Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Black Sea Folks

One of my former bosses told me this story:

She was teaching a lesson where she was asking students to talk about people from different regions of Turkey (when teaching in Turkey, talking about Turkey and Turkish people and Turkish food and Turkish culture, etc. is about the only thing guaranteed to keep students interested; any straying from the topic of "Turkey and how wonderful everything about it is" means you'll lose your class's attention within minutes). One student raised her hand and said "Karadeniz (Black Sea) people like to fuck." Shocked, the teacher asked her to please repeat that. "Karadeniz people like to fuck," said the student again. Guessing that this probably wasn't what the student meant (women in Turkey rarely swear, for one thing, especially in a classroom), she questioned the student further and realized the student was trying to say "Karadeniz people like to folk," meaning folk-dancing. Stuff like this happens when you're teaching-- it's really hard not to laugh. Once I was asking some elementary students what their parents' jobs were. Invariably their mothers are "house-women," but usually their fathers have jobs. One student said "My father owns a sex factory." I blushed because this student was an attractive young fellow (of Black Sea stock, no doubt, as they often have that strapping, corn-fed farm boy look), and I was a newish teacher, unsure if he was trying to flirt. I asked him to repeat that, and he said it again. So I started to move on to the next student, figuring someone had to own factories where sex toys were made outside of China, and it was expected that owner of such a factory's son would be frank about it. But the student started motioning towards his feet, and what he'd meant was "socks factory." Well, someone has to do that too. Judging from the quality of the student's cell phone, his father wasn't doing too badly at it, either.

In one of my MA courses, Cultural Linguistics, we conducted an informal poll of the American accent that sounds nicest to native speakers of American English. The preferred accent was Northern Midwest, particularly that of people from Michigan. People thought this accent sounds the most honest and the least annoying, and that one tends to make good judgements about someone with this accent. Personally, I like the long "o"s of people from Michigan-- nicely rounded, but not as pronounced as a Canadian's.

I've conducted informal polls like this with Turkish students, and generally they all think the Black Sea accent sounds the nicest, with the Aegean accent as a close second. They cite similar reasons-- the Black Sea accent is honest and unpretentious and makes the speaker sound likeable. For me, I find the Black Sea accent nearly impossible to understand. Even Kurdish and Southeastern Turkish accents with their swallowed vowels and gutteral, almost Arabic "h"s, "k"s and "g"s are easier for me than Black Sea accents. Black Sea people are pretty easygoing about their vowels, and kind of use whatever ones they feel like, plus they soften hard consonants, so, for example, a hard "g" often sounds like "j." And moreso than most Turks, they get really excited and animated and speak a million miles and hour-- even Turkish people often say they have a hard time understanding Black Sea folk.

As for liking folk dancing, who can blame them? Black Sea music is great. Tinged with a Slavic quality, the drums gallop along with a clarinet-like instrument of increasing insanity. Some people hate it but I love it. Outisde my old flat, some neighbors were doing a traditional Black Sea wedding, where the family and others come to collect the bride, and along with the carts and half a billion family members, they brought along a small band playing Black Sea music. It was shortly before I got married. I told BE I wanted a Black Sea band to come collect me for the wedding, and he stuck his nose up scornfully and said, "Oh my god, I'm marrying someone who likes Karadeniz."

Turks may like the Black Sea accent the best, but in general, Black Sea people are the Polish joke of Turkey. There's a recurrent character, Temel, in these jokes ("temel" in Turkish means "basic," but said of a person it connotes more of a moron). I only know one Temel joke: Temel got himself a flea and was conducting experiments on it in his laboratory. He cut off one of the flea's legs, and ordered it to jump, and it did. He cut off a second leg and ordered it to jump again, and it did. Eventually, Temel had cut off all the flea's legs. He ordered it to jump, and when it didn't, he dutifully recorded the results: "If you cut all the legs off of a flea, it can't hear."

Are Black Sea people stupid? I wouldn't go that far. They are said to have a quality, however, of stubbornly pursuing ill-conceived notions to sometimes bad endings for themselves. The Turkish press often reports these Black Sea mishaps in the newspaper. One that I read myself involved two brothers in Trabzon who were moving house. The apartment was on the second floor. They wanted to move the refrigerator, and decided it was a good idea for one brother to drop the refrigerator from the balcony and the brother on the ground would catch it. Both the brother and the refrigerator were killed. Another story, reported to me by BE, was again in Trabzon: A fly went into a guy's mouth. Wanting to get rid of it, he sprayed bug poison in there, killing himself and, presumeably, the fly. In this third story, no one dies, fortunately: During Ramazan, people gather around their food-laden tables and eagerly await the sundown ezan so they can break their fast. An imam in Trabzon made a mistake with the time, and accidentally called the ezan several minutes early for a week or so, causing the faithful to break their fasts early, which is a no-no. Realizing his mistake, he asked the elders (or whoever imams ask in these situations) what he should do, and they told him to make up those minutes by calling the ezan several minutes later for a week. This story made the international press, and a guy from Trabzon living in Germany (a different time zone) called into a religious radio show wondering if he, too, should break the fast later, because he was from Trabzon.

Still, Black Sea pide is the best. For those in or passing through Istanbul, go to Karadeniz Pidecisi in Bakırköy on the corner across from the Evin Cafe. Even BE agrees this is really great pide. Trabzon bread is much tastier than the kleenex-flavored baguettes one usually ends up with here. Akçaabat köftesi is spicy and unashamedly garlicky, which is rare in a culture that gets grumpy about garlic breath. For Black Sea music, though the guy is a complete idiot and is said to only have gotten a recording contract because his father is big in the industry, I recommend Davut Güloğlu, who sets Black Sea music to dance beats.

Black Sea folks. You gotta love 'em.


Yaramaz said...

Mmmmmmm droool. Early iftar...sacrilicious!

I like karadeniz music too. Are we freaks?

Stranger said...

We're probably freaks. But how could anyone NOT like Karadeniz music?

paul said...

mmm karadeniz pidecisi...drool...

Anonymous said...

Polish people tell the same joke, but it involves a fly and a Russian scientist.