Monday, April 12, 2010

Why You Can Be Too Polite In Turkey

As one Jessica Blevins reminded me today [ED: at the day of writing, not posting], my posts have become a little less frequent.  I apologize about this to everyone reading this blog and not secretly wishing I didn’t write so damn much.  Between homework, midterms and neurotically applying for jobs (@DGro: great bloggers make great engineering interns – hire yours today!), I seem to have other things to do in my dorm room besides blogging.

So the title of this post, which surely will be overshadowed by tons of superfluous text, requires a bit of back story…

This past weekend, Nick (from Pitzer) and I decided to backpack on the Lycian way (or Likya Yolu).  The Lycian way is probably the most popular hiking trail in Tukey and it is abundantly clear why.  The trail hugs the Mediterranean coast, occasionally diverting to reach a village, ruins or a mountain view.  Our route started in Kaş (which, since our last visit, has become infested with British and German tourists) and ended in Üçağız (if the specialized characters are confusing, it’s pronounced ewchauhz).  The hike was stunning and with the exception of some stinging something-or-other in the bay we swam in, altogether pleasant.

As Nick didn’t bring a sleeping bag to Turkey, we decided we would find a place to stay for the night.  As there were only two small villages along the way, this was actually rather risky, but we figured that we would just sleep with emergency blankets in a worst case scenario.  Fortunately for us, at the end of the first day, we met a man outside of the village of Boğazcık (boazjuhk) eager to have us spend the night in his pension.  That the man was the owner of the pension was a little unclear until we got to the village proper, though I don’t know if this was because we didn’t understand his slurred Turkish or he didn’t tell us.  Either way, the pension was basically just this old couple’s house with two rooms for backpackers.  There were three Germans also staying the night.  They knew no Turkish, and our hosts knew no English and very little German.  This was hilarious for Nick and me, as we finally got to see other people go through a shortened version of our month of home-stay.

Getting to the title…

The highlight of the pension was clearly the meals, which were cooked from things the family grew on their farm.  We were hungry and impressed with the food, so we thanked our hosts profusely and complemented the food.  In America this would have been good manners, but in Turkey it gets a mixed response.  Turks hate to be indebted to someone.  This is the reason, for instance, why Turks secretly leave their hosts gifts.  I am also beginning to conclude that this is why they don’t like to be thanked.  Compounding this, rural Turks especially are super-superstitious, especially when it comes to the evil eye.  Even in the cities, everything is decorated with “blue beads” – eye-shaped charms for warding off the evil eye.  I think my host family had at least 30 blue beads.  They even pinned blue beads to Kaan on occasion.  The evil eye is believed to come through jealousy, so having something worthy of jealousy is a bad thing.  Complementing something makes it worthy of jealousy, thus putting the recipient of the complement at risk for evil-eye-ness.

I don’t think we angered our hosts that much, they just complained/joked about our insistence that everything was delicious.  They seemed much more interested in the fact that Nick could remember the names of all three of their baby goats.  Still, not complementing people or saying thank you is something I am going to have to work on.

To be fair, some Turks appreciate politeness.  My friend Müjgan is going to America for grad school next year, and when I asked her why she wanted to go to America, one of her reasons was that people in America would be as polite as me.  I think this pales in comparison to her other reason: the police or ambulances in America come on demanded and don’t take kickbacks.  Still, it’s nice that someone appreciates well-wishing attempts at politeness, especially since this someone is making sure I don’t accidentally miss my Advanced Strength of Materials midterm (all information about which is given in only Turkish).

1 comment:

  1. Perhaps your audience would appreciate more frequency even if it means less volume. I know that I would.