“Your baby is cold,” shouted one panicky co-worker at me while pointing at my feet, which I had daringly pulled out of my tight shoes. Swollen after 8 months of pregnancy and the summer heat my poor feet had deserved a bit of a break – or so I thought. But quite clearly I was wrong!

I did briefly play with the idea of explaining to my co-worker that surely the baby – safely and warmly tucked away at a steady 38 degrees Celsius inside my womb – wouldn’t care nor be affected by my feet touching the cold floor. But in the face of such vehemence I chose the simpler road and put a smile on my face and my feet back into my shoes.

Okay, Turks love talking and giving advice. But when it comes to your health, they go way overboard. Sometimes it seems that everyone is either sick, about to get sick or afraid of getting sick. This obsession with one’s health or lack of health is almost a bit of a national hobby.

Now don’t get me wrong. I myself am a bit of a closet-hypochondriac. A tough and fit Austrian on the outside, those close to me have heard me scream “It must be cancer” or “I’m not ready to die yet” as soon as my little toe twitches. But here in Turkey I’m way out of my league.

Wearing a short-sleeved T-shirt in April in rather warm 19 degrees Celsius I’m constantly asked if I’m not cold. Ignoring my negative answer I’m then told that I most certainly will catch a cold. My neighbours are still surprised that my now 7 months old son is fighting fit. They suspiciously eye him every time I pass them in the hallway looking for the slightest sign of a cold or even worse the flu. After all I had dared to take him for a walk every single day of his life and that during the cold December and January temperatures. Luckily my neighbours don’t live in Austria or they wouldn’t be setting a foot in front of their doors for the majority of the year.

Now this obsession of Turks with being sick and getting sick and worrying about it, has developed into a bit of an obsession of mine. I’ve started an office sickness tally.

Since I’ve started counting (58 days that is) at least one person has pulled a sad and miserable face in the morning. Doing the required “Oh no, what happened?” the answers range from “My tummy hurts” in 69 % of the cases, closely followed by headaches 22% to a range of “I’m pregnant and therefore should feel ill” to “I’ve got a small baby and I’m still overweight and therefore feel ill” to “My sister’s pregnant and I’m feeling ill for her”. Oh and then of course there was the swine flu scare. Teachers were running around with their white hospital masks and exclaiming every morning that surely they had caught the swine flu. Just a small note, no one actually caught it. But hey, someone could have.

The only person who doesn’t actually succumb to this national worry is my partner. Quite the opposite. He strongly believes that only by admitting you are sick, you actually are sick. Which means that he’ll walk around with a temperature of 40 degrees Celsius, red swollen eyes and a blocked nose refusing to go to the pharmacy or the doctor.

It also means I get zero empathy when I’m sick. Or feeling sick. Or worried about being sick.

posts by Esther