It seems like it was just yesterday that I was dealing with things like setting up utilities, cable and ADSL in a language I don't speak, but here I am doing it again with only marginally more language skills.
Becoming an Usta (master) in Turkish bureaucracy is not something that can be achieved overnight, but every time you fail you learn something new and every time you succeed you feel like a complete bad-ass. My advice is start with something easy (setting up your Digiturk) and move up to advanced techniques (getting your resident permit).
Let's get started.
Do your advance work: There is a surprising amount of
online information in Turkey in English. Many times, you can identify
the location of the correct office, download the documents you need and
figure out exactly what you should bring with you, thus saving you
multiple trips and helping you avoid conversations you won't understand.
Block time. Do not assume it will go quickly and don't be in a rush. You will make mistakes and have to backtrack. You must not get annoyed.
Go early. This might be the most important hint. Crowds and chaos are your enemy, and while you cannot avoid either completely, you should do what you can to minimize them. Remember, Turks don't get up early. Get a good night's sleep the night before and be there when the office opens. Not only will you beat the rush, but you will avoid tea/lunch breaks which can disrupt the stamp-getting flow. Both you and the bureaucrats will be in a better mood, too.
Bring everything you think you could possibly be asked for: Passports, ikamet cards, tax cards, photos and multiple photocopies are the currency of Turkish bureaucracies. Come well stocked. Having it and not needing it is preferable than needing it and not having it. Remember though, if you forget something simple, there is probably someone selling it outside the door of the office that demands it.
Think like an Ottoman-era bureaucrat. Every figure is an authority and every authority figure needs a stamp. Your goal is to obtain a stamp from each of these authorities. Also, remember, no one can be trusted to handle money. If you understand this you will not be confused when you have to visit five windows for five different stamps and then go to the bank down the street to pay (you ALWAYS have to go somewhere different -- a different window or floor or building or city -- to pay). There is no penalty for going to the wrong window (other than time wasting). If you go to the wrong window, smile, be apologetic and someone will send you to the correct one eventually. Remember, you do not need to understand what every stamp or window is for. Your goal is just to get them. (This is actually Carpetblogger's Key to Expat Success #4: You Do Not Need To Understand Everything That Happens Around You.
Watch carefully: Take a few minutes before jumping in to the process to read the signs (physical and psychological), to understand the flow and logic of the room and identify helpful, friendly-looking clerks. Identify centers of power in case you need to appeal to a higher authority. Look for another customer who is doing the same task as you and follow them.
Know your enemy. Your enemy is not the clerk behind the desk; it is other customers. Put on your game face and sharpen your elbows. Every new customer arrives, pushes to the front and asks a question. This means that the clerk will stop doing whatever he or she was doing (i.e. helping you) to answer that question, probably only partially, then will forget to come back to whatever task he or she was doing before. This results in a room full of half-helped customers and clerks running around squawking. Americans are too polite and will fume quietly rather than join a scrum or cut a line. Get over this. Your goal is to cut the line yourself (play that foreigner card while it still works!) while physically blocking other line cutters from getting to the front. Once you're there, you must make sure the clerk has space to focus on his or her task, which is helping you.
Make friends: Being a western foreigner gets you pretty far in Turkey (god help you if you are Russian or Bulgarian, though). Smile, be friendly and be free with your polite Turkish and the compliments. This works in America, too. Once, while doing opposition research in an American courthouse, I was given documents I had no right to have simply by complementing the clerk's dress. The other goal is to identify a sympathetic, competent figure who maybe speaks a few words of English. This is especially important if you make repeat visits to a particular office.
Don't let anyone tell you you can't get your ADSL or telephone line yourself. It does take a little extra time, patience and creativity, but you can do it if you keep a few things in mind. In fact, I think many of these principles apply everywhere*, even if you do speak the language.
*Except the FSU. Forget it. You're screwed.