Cultural norms / Family / Personal / Relationships / Turkey

What it’s like to be a gelin in Turkey

I’m just back from another fairly breathless trip to E’s hometown for Bayram (Eid ul-Fitr). Like the last time we went, the week was filled with visiting and being visited, elaborate breakfasts, incredible picnics, going to weddings and henna nights, and (this time at least) a startling amount of dancing (more on this later).

Also like the last time we were there, everywhere I went, I was greeted by E’s approximately 493 relatives with cries of “Ah, bizim gelin geldi!” and “maşallah” (which roughly translates as “our new bride has arrived” and “god has willed it”).

The Turkish concept of being a gelin or bride was a bit of a shock to me, coming from the UK where we don’t really have an equivalent. The word itself stems from ‘gelmek’, which means “to come”. This reflects the idea that, when a woman gets married, she leaves her own family and becomes a part of her husband’s family. Gelinler (brides) are expected to serve their husband’s family and take orders from their kaynana, or mother in law. They’re the ones who are meant to clear the table, make the tea, do the washing up and generally make themselves useful.

Being a card carrying feminist the whole idea of leaving your own family only to go and serve your husband’s gets my hackles up. But out of respect to E’s family and culture, I was willing to give it a go. I went to Kemalpaşa prepared to muck in and play my role, but I was apprehensive nevertheless…

After a week of being E’s gelin, what’s my verdict?

Of course, it’s early days still and things might change. But so far, it’s not half bad.

All that stuff about needing to serve the tea and wash the floors? It never got further than the joke stage. Every time I tried to lift a finger around E’s mother or sister, I was shouted at and, in some cases, forcibly pushed back into my chair.

Despite this, I realised that I am more than happy to get involved in the dish washing or the floor cleaning or whatever it may be, as I would be as pretty much anyone’s guest (and in fact, having something practical to do was often a pleasantly silent respite from all the Turkish-speaking that threatened to make my head explode by around 4pm every single day).

Although I initially bridled at the very word gelin, after being greeted as with such joy as “bizim gelin!” (our bride!). I now feel firmly like it is, at least in E’s family, a term of endearment. Being called that was like a big warm hug of acceptance.




6 thoughts on “What it’s like to be a gelin in Turkey

  1. Thank you for sharing this! I’m glad it’s been a positive experience so far. I’ve heard yabancı gelins are not held to the same expectations (no complaints here). Good luck!

    • Ah yes, that’s a very good point. I’m definitely treated as a kind of exotic species with strange foibles like not knowing how to make Turkish coffee and Not rinsing the dishes before I out them in the machine – shock, horror! I’m sure it’s much harder if you’re Turkish and/or have a more traditional family.

  2. Wow this is so interesting. It’s pretty similar to Indian culture. The bride leaves her family and becomes part of her husbands family and traditionally lowest in the hierarchy, taking orders from her MIL..

    They should make the tea and do all the cleaning. Luckily, my husband would never allow it. I can see that my MIL is disappointed (has been trying to control me since day 1 haha).

    Sooo happy that your in-laws are so lovely and you are enjoying. Obviously it is a pleasure to muck in IF it is not mandatory.

    Awww I really loved this post 😀 xxx

    • Thanks! Yes, the Turkish culture around newly wed brides always reminded me of what I know of Indian culture in this regard – all the way down to the henna party!

      I think I’m incredibly lucky with my MIL. We couldn’t be more different but she is immeasurably kind, accepting and laid back. I hope yours lays off!

      How’s newly married life in India treating you? Xxx

  3. I think I became the de facto daughter-in-law when I moved in with the family. My fiance’s family is not very traditional (as evidenced by the fact that they invited me to move in), so I have been spared the traditional “gelin” role. The only time I was treated as a gelin was as part of an (apparently) hilarious joke on the part of my fiance when he sent asked me to bring some tea out some to everyone at a family gathering. Everyone laughed, and I was thoroughly confused.

    There was a TV program playing in the background at a family gathering about how women who live with their mothers-in-law are miserable. Everyone started teasing my mother-in-law and asked me if it was true. Fortunately, my mother-in-law and I get along very well, and one of my favorite things about going back to Turkey to visit is getting to spend time with her.

    • I’m glad out respective in-laws have spared us these traditional roles! I’m honestly not sure I could take it. Even the jokes can wear thin! Sounds like you have a lovely family in law – you’re lucky!

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