Friday, August 20, 2010

I Couldn't Think of a Title: The Post That Simply Happened

The mosquito spray truck is lingering in the parking lot below my balcony and I'm wondering if I should run around closing all the windows while at the same time watching the neighbors not closing theirs. It's almost 9pm and close to 80 degrees outside. I suddenly was taken with the urge to write something after all this time, but I don't really have a plan in mind, and at any moment BE might saunter through the door to glower at me for not giving him my undivided attention. It's always someone wanting my undivided attention, whether he glowers or uses a more direct approach of going, "Mama! Mama! Mama! Hey Mom! Hey Mom!" Both of them now go, "Oooof, Stranger" when I annoy them.

The mosquito spray is safe, we're assured.

A bunch of English-language channels have suddenly disappeared from our cable service: BBC (news and the crap BBC Prime has become, despite Eastenders, which I haven't watched in ages anyway though the buzz on the yabancı language teacher forum is that Phil is on crack. Hee!) and a few other news stations, including Al-Jazeera. CNN is still there, for what it's worth, which is not much because every time I turn it on, it's either sports or weather. Sometimes it's some boring crap about computers and how amazing they are. A few superficial whirls around the Internet throughout the day have given no explanation where these channels have gone.

But I'm sure there's a very good explanation.

LE was very upset this morning that he couldn't watch Tikabilla. So was I, since it meant I couldn't doze off on the sofa while he watched Tikabilla and ate his Cheerios because he was too busy going, "Mama! Mama! Hey Mom! Hey Mom! Oooof, Stranger yaaaa!

Anyway, I came across this article about Turkey which discusses something I've been saying all along (though not nearly as well as this author) about "truth" and "lying" in Turkish culture, only one of many aspects of this place I fear I will only ever have a superficial and academic grasp of, rather than the visceral understanding I need to ever muddle my way successfully through most negotiations, including my marriage. To be honest, language is really only about 2% of my problem with being able to act what is considered normal and reasonable here. This author then links the cultural quirk to Turkish foreign policy, and I''m all "Yeah, right on," because it's like 80 degrees outside and waxing eloquent is not my strong point at the moment, if it ever has been.

I was going to post the article on Facebook, but then I thought, "No, I've neglected the blog long enough. I'll share it with them." Then I realized this is hardly very meaningful because probably most people who read my blog are my Facebook friends anyway, and most of my Facebook friends are people I know in real life.

Thanks for your patience and understanding, if you're still there.


Nomad said...

I love your sense of humor and really missed your blog posts. Of course, there is nothing worse than taking something fun and making it work so I understand when you need to take some time away from the bloggering.
By the way, my channels on Digiturk have been working okay so it must be a local thing.

Bulent Murtezaoglu said...

Ordinarily I'd agree that what one might call Turkish epistemology as viewed from the street level is different in interesting ways than the American one but here's the thing, after the fun lead up Berlinski is knowingly doing something that would be considered intellectually dishonest in her own truth-telling culture:

American negotiators were no doubt scratching their heads upon learning that Turkey had not merely abstained from voting on the Iranian sanctions package, but voted against it. An abstention, after all, would have registered Turkish misgivings more than adequately; the “no” vote manifestly obviates everything Turkey has long been saying about the role it seeks to play as a bridge between the East and the West, particularly in the wake of the Gaza flotilla fiasco. The bridge is now burnt. Turkey has taken sides, and the winner is the East.

This is patently false, and the manipulative piece of work knows it. If I come to you, Stranger, and negotiate something with you while assuring you that if you say 'yes' no sanctions will be imposed on you, and you do say 'yes' it is then entirely consistent and morally right for me to vote 'no' on imposing sanctions. That doesn't 'manifestly obviate' anything unless the expectation was for me to do as I was told by the US at any given moment regardless of what I was told and [and relayed to others] the previous moment. An abstention wouldn't do, it'd just show I had conned you in the first place by giving you false assurances.

In this instance the 'Eastern' ways of non-truthfulness are practiced by the 'West' and the 'Easterner' who, for once, appears to have taken what he was told at face value is acting like a 'Westerner' and reacting to the con. Whatever reaction the AKP gov't had is similar to the reaction RTE had, when Israel started bombing places days after appearing to negotiate in good faith with Turks as mediators.

Ever since I came back here to Turkey, I have been trying to tell people who ask me for advice that the US ways of manipulation and propaganda are indeed different than ours and cannot be detected by our usual ways (ie material falsehoods, blatant lies etc.) and that they should not think, just because they cannot detect lies right away, they are not being taken for a ride. Although it may be skilfully written and fun to read, this is a propaganda piece and a rather transparent one at that when it is read from the skeptical POV I allude to. It effective, though, since even you, Stranger, seem to have swallowed it hook line and sinker.

Am I at least making sense?

