I seem to be avoiding my blog these days. Actually, I’m still busy unpacking and teaching. I did have some time alone in the house this past week, and I’m feeling more calm and settled. I can only write when I am calm and settled.
I thought I’d tackle the relatively light-hearted topic of culture clashes in this post. Actually, I witnessed a lot fewer cultural problems between Turks and Americans than I expected. I think our two cultures are pretty compatible. As I’ve written before, Turks are confident and assertive. The influx of Americans and others into their country in recent years (I read awhile back that over 20,000 Americans currently make Turkey their home; could this be true?) doesn’t seem to have fazed Turks one bit. They are flattered we chose their country and go out of their way to welcome us.
But is everything perfect? Of course not. Cultural differences arise. Note: please keep in mind that comparing any two cultures involves making generalizations, and that the vignettes here might not accurately represent the entire Turkish culture.
When Turks offer you tea in a restaurant, you are expected to accept it. It is a signal that the meal has pleased you. We found this out during a short visit to Edirne, formerly Adrianople, next to the Greek and Bulgarian borders. We had just walked through what many consider Turkey’s loveliest place of worship, the Selimiye Mosque, and were lunching at one of the town’s famous ciger restaurants (cow’s liver sliced paper thin and deep fried: scrumptious). Our meal had been more than ample, and we were getting ready to leave when our waiter suggested tea. “No, thank you,” we replied, and he nodded and walked away. A minute later, however, the owner emerged from the back of the restaurant. “Would you like some tea?” We immediately knew what our answer should be. After that, all was well, and our hosts beamed at us as we left.
Turks never ever pick up and eat food that has fallen on the floor. Even if it has only been on the floor for seconds, and even though Turkish houses are scrupulously clean. When I explained the American five-second rule to Turkish friends, I was met with looks of absolute disgust.
Turks feel it’s impolite to blow their nose in front of others. The first time I noticed this was when I was being interviewed for my teaching job. The director had a cold, and so she dabbed at and wiped her nose while asking me questions. At one point she even placed a tissue over her entire mouth and nose. I thought this was a bit odd, but I was far more preoccupied with answering her questions.
Later, when I shared an office with eight Turkish teachers, I became aware of this taboo. When my students had colds, they would ask to be excused from the classroom to blow their noses. Alas, sometimes they’d be gone a quarter of an hour, taking the opportunity to phone a friend or two on their way back to class!
Turks talk softly or not at all on public transportation. I learned that from a young American colleague who was reprimanded for speaking too loud.
Turks, like everyone, love gifts, but expect them to be wrapped attractively. When we invited a Turkish couple over for dinner, they presented me several items enveloped in shiny synthetic wrapping with elaborate bows. When they returned the invitation, I brought them a loaf of banana bread wrapped only in tin foil.Only later, chatting at work, I heard a Turkish colleague recall that her sister had once sat down and wept over a gift that wasn’t specially wrapped. Oops.
Management styles in Turkey, whether in business, the nonprofit sector, or government, seemed a bit more top-down than those in the U.S. Huge generalization here, but my impression. Dislike of over-authoritarianism is part of the current unhappiness with Turkey’s prime minister.
Readers, can you add your own impressions and experiences to this list?
Back home in Minnesota, there is not a day that I don’t think of Turkey. I was recently given Leanne Kitchen’s excellent “Turkey: More than 100 Recipes with Tales from the Road” and I am finding her descriptions of Turkey as evocative as her recipes. Kitchen writes,”There is simply nowhere else on Earth quite like Turkey. . . In common with other Islamic cultures, there’s a particular kindness shown to strangers…”
We were often staggered by Turkish acts of kindness. They went beyond any I’ve experienced in other parts of the world. That is why the country will always hold a place in my heart.