Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Open Letter To Turks Dealing With Foreigners

We look funny. We talk funny. We just don't understand your wonderful culture and we don't think Turkish food is the best on earth. But you have to deal with us sometimes, so here are some helpful tips to make those crazy interactions with foreigners go a little more smoothly.

1) First and foremost, foreigners are not all alike. There are 193 other countries besides Turkey and they're all different from each other. I'm not talking about avoiding stereotypes, like claiming English people are cold or German people are loud. I'm talking about starting a sentence with 'Foreign people are X,' or 'Foreign people do X,' or 'Foreign people eat X' or 'Foreign people think X.' Just avoid doing this at all times. It just makes you look stupid. Remember, my friends, that's 193 other countries outside of Turkey. It's not one big country that isn't Turkey where all the foreigners live and get up to their wacky shenanigans.

2) This is a little like tip #1: If you met a foreigner one time, or if your friend or relative once met one, or even if you're lucky enough to know a foreigner yourself, do not get surprised when other foreigners you meet are not exactly the same as the one you know.

3) When a foreigner comes into your shop, do not get 6 inches behind him or her and follow him or her around pulling random things off racks and smiling hopefully. When he or she tells you nicely to go away, just go away. If the foreigner needs help, he or she will ask for it.

4) I know Turkish is a beautiful and complicated and amazing language that only Turkish people could ever manage properly, but when a foreigner speaks Turkish, do not squeal with delight and say how nice or sweet it is. Do not say in amazement, 'Oh, you speak Turkish! Say something in Turkish! It's so cute!' We are not trained monkeys.

5) Allow me to offer a more general piece of advice that doesn't apply to just foreigners. You know in your car, on the right-hand side of the steering wheel there's that stick? And when you push it up or down some lights flash, and there may even be a delightful clicking or pinging noise? That stick is there for a reason. It's to let people know you're going to turn. It's there because pedestrians and other drivers can't read your mind (not even foreigners!), and since you all always have the right of way and can't be bothered to slow down before you make turns, we would like to know ahead of time so we can avoid going in front of your car.

6) Please, please, please, just stop jumping out of your place of business when a foreigner walks by and shouting 'Yes, please!' It makes no sense. It's disconcerting. It's the best way to insure that the foreigner will run away from your restaurant and buy nothing in your shop.

7) You know how you don't like it when virtual strangers ask you really personal questions like how much your rent is, or how much money you make, or why you don't have children? Well, foreigners don't like that either.

8) Sitting and giggling with your friends and saying things like 'How are you I'm fine thanks' or 'I love you' in English or any other foreign language is not a good way to attract foreigners of the opposite sex.

9) I can't generalize this to all foreigners, but I know it's true of many: Stop touching our babies! Get your fingers out of their mouths! Refrain from grabbing their hands and kissing them! I don't know where your hands have been. For all I know, you could have been cleaning gas station toilets or inseminating racing camels before you came and stuck your hands all over my baby's lips. I don't know if you have some nasty, contagious weeping sores in your mouth. Babies are cute, I get it, but they're not public property. If you really must do something to our babies, the polite thing is to at least interact with the mother first. Seriously, doesn't it freak you out to turn around and see your baby's hand in some stranger's mouth?

10) Last, most foreigners do not hate Turkey or Turkish people, and way fewer of them than you think hate Muslims. To be honest, most foreigners probably haven't even thought about Turkey or Turkish people enough to even form an opinion about them. Many foreigners have not thought about Turkey or Turkish people at all. Really. Before I came to Turkey, I'd discussed Turkey and Turkish people with my friends and family approximately... never. So when something baffling happens in the world, it is rarely related to Turkey and foreigners' negative feelings about Turkey or Turkish people.

I do hope I haven't upset anyone with these ten helpful tips. For the most part, you Turks are a good bunch to hang out with, and you do a bang-up job of making people feel welcome. If you could just overcome these last little hurdles, we can learn to understand each other a little better, and things might just get a little nicer here for everyone.


Anonymous said...

actually Turkish people do not think that everyone else hates Turks. It`s just westerners who are perceieved to hate Turks, and that`s quite true. I`m telling this from my experience.