Stranger said...

Bülent, I'll be honest and say that I didn't read the foreign policy bit at the end very carefully. The intricacies of foreign policy elude me, as do the even more intricate arguments about foreign policy. It's a bit like math-- someone will be trying to teach me math, and I'll start wondering if 6 and 9 are good friends or not, or if 3 is as cool as it seems to be. I can recognize propaganda in the obvious forms, say, the happy muscular worker posters of Communist Russia. Anything more subtle than that goes right by me. It's not so much that I swallow it, it's that it's in one ear and out the other. Or maybe I do believe it and don't even realize it.

It was the same while reading this piece-- I got a few sentences into the last part and my mind started to wander. I got mad at Erdoğan all over again for his silly vote-mongering, anti-Semitic bluster and empty threats following the flotilla. Then I started wondering how on Earth Western diplomats and politicians ever manage to negotiate with their peers in high-context cultures-- we must seem like such blundering idiots! I know I seem like that just trying to get a leaky bottle of water replaced. Then I thought about once when I saw Condoleeza Rice visiting Turkey, not only wearing an Ally McBeal-esque skirt, but sat down and crossed her legs right in front of them.

So, yes. You're making sense. And as usual, your comments are much appreciated.

Bulent Murtezaoglu said...

Oh I don't think Western diplomats or Westerners dealing with the East have that much trouble if they have enough power behind them. Of course I don't know this, since I am and have always been blissfully distant from such people. Read, though, if you can, something like Kermit Roosevelt's book to see how easy and cheap certain things can be. The complications you point out arise only when people are on even ground (ie marriage, relationships with neighbors etc.) or are matched for power. This is hardly the case when one side is a superpower or unconstrained in what they can do.

I wasn't aware of Rice's performance here. You don't imply this of course, but I think it would have been a mistake to think that crossed legs would be distracting. Even in the extreme case where the Easterner fits the stereotype and has a harem one would expect him to be fully satisfied to not be distracted by displays of skin. Keep in mind that all the coverings etc. only take place outside of the house.

I sometimes think this when Western-educated Turks imply that the Ottomans or the present day polygamist peasant men who started taking wives right after puberty are sexually frustrated and thus somehow inferior to men with Western ways. I myself may be more comfortable dealing with women as equals, but a miniskirt would probably affect me more than it would have affected those people. (How are these people different than Hugh Hefner? Hefner flaunts it, that's all.) With that in mind, I sometimes wonder just what kind of a woman Roxelana must have been to have acquired that kind of power over Suleiman.

Stranger said...

Huh. I hadn't thought of the provocative aspect of crossed legs. I was thinking how no one's allowed to cross their legs in front of my father-in-law (except other men in the family his same age), and that whole respect thing. My MIL tutted at me all through my pregnancy, when sitting with crossed legs was the only tolerable way.

Perhaps dear Condoleeza believed she was being distractingly provocative with the skirt (though, meow, her legs are awfully skinny). And of course, there are some Westerners who think it's their duty to come to the poor barbaric East and flaunt local traditions as a way of teaching the barbarians what's right.

I always wondered if the leg-crossing thing was on purpose to show a lack of respect (or a lack of a need for respect), or on accident out of ignorance.

Bulent Murtezaoglu said...

Oh yes, I see now. The same goes for smoking in the presence of elders. When that generation in my family was alive this would happen in weddings and such. I'd get away from the crowd to smoke (mid 20's) and my cousins would be there smoking too (mid 50's). We'd joke that I ought to sneak to some other place since they were that much older. Actually my dad wouldn't have cared (if he knew I smoked, or, perhaps, I should say if he asked and I told) but I couldn't, at any rate, smoke in front of my older uncle when his own kids didn't.

The leg thing never really applied to me, I played a lot of soccer and had muscles that prevented doing this comfortably. The only kind I could do would be the ankle on the knee kind and, of course, everybody knows how grossly disrespectful that is. I don't know why leg positions are deemed important, but it is not just crossing. I am sitting right now with one foot under my thigh and in a more formal setting I probably (and unconsciously) would not do it.

Do you do the hand kissing thing? I still do it myself, both to elders and former teachers. Not many people seem to do it now in semi-modernized families. Again, when I do it in weddings and such, grannies love me for it because often I'm one of the very few who kiss their hand.

Stranger said...

The smoking thing is one of those lying to be polite issues in our family. BE says to his dad (who smokes and knows BE smokes), "I'm going to get some air." BE's dad knows he's going to smoke, of course, and allows him the space to go do so, even if the "air" is in a doorway 5 feet away from where BE's dad is sitting. If BE can't hide, his dad just doesn't look at the place where he's smoking. When BE comes back, his dad goes "Did you get some air?" It's funny also, when the women aren't allowed to smoke in front of the men, so they all go into the kitchen. If a man wants to come into the kitchen, he calls from the outside and all the women put out their cigarettes. It seems like a lot of gymnastics to keep people happy, but it seems to make everyone happy.

