Friday, August 28, 2009

The Plate: A Source of Worry and Potential Obligation

For a day and a half now, this plate has been sitting on top of my oven:
It's a nice enough plate. Plain, unassuming, and fairly innocuous.

Yet, the plate is a source of some distress for me, and I've been putting off dealing with it. It all started a couple of days ago when my cleaner went to wash the windows (dangling terrifyingly outside with LE shouting "Fall down! Fall down! LE outside?"). She noticed on the balcony downstairs there were some sweets or fruits or something out there drying, and so she dispatched me downstairs to ask the woman if she could move it inside for a bit so dirt from the window wouldn't fall on the food.

Off I went, rehearsing in my mind how I should open this interaction and explain myself in Turkish, which was a mistake because I promptly bungled it on arrival. Nevertheless, I got the message across.

Then the woman from downstairs popped upstairs to see if my cleaner would come work for her too, which made everyone happy because with the new baby and all, the cleaner needs more work and there's only so much extra I can slip into her pay without feeling like a chump or making her feel like a charity case. When the cleaner gave her price, the I could see certain bargaining wheels turning in the neighbor's head which made me remember she's the woman who came up during dinner one night to ask me to give English lessons to her kid and help him pass some exam. I gave a rate well over what I would ever expect, hoping it would make her go away, but instead she just started bargaining and not going away as my dinner was getting cold.

Then later in the afternoon the woman returned with a plate of kısır (a nice, spicy-ish bulgar salad), the universal Turkish offer of friendship that she just happened to have lying around. LE and I ate the kısır, and the plate began to weigh on me.

Returning the plate is an obligation. First, the neighbor will want to have me in for tea or coffee. This in itself is sweet and while I don't want to be a jerk about someone's hospitality, I find it worrying. A stiff conversation I'm not sure how to get out of, while chasing LE around and trying to keep him from breaking things. I've been working on excuses about why I can't stay for tea or coffee, but I know whatever excuse I gave will be immediately shot down. I even considered running down while LE was asleep so I'd need to run back up immediately, but I thought that would be too obvious. So I'm thinking I'll go down while I have something on the stove, something slow-cooking like soup, and see how that goes.

So that's part of my problem with the plate. The other problem with the plate is that I've accepted the kısır, meaning we're all friends now. And now that we're friends, it means there's no reason I shouldn't give her kid English lessons at cut-rate prices. It's not that I would mind the low rate-- it's that I would mind giving private lessons, which I seriously hate doing. And I really don't want to get into some situation where someone thinks that by paying for private lessons, their kid will pass whatever exam, because if the kid doesn't pass, it means I've cheated them somehow.

Do you see why this plate is such a problem? Do you see why I miss low-context cultures? On top of that, I've probably already let way too much time elapse before returning the plate. I should have done it yesterday. I'm not sure what the appropriate time-frame is for plate return, but I think I'm pushing it.

So that's my plate problem. I won't even go into the problem of someone's dish towel that fell into our balcony because I really don't have the faintest clue what to do about that either (am I supposed to go knocking at every flat in the 5 floors above us asking if it's theirs?), and the plate is enough to worry about.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Dear Turkish Courts

Dear Turkish Courts,

I know you guys don't seem to get this whole Internet thingy very well, but I think, after two years, it's time to lift the ban on You Tube. This ban has accomplished, well, nothing. Everyone, including Erdogan, knows how to get around it. Last I heard, even Erdogan is telling everyone to get around it. In fact, Turkey remains one of the top You Tube looky-loos in the world. The offending videos were removed ages ago (before I had a chance to see them, unfortunately, but from what I hear it was all very sophomoric), so there's no excuse except being bullheaded and stupid.

Oops, did I really just say that?

Yes, I did. And I'll also say that you people are making it awfully easy for the Greeks to take the piss and get one over on you. Greek teenagers at that, from the sound of it, with very limited movie-making skills and a rather tiresome sense of humor. You know, because most people eventually grow out of insulting other people by calling them gay. And most people grow out of being insulted when someone calls them gay. Not that anyone is oversensitive or anything.

Oops, did I just say that too? And put in those hyperlinks?

I did. And then I snickered because it's just so Turkey. Just like this is.

Also I started wondering if Ataturk would really have gotten his nose all out of joint and maybe even cried if he saw the You Tube videos that made you guys block it. Because I don't think he would have. I think he was a bigger man than that. Then I wondered if he would have believed stupid, immature video teases posed a danger to his people, but I decided he probably had bigger things on his mind.

And then I thought about other countries that ban or have banned You Tube, like China, Iran, and Pakistan. I got to wondering, does Turkey want to be in the EU club with all the cool-kid countries (which Turkey keeps sucking up to, not me), or in the scary club, with all the "We Are the Powerful Great Country Whose Citizens Have Complete Freedom Unless They Are Influenced By Decadent Western Ideas Or Killed By Our Security Forces" countries.

And then I got kind of nervous because the You Tube ban is actually a pretty innocuous thing compared to some other crap happening in Turkey, and I have a kid that needs me and I'd really rather not go to, ahem, Turkish Prison (and no, I've never seen Midnight Express) indefinitely and without formal charges for outright stating on my blog what these other non-innocuous things are. I was way braver before I reproduced. I feel like a schmuck for leaving these things alone-- they eat at me, seriously-- but in the end I justify it to myself by thinking it's not my battle to fight.

So back to You Tube. It's not my battle either, but it's a light-hearted little problem that affects me directly. Even I know how to get around the ban and that's saying something, because I'm a techno-loser. The thing is, though, is that free online proxy servers are really slow and full of annoying ads and other crap.

Here's my problem. While visiting the US, I made the mistake of finally letting my son in on the Big Secret that the computer contains really cool things to watch. Up until now, we'd mostly managed to convince LE that the computer is boring. But one afternoon it was too blazing hot outside to go to the park, and too late for the pool, and we were still 45 minutes away from the pre-prandial snacks and cocktail hour, and the poor boy was going stir crazy. Plus he'd recently killed the DVD player and was jonesing for some Wiggles.

So I showed him some Wiggles on You Tube, and the cat's out of the bag. He now knows the computer contains the Wiggles. Fortunately, he's kind of over them again, and is much more interested in robots. And monkeys. And cats. And this one clip with a robot fish. He also likes the video where a monkey sticks its finger into its butt and smells it, then falls over. And any video that shows a housepet coming to terms with a toy robot. I'll tell you what, he's going to be one sad little boy when we get back to Turkey and You Tube is slow, glitchy, and sometimes not even possible to access even with the proxy servers.

Clearly, you guys are not listening to the many voices that are telling you to lift this pointless, idiotic ban already. Reporters Without Borders. Sansure Sansur. A whole bunch of other people with much more intelligence and clout than I have.

But one thing I happen to know is that a lot of Turkish people really like looking at pictures of babies for some reason. These pictures turn up in my Facebook all the time from Turkish Facebook friends, followed by many comments about how cute and wonderful the babies are. In the past I've had to block emails from former students and other Turkish acquaintances because I got sick of all the pictures of babies clogging up my inbox. What makes it especially weird is that usually, the pictures are not even of the senders' babies. They're just random babies someone decided just had to be shared with everyone in their address book. I just don't get it.

But maybe you do. So I'm bringing out the big guns, and I hope you'll listen and understand what you're doing to us.

This is LE watching a video on You Tube. See how happy he is?

And this is what LE does when he can't watch You Tube.

That's right. It makes him cry.

So I'm here to tell you, figure out a way to get You Tube back. Not having You Tube makes babies cry.

Please don't make poor Baby LE cry.




What would adolescence have been without John Hughes?