Btw. you could try being a little more polite and appropriate in your posts. I mean, when did you see a camel in Istanbul? I have lived there for 17 years, and the only place in where I saw a camel was the Darica zoo. So you think it`s funny to bash people like you did in your post?

also, I`m wondering if you will make up a similar list for westerners dealing with how they should interract with Turks or instead keep being a hypocrite when it comes to Turks? Here is my list

1- Don`t call them names like barbarians, mongols, smelly muslims etc...
2- Don`t treat them like terrorists in airports just because they hold a Turkish passport.
3-Don`t ask them silly questions like "how many wives do you have?" "have you killed anyone before?" "how come you don`t wear fez?"
4-We know that the western world has always been angelic elves to the others but forget how perfect you are at least for a little while and don`t accuse Turkish individuals of various "genocides" such as "armenian genocide" "assyrian genocide" "greek genocide" "anzac genocide" "british genocide" "polar bear genocide" "x genocide" "y genocide" etc.
5-Don`t hang signs on your bars clubs etc. saying "no dogs and Turks allowed"
6- Don`t shout out "I would be a Paki rather than a Turk" in soccer games.
7- Don`t insult them just because they are not descended from the "superior" christian white race.
8- Don`t make fun of them just because they are poorer than you.
9- Don`t generalize stuff if you come up with a Turk that has smt disturbing to you. there are some 300 millions of them and not all are the same.

Don`t do these things because they are humans too, they have feelings too, and they too feel hurt and offended.

Anonymous said...

that is either a german or an american redneck speaking :)) i'm sure there are other nicer ways of paraphrasing these useful tips than putting it too direct and almost in a rude way. Directness is not a virtue if it is coming along with unpoliteness in Turkey. And that's my tip to you, the "stranger" in istanbul.

Another stranger

Stranger said...

Direct would be, "Yes, I'm foreign. Quit acting like an idiot."

But that wouldn't be much of a blog post then, would it?

Why do these sorts of comments always come from an "Anonymous?"

And where did all the other comments that used to be on this post go?

Anonymous said...

I have been living in Turkey for some months and completely agree with Stranger, especially when passing some "abazalar" who are shouting behind me and my friends "I love you" or just "Yes! Yes!"

I have been travelling all over the Europe and never felt so much labelled with a "foreigner sticker" on my forehead.
And I really hate shopping in small stores when feeling the seller's breath on my back.

And one more thing that is annoying: such a comments from anonymous... I am a blogger too. Be brave to publish and sign it with your name. If you are not brave enough... do not publish

mozadak said...

i can understand you correctly. i am a turk but my wife is a foreigner and we live in turkey. she has more negative thing to the country and the people. honestly she hates my country. while i was reading your post, i said these are my wifes words. as a nation, we have very different way of working of our brains. before i met my wife i was a little bit close minded.

i even didnt see my wifes country (but this doesnt mean i didnt weant to. actually i couldnt pass the boarder when i went to visit her) but i can understand how foreigners think about us.

i was always hated this kind of behaveours. and i am still against them. i dont know what should happen but we have to realise somethings soon. very soon.

ps. we dont have camels. they are only used for stupit touristic things in vacation places. you could say horse maybe.


Stranger said...

Meriç, thanks for your comment. I wrote this post almost 4 years ago (goodness, has it been that long?) and it's one of those posts that makes me cringe a bit, now that I've been here so long.

Around the time I started writing this blog, I was deep in the throes of very delayed culture shock (in 2007, I'd already been here for 5 years), but didn't realize that was the problem. As most people do with their big problems, I blamed them on everything outside rather than looking at the one common denominator to everything that was going wrong (me).

Now when I read posts like this, I think wow, that was a shitty thing for me to say about everyone in this country. As with any place in the world, there are a lot of decent people and a few obnoxious ones. Funny how I don't seem to notice the obnoxious ones as much anymore. And, as you say, the sort of people I bitched about in this post are the same people Turks bitch about, mostly. Lucky for all of us, there aren't very many of them.

One thing having this blog ended up doing was giving me a place to publicly get every rant off my chest. And once I did, I didn't think about that stuff so much and things got better. Of course, it took a few years and some other major changes, but it got better.

I hope your wife is able to do whatever she needs to do in order to find her way of being comfortable in Turkey. You'll have to find your way of being comfortable here with her, too. It won't be easy for either of you, which is all I have to say about that, since I'm certainly no expert in the marriage department. But in the mixed couples I've seen having successful marriages here, there have been tremendous sacrifices on both parts. I also think the Turkish partner has to sacrifice way more than he or she ever expected. I say this not because I think Turks are "wrong," but because usually the foreigner went into the marriage knowing what s/he was giving up and about how much s/he might have to change. Then s/he will have to give up and change even more, which is much easier to do if the partner is meeting him/her in the middle somehow.

The camel comment was pretty mean-spirited of me. Here's where it came from: I had recently read an article about an American woman who had become quite successful as an inseminator of racing camels in Saudi Arabia, and that stuck with me because of what she had to do with her arm. Also, I'd recently been stuck in an endless line at the foreign police in Aksaray when LE was about 3 months old. The (Turkish) woman in line next to me was obviously ill, with a tissue in her hand that she was constantly using to wipe her nose and cough and sneeze into. I looked away for a moment and turned back to find her germy-ass hand, the one holding the snotty tissue no less, touching my baby's face and sticking her fingers into his mouth. So, a bit of hyperbole to capture the moment and I came up with the camel thing. Which is weird because the only places I've seen camels in Turkey were in Bodrum tourist traps and an Easrern European circus.