I've only ever done the kissing thing for BE's grandma, who doesn't seem to be the sort to shake hands. We also kiss FIL's hand (a little in jest) when he gives us money for Bayram. BE goes to kiss their hands when we come in the door at Bayram and they do that big show of pulling away (as most of BE's relatives do when BE attempts to kiss their hands), but he'll let us kiss after giving money. BE's grandmother usually holds her hand out to be kissed, then pulls away before you can touch it to your head. More gymnastics that make everyone happy...

Jess said...

Stranger, you're back! I'm so glad!

As usual, the comments are pure pleasure (howdy there, Bulent.) Once, I snuck some chocolate into the school library for two students who were studying late. One of them kissed my hand and touched it to her forehead, and then they both laughed. But still, I was kind of honored. I thought it was sweet, even though they thought it was funny....

Keep posting, Stranger! Even the posts *you* might think are random generate a lot of interest. :)

vicky, bursa said...

great to see you posting again!

Our BBc channels have also gone and equally I have no idea why - we pay a fortune for Digiturk and it's annoying that they've gone as surely the Beeb doesn't charge that must for them.

We do the hand kissing thing here - it used to just be for Bayrams to my mother-in-law but then it morphed into any sort of family gathering and now every time I visit she holds out her hand but I admit to holding it and kissing her on both cheeks as it seems to be a way of keeping me in check which I find uncomfortable. I am such a troublesome daughter-in-law.

Stranger said...

Your BBC disappeared too Vicky? So far I haven't found anyone else's who has. I already know this is going to be one of those Turkish customer service things. It's already started, where we called Digiturk and they said, "There's no problem and nothing's wrong and BBC is still there," as though asserting it will make it true. BE got a little more insistent that BBC is indeed gone, so they told us something to do with unplugging the system for 10 minutes then re-loading the channels. I expected this. I also expected it wouldn't work, which it didn't. Now I have to bug BE for up to 2 more weeks before I can get him to get around to calling Digiturk again. It frustrates me that these kinds of calls are still beyond my abilities.

Bulent Murtezaoglu said...

Just to follow up on Berlinski's article. Zaman brings out someone who makes up quotes etc. (Stranger, in prep classes at Fatih U. did you get to the point where you chide students for doing stuff like that in their papers?). Here it is: Defamation within defamation and the referendum process.

Berlinski responds, kinda: Outfoxed by Turkey, Yet Again.

Stranger said...

Thanks for the links, Bülent, and sorry about the slow response-- I'm in Internet limbo at the moment. It made for a couple of hours of good reading following the links within the links, and reading the comments while stuck in traffic. Go iPhone.

Stranger said...

Oh, and to answer your question, Fatih students never even got close to those kinds of problems with their writing. We were more at "Don't copy large pieces of text from the Internet and paste them into your paper (without even changing the font/spacing to make them match) and try to pass it off as your own work." On the other hand, after explaining to them this was cheating and therefore the same as lying, I could tell Fatih students that God knew when they were being dishonest, so at least they'd feel guilty. Heh.

And Vicky, if you're reading comments, BBC and everything else re-appeared when we set up Digiturk in the new house. They guy said there were some slight frequency changes in those channels. I don't know how to fix it, but it's somewhere to start if you're still bugging Digiturk about BBC.

Bulent Murtezaoglu said...

Here you go. You seem to like Berlinski's writing and she's produced a provocative piece (no I really believe it, though I have thought of this very same thing/analogy before):

Stranger said...

Sorry again for the slow response, Bülent. Before I had a chance to follow your link, I came across the Berlinski article on Arts & Letters Daily during the 15 minutes of Internet playtime I have at work while I shove food into my mouth before buckling down again, and I thought, "Hm. I wonder if this is the one Bülent passed on?"

Interesting indeed. I do like how she writes about Istanbul. She captures a lot of things quite well. My only issue is that I'm not sure a lot of what she says would make the same kind of sense to someone living outside of Turkey. How much it matters I don't know. I'm not clear on whether her goal is to inform or entertain. It entertains me because I live here and can relate, but I think such an article can easily be mistaken for information by someone who doesn't live here. Again, does it matter if her political brush is overly broad?

It's probably narrower than mine in any case. And I wonder how her experience of Turkey would be different if it were a little more, um, middle class? I read about the places she hangs out and the people she talks to and go, "Ah, you're one of those foreigners." Which is probably another sign I've been here too long.

This Weimar parallel is popping up all over the place, BTW, and not just for Turkey. I've read a few pieces comparing the current political climate of the US with the Weimar Republic, with a particular gloom and doom focus on how it turned out in Germany...