Monday, February 27, 2012

Cultural differences and missing my baker

I said I will rant...and oh my, have I been saving up on some.

We just broke free of some record-breaking cold wave of February. All my dreams of a snow-less winter dashed to bits under dunes of snow drifts gathering around my new neighborhood in Umraniye. Still, mom has got to do what she gots to do... and strapping Falafal up in my trusty Olives&Applesauce buckle carrier, and Hanim Efendi (previously called Monster) left to fare for her own on the streets, we carried on with our daily excursions.

Our latest conquest at a trio, the local farmer's Pazaar that sets up every Thursday. One particularly cold Thursday morning, I was aching to juice up lots of apples and carrots and thought, why the hell not? I outfitted both kids in the warmest layers and headed out to the pazaar.

I should not have been surprised, that my kids were literally the only 2 feet and shorter variety out in the streets. That meant, tons of "aah yavrum, kiyamam! Annesi nasil cikardin bunlara bu soguk havada!!!?" (Oh my babies! Mom how *or why* did you bring the kids out in this cold weather?)

It also didn't quite surprise me, that out of the three of us, I am frequently the only one who does catch the occasional cold from the cold weather. Fortunately for those women, I have neither the breath, nor the Turkish capacity to explain this, probably strange to them, phenomenon. I merely answer, "they've gotten used to it" and move onwards.

I did however, find just enough Turkish to finally respond appropriately to another scenario that makes me pull my hair. Not too soon after moving to Istanbul, Wizard and I had started noticing that not many Turks use "thank you"s or "excuse me"s very much. If you hold a door open for someone behind you, they walk in brushing you off with a condescending look instead. What the what?

One taxi driver very frankly advised us: "If you appear humble, people will walk over you. That is the culture in Turkey, get used to it."

Just yesterday, I had to make a phone call to a famous home store in Kadikoy to ask about their returns or exchange policy. I had barely mentioned my dissatisfaction with the item that the customer service rep started yelling and scolding me for not liking the item because I don't know anything about bamboo fiber and I must be ignorant. Not able to get a word in, I essentially had to shout over her to tell her to shut up and listen. Had I talked like that to a rep in US, I would have gotten shitty service after that. Here in Turkey, it had the opposite effect.

The customer rep abandoned all her pissy attitude from the beginning of the call, and turned into a complacent little sheep trying to help me as best as she could.




Which made me think of my baker in Sunnyside and the snotty girls that worked there. After the first few visits that I had made there, my smiles started getting reciprocated and the croissants in my paper bag became fresher and fluffier. A little cookie hidden inside sometimes for the Hanim Efendi, or an extra packet of cream with my coffee...just because I was nice to them and took a little extra time to ask them how they were.

People, I have enough of a hard time keeping my wits' together at home, I need to keep my voice running to save for that necessary shout to make my kid pause before he slams the stolen wrench on the glass console...for me to shout at YOU TOO! When I sneak out of the house on the pretext of an errand, I'd rather talk to adults nicely and politely than be expected to treat them like shit to get half decent service.

I need to be able to teach my children common courtesy and charm and not how to yell store employees down if you need anything get done. I've seen those kids too, the ones who talk nastily to adults and then attach an "abla" at the end, as if it makes their words palatable.

Good job, Turkey. You've placed yourself quite close to Pakistan in the department of lacking manners as far as I am concerned.


  1. sigh. so true. And yet the saddest part for me reading this? That I was taken aback by your surprise. It's scary how quickly this becomes normal. Not that I've adapted, mind. I *try* not to rise to it, and merely vow not to return/repeat business..not always possible sadly. Sadder too, that taxi driver was right; courtesy gets you nowhere fast though with perseverance, can break *some* down. Not saleswomen though, they're another species entirely! Allah kolaylik versin sana.

  2. Suzie, thank you for stopping by. I was in a mood, wasn't I? Hasn't changed much haha... I don't want to adapt either, however I have learned where I can use my civilized manners and where to pretend I'm allowed to have a cathartic screaming match.
    It gets stuff done.

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