Good luck with everything.

Anonymous said...

I'm a mixed "foreigner" and here's the experience I get from the Turks I've met in the US.
I'm glad that some are friendly and trendy. We can relate to that, it's a plus. And I'm glad to find ones who hold college degrees in a practical field.

However the group would better off explaining the mentality to those. I'm going to come to America's defense, and yes this is status quo in places ie. Hawaii and California.
We have successfully integrated eastern and western culture so it does happen here-prolly better than it does on the East Coast.

However, like you said people come here from over 170 countries and we don't already know your culture.

From the few that I met, I had very disappointing experiences which really lies on the assumption that we understand each others' BOUNDARIES.

One guy I met from Turkey made sexual advances at inappropriate times, as in during a job interview.

Another young lady I met from Turkey has been nothing short of a crazy freeloader. I know these are just two people, but I'm calling into question as to where people set their boundaries?

Is it okay for a young Turkish woman to aggressively get in another Turkish woman's face then demand to eat her food, drive her car, use her phone? (esp ANNOYING when she has more money and these necessities herself).

Or is this just something they do when they leave home to attend school in the US?

You are mistaken if you think that this is a religious ordeal, I'm not used to a heightened level of entitlement. Esp. when it comes to being invasive, inappropriate, manipulative, etc.

The young Turkish lady was so crazy that she didn't take advantage of some trust fund kids rolling in a jag outside of their $1.5 mil condo. Or corporate.


She's taking advantage of people, incl. me who has substantially less than she does. It's beyond narcissistic - it's beyond stupid too.

I know that Americans are not the saints either, but everyone knows that most Americans are not like each other.

I've only met two people from Turkey. What are the standards for people in your culture?

Like I said before, we don't already understand everybody and how things balance out. We all didn't get to take Middle Eastern Studies like major at top Universities.

But man, boundaries. No innate empathy for others around them. Except that I'm getting shadowed by the one crazy lady.
Honestly, had the guy not approached a job candidate for sex but instead at a coffee shop, bar... he might have better luck? His rejection had nothing to do with what he was or what he owned, he was totally fine in the looks and charm department as well.
But how he approached women is the reason why he gets rejected.

Like with the Turkish lady, it's an imposition to use things that require people to spend money on them, esp. since a lot of young adults in the US are living hand to mouth thanks to the economy.

Guys need to step back and re-assess expectations a bit. If there's an imposition, don't expect a warm reception.

Stranger said...

I think you've just had the misfortune to run into two rather unpleasant people who happen to be from Turkey. There's probably a reason they're not here anymore-- ironically, the same reason a lot of Western expats are here-- which is that their country and communities just wouldn't have them anymore. I don't expect either of those 2 would be very popular here, though I admit the man's behavior you've mentioned wouldn't exactly be called outlandish.

Still, most people think guys like that are dicks.

But shits like those two can be found anywhere, I think.

emelkaya said...

I am a bit late to read this blog, I was searching how it can be to live in Turkey for my husband, but i was quite suprise, i was thinking how many times this person changed countries and how you can make all that general, as the same mistake some Turkish people does, but I realized after years when you read your blog you feel the wrong parts, i found it so much pointing, I live in Germany about a year, and I think being foreigner in country never easy, especially in western countries being Turkish, crazily still in some of the countries they think i am Arab, but in germany they deal with different problem about Turkish Germans, to integrate them to country, and they think all turkish people are closeminded, conservative and some of them think turkish people are stupid, because not many turkish german study university, and they just realize it is just about money too, poor german people also dont have high educations and they are also class of stupids, but it is not true, but this is also other general talk, i find many of German people are so nice to be, even i feel sometimes i have to explain myself that i have no idea about TurkishGermans, when I came here first I was also complaining so much, how friendships are not so deeply, and people are much more lonely because of modern life living without roles and all, but my husband is the person who lived in many countries learnt the language and find his place, more important you should stop pointing and complaining, it doesnt work like this, when the country has strong tradition you should understand you can feel alien, i feel alien when i am in church now still, i go with my husband family to be part of their life, even my husband is the perfect example to be openminded person for religious, we bith belive Love and sharing, but we have different backgrounds that we feel relax in it, so something can look weird to you but for another person it will not be, as turkish music, we are thinking to live in Istanbul for some years, but first recommend to you, if you want to integrate to the culture, you should look turkish people eyes, you will see light and energy, when you stop pointing them, and looking down, you can always understand cultures and find your place...