Sunday, April 25, 2010

Becoming A Little Turkish

I rarely see being an ex-pat as a term of endearment. It usually conjures up images of loud-mouthed, mono-thinking English teachers who spend most of their time outside their native country drunk and complaining about the food, stuck in a whinge-worthy, cringe-worthy purgatory halfway between their two hells of home country and host country.

I find myself dearly trying to distance myself, to desperately not want to be an 'ex-pat', 'alien' or 'foreigner'. To not want to be a 'yabanc─▒' anymore. Yet there's always that tugging pride in being a more objective observer, in being able to see the faults in people and place as much as you can appreciate the strengths, even if voicing those thoughts in an accent will automatically deem them void in the non-foreigner’s mind.

From the age of eighteen months, I’ve been a foreigner, and from that point on I always was. No matter how well you master a language, an accent or certain cultural norms, as an immigrant or foreigner or tourist your opinion on a place is seen as different, and it is. Whether it’s valued more or less depends on who you’re talking to, but it’s never viewed as equal.

Where you’re born, where you grow up, where you choose to live or where you’re forced to live, all reflect on who you are. ‘Where are you from?’ is a lot more complicated than it should be for me, because I want to answer ‘what does it matter?’ But it does.

There’s a little part of everywhere I’ve lived and travelled within me: the best, the worst and the most mundane of it. And part of life in a new place is about embracing these parts, or at the very least being able to laugh at them.

‘Integration’ in cultural terms is a word I will never like. But by living anywhere you start to take on the energy of place by some kind of wonderful osmosis, and I’m happy to say a few of the below have stuck during my last seven or so months in Turkey. I like to term it my ’10 Ways of Knowing You’re Becoming A Little Turkish', though the list surely goes on...

10 Ways Of Knowing You’re Becoming A Little Turkish
• When you start feeling panicky when you don’t have wet wipes, hand sanitizer, tissues AND lemon cologne in your handbag.
• When you don a scarf in 20°c weather, for fear of ‘catching a chill.’
• When you start believing that yogurt is indeed the cure for all of life’s problems. Or ayran (salted buttermilk).
• When, after far too many beers at 3am, your craving for McDonald’s is replaced by a desperate need for Iskembe (tripe) soup.
• When you learn that obeying pedestrian signals are only for the slow or stupid and crossing a busy intersection becomes part of your subconscious.
• When you stop giggling at Turkish soap operas and find yourself being slowly sucked in. And kind of enjoy it.
• When deciding whether to call the slightly elderly woman on the bus 'abla' (sister) or 'teyze' (aunt) sends you into a cold sweat.
• When you start realising that lemon really does compliment every dish.
• When you opt for ayran instead of cola at a lokanta.
• When switching to another foreign language, you answer ‘evet’ instead of ‘si’, ‘ya’ or whatever ‘yes’ should really be.

4 comments: said...

- When you crave olives at breakfast.
- when you use the word canim.
- When "yah" becomes more than just a nonsense word.
- Being confused/a little disappointed when a toilet does not have a spout.
- when tea no longer tastes [as] good from a mug.
- realizing that you can type just as fast with a Turkish keyboard without confusing i or I.
- learning to expect that things will never go as expected.
meh, 7 was good for me.

Helen Simpson said...

So true! Especially the tea mug comment.

Skadi von Reis said...

How about when you make the tsk noise whenever something bad happens! And you cok agip! with a yumusak g is always on your mind....shame is such a strong force. I loved the list Helen! you're a beautiful writer and its a fun way to keep in touch!
take care arkadasim

Anonymous said...

Hey Helen, long time, like this a lot. I'm writing some like-minded thoughts here. One can only get the whole 'other cultures can be frustrating as well as enchanting' thing through travel.

Keep it up, etc!