Saturday, June 20, 2009

Notes From the American Front and Reverse Culture Shock: A Backwards Account

It keeps happening that I stumble over what I'm going to say to people because I seize up for a moment thinking it has to be in Turkish. Then I remember it doesn't and become altogether too talkative with strangers because it's so easy.

And I was being terribly rude in the not-very-crowded crowded Saturday Market today because I keep forgetting you don't have to push or sidle to get where you want because most people are more than happy to make way, and also that there are lines that people wait in and they don't like it when someone misses the whole line thing. That's right. I no longer recognize certain types of lines. I also keep forgetting that people can understand me when I mutter rude things at passersby who are doing something stupid like standing in the middle of the aisle talking on their cell phones.

I am again un-used to the fatness of American fat people. Jesus Christ. I try not to stare but it's like trying not to stare at someone who's been horribly burned or who has a cleft lip or a palsy or something. It's even worse when there's a whole family of them eating stinky-assed bright orange Cheetos and I find myself wondering if they wouldn't just be better off giving those poor kids cigarettes-- at least the other kids at school might think they were cool or something. Or Kool.

I also find myself having curmudgeonly thoughts about beggars, especially the ones who act like they're entitled to your spare change because they asked you for it and more especially the ones who don't even bother to ask and just write a sign asking for money. Seriously, millions of years of evolution of the human intellect and creativity and that's the best you can up with? Get a fucking job. Curmudgeon is a great word and I love how it's spelled.

My folks had some workmen out this week. The workmen were all taller than me. They looked me directly in the eye and talked and joked with me and it goes without saying I could understand them even if their accents were different. The painters came equipped with drop cloths, and they didn't get any paint on the floor or leave paint rinsings in the bathtub and toilet for me to scrub out. The guys who sawed things swept up when they were done. They were all licensed and bonded and accountable to someone and had professional training. Take everything I've said in this paragraph and make it opposite to get what Turkish workmen are usually like. In America, they don't assume there is a woman who is happy to go along behind them and clean up their shitty little messes. Not one single workman wanted me to get on the phone and call abi to repeat everything I'd just told him because my crazy accent and blatant female-ness made it impossible for him to interpret my words. I even offered one workman to call my dad because he wasn't sure what he was supposed to do with the fridge, but he just said "no thanks" and sorted it out all by himself.

I should say, though, that the guy BE had out to put in our lights in the new house was very clean. He had BE stand under him with the vacuum nozzle next to where he was drilling so shavings wouldn't go all over. It reminded me of what the hygienist does when you're getting a filling.

Contrary to what many Turks believe, most Americans don't think Turks are all terrorists or barbarians or religious fanatics. What most Americans want to know is to what extent and in what ways Turks treat their women like shit. It's not always easy to give a balanced answer to that question. I try to preface my answers with nice information, like that I don't have to wear a burkha or walk ten paces behind my husband, but after that it's not good. For Turkey, I mean.

When we landed, I was extremely grouchy. LE was so bad on the plane, whacking and kicking and head-butting me for a full 7 hours because I wouldn't let him bang the tray or slam the window open and closed or poke the guy in front of us, that I came the closest I ever have come to beating him. He split my lip and did I mention I was about 24 hours with no sleep? Then he suddenly became sweet and kissy and fell asleep shortly before the plane landed. Portland Airport conspired, as usual, to insure that I was the very last person to reach the arrivals hall. This time it was because they made all the parents with strollers wait until 20 or so old people had been loaded into wheelchairs before bringing out the strollers. Naturally our stroller was last. We were last in line in passport control after being one of the first off the plane. I was pissed off.

The powerdrunk border guard barked at me, "Why did you leave the United States of America?" in that faintly hick accent that border guards, soldiers, and pilots all seem to have. I'm pretty sure this was none of her damn business. Let's just say, for example, she did have a legitimate security reason for asking me this. Am I going to say "I left because I was about to be arrested for giving cocaine to children?" or "I left because the shoe bomb guy took my idea and I got fed up?" I came scarily close to telling her what I thought of her bullshit question and her "I live 3,000 miles from New York so I have a reason to be extra afraid of terrorists" post 9/11 "I look hot in my Immigrations and Border Control uniform" attitude, but fortunately I held my tongue and gave her the usual limp answer about why I live in Turkey. Maybe she really was just curious and tends to bark at people because that's her job and she does have the accent, after all. She asked the usual questions about agricultural products I was importing and she asked if I was bringing in more than $10,000 and I said "I wish" and she didn't get mad that I made a wee joke, so perhaps she was okay after all.

And she did look hot in the uniform.

These are some of my early impressions of this place I used to call home. Oh, and my jeans are woefully out of style and most people look a lot cooler than I do.

1 comment:

renai said...

You really made me laugh. I mean, out aloud.

I fully understand what you are saying on every level. I remember when I was at home in January and just talking with sales staff and feeling so totally happy and at ease that i could communicate my every need and requirement down to the very last detail. It was just so refreshing and to be able to be served by people who genuinely give a damn or care about helping you.

Enjoy the US!