course, on the other side, I behave differently in Turkey, having just one beer, not smoking and dressing differently. You |respect their customs.

This event in Kusadasi was a tragedy, it could have happened anywhere. Our experience as a couple is totally different.”

‘It is special being with somebody from another country’

Ayca Lacey (26) is a primary school teacher and married to Jonny with whom she lives in Liverpool. She says:

There is a risk of demonising Turkish men but to be honest, I don’t feel relieved that I’m not in Belfast just now. I lived there for 11 years and never experienced any form of racism.

I went to an integrated school, Lagan College, which is where I met my husband Jonny. He was the entertainer or class clown, everyone was aware of Jonny Lacey.

He loved attention and was constantly eager to attract it, there was no way I couldn’t be aware of him.

After a while, he was moved around the classroom and ended up next to me, among the geeks. We became friends and then more than friends. We’ve been going out together since we were 16.

Culturally, I feel westernised although when Jonny and I go to Turkey to see my family, they’re more traditional on my dad’s side, I act the Ayca they prefer me to be.

But Jonny has fitted in with my culture very well. When he first came to visit my family, I didn’t need to keep him company and check on his behaviour.

I didn’t tell my parents about the romance until we were engaged, although they had an inkling. But when they met him, they loved him.

Just as there is a Turkish stereotype, there is a British stereotype and they might have had initial reservations, but they met him and saw he was a very decent guy.

When we got engaged, I became obsessed with marriage and we watched all the wedding programmes.

Jonny kept saying ‘I could do better than that,’ so as a joke, I sent an email off about this to the BBC show Don’t Tell the Bride. Partly because of my culture, we got on the programme, after about six castings.

They kept asking me about the cultural differences. Our wedding wasn’t traditionally Turkish – the only wedding I’d been to was my stepmum and dad’s, which was at a registry office, followed by a family meal and party.

We had a minister at our wedding, to which my family turned a blind eye, then a party for the 90 guests, everybody really enjoyed it.

Jonny even got a hog roast and we don’t eat pork. My stepsister Merve initially said, ‘That’s a pig on a stick!’ but she tried some and went back for seconds. The TV people loved that.

When we have children, they will be brought up western because that’s where we are, but with respect for their Turkish background and for their grandparents.

It is special being with somebody from another country — and we’re very happy.”

‘I fell in love with the whole country and the Turkish people'

Regan Smyth (43) lives in Belfast and is a carer for her father. She says:

Thankfully, most people here have forgotten I used to live in Turkey although a couple of friends have mentioned the murders to me. My first feeling was a lot of sadness and sympathy for the family, but this isn’t typical of Turkish people.

The guy clearly has a lot of issues and if this hadn’t happened now, it could have been someone else at another time.

We tend to come up with gross generalisations about the way women are treated in Turkey.

I was quite bigoted when I first went to Turkey 20-odd years ago at the age of 26, and thought I was going to protect my girlfriends.

Initially we went to Bodrum. It was absolutely beautiful and I fell in love with the whole country and the Turkish people. They are some of the nicest people I’ve met and you are treated extremely well at all times.

I never had one bad experience and everybody’s attitude was that I was a lost child who needed looking after.

Later I lived there and worked as a tour manager. Discussing the average British or Irish tourist with my English manager, he said: ‘They want Blackpool, only cheaper and with the sun.’

Even though tourists sometimes behaved badly, I have never known an instance of anybody being treated other than with respect.

My first relationship was a typical holiday romance and I stayed with his family.

His mother washed my hair and cooked for me, and his younger siblings were all told to do what I wanted as I was a guest.

The hospitality was amazing. He’s now married to a girl in Liverpool and we meet up sometimes when he is in Belfast.

I ran off with somebody else and that relationship lasted several months. At that point I thought I might marry someone there, and was trying to emigrate.

I would have married a Turkish man in an instant — we think all the Turks are trying to get over here, but a lot of people want to go over there.

It’s such a beautiful, historic country.

You have to be careful about stereotypes — Turkey is liberal, with a lot of arts, film and respect for the intelligentsia.

People at home would ask me ridiculous questions about whether Turkey had TV, at a time when they had 50 channels to our five, or whether Turks were dirty.

Turkish men are actually very romantic and Northern Irish men could learn a thing or two from them.

Finally, I met the love of my life. He was my manager and it lasted a year but didn’t work out in the end as I got homesick. Thirteen years on, I still miss him.”

A country full of surprises ...

  • Everyone knows that Turkey is (liberal) Islamic, but there are aspects of Turkish society that don’t crop up in guidebooks and might surprise you.
  • There is a surprisingly relaxed attitude to topless and nude bathing in some areas, with the Hotel Adabumu Golmar in south-western Turkey advertising itself as a naturist hotel. But Shannon Graham’s boyfriend Recep reportedly got cross when she sunbathed topless.
  • Although smoking is banned in public places, 80% of Turks smoke and their tobacco is top grade and supposed to be delicious.
  • Drinking isn’t restricted although there is no drinking in public during Ramadan. The most famous local drink, raki, is a form of anis and people enjoy long meals, drinking raki, eating mezze and chatting.
  • The role of women in Turkish society isn’t totally downtrodden. Women got the right to vote and serve as politicians in 1934, decades before Swiss women. In 1993 Tansu Ciller became the first female PM.
  • Politeness remains important in the country and swearing is a no no. Turks working in the tourist industry know how we curse and as Regan Smyth notes: “A well educated waiter friend of mine said people would come in and ask for a pint of f***ing beer, which is very poor form in Turkey.”

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