Wednesday, November 29, 2006


On November 2nd I asked my blog readers to help me come up with something to blog about by asking questions about things they wanted to know. Only 5 people responded and most of them with easy questions to answer. But, leave it to Mentanna to ask something that I really had to think about. So, after a few days of thought and a few weeks with not enough time to blog I am finally ready to answer. Here is her question and my answer.

Which American trait do you like least about yourself, and which Turkish trait would you most like to adopt?

I think the American trait I like least about myself is the feeling of entitlement I have. I have noticed that we as Americans want things our way and in our timing. We have rights, and we are good at making sure our demands are met. I have mentioned this before, but I think it is important enough to mention again. When I am in America and sometimes when I am overseas I find myself expecting people to do things my way and I get upset if they don't.

In restaurants we expect the cook to prepare the food the way we want because we are paying for it. We ask for substitutions and make changes to the items offered on the menu and expect the restaurants to accommodate us. In Turkey and I would venture to say in quite a few other places in the world, people go to restaurants and order the food the way it says on the menu. They expect it to come like is says on the menu. The restaurants tell you on the menu how they cook it and if you don't want it that way you don't order it. Now, there are some places that will make exceptions, but mostly they do it their way, not mine. One sidenote...most restaurants in America don't mind making substitutions to their menus. They are happy to accommodate their customers. I have taken advantage of this quite a bit since I have been here. I am not complaining about that. It is the customer who tells the cashier at McDonalds that the french fries better be fresh and hot or she will bring them back that I have a problem with.

I also have a great example of getting my haircut in Turkey. The first time I went to a kuafor...hair salon...to get my haircut I told them how I wanted it cut. They did an okay job at following my directions, but it wasn't exactly like I had in mind. Now there was probably something lost in translation so I didn't worry about it too much. The next time I went back to the same place and told them that I didn't want my hair to be the same as the first time. I wanted something different. What did I get? Exactly the same thing. The stylist figured that he must have done something right the first time or I wouldn't have come back. I learned then that if I wanted my hair to be cut differently I either needed to go to a different salon or have a different person from that salon cut my hair. So that I didn't offend the stylist by demanding that someone else cut my hair I went somewhere else the next time I wanted my haircut. I actually like that I can go to the same stylist in America and have her do my hair the way I want and that it can be different every time. Very easy!

I think that Americans feel like we have earned the right to complain, pass judgement, and basically demand that things go our way or else. It wasn't so much like this in the 1950's and before. People were used to hardship and things not going their way. I think that when we were dealing with progress and civil rights (both good things) in the late 60's and 70's we got off track and became demanding of our own rights. We do have rights. It's how we demand that they be met that I want to flee from.

And now...

The Turkish trait I would most like to adopt is their idea of hospitality. For example...

1. Turkish picnics - they are an all day affair. You bring most of the food in grocery sacks and prepare it at the picnic. Tomatoes, cucumbers, parsley, onion, and pepper chopped up and mixed together with a little oil and lemon juice makes a shepherd's salad. Turkish bread, some grilled meatballs, chicken or lamb, grilled peppers or tomatoes, mixed nuts and seeds, and fresh fruit makes for some good eating.

2. Visiting in people's homes - When we first went to Turkey I had problems with this. We would go to someone's house for dinner at 5 and they wouldn't even serve dinner until 7:30 or so. By the time they served dessert, coffee or tea, and fruit (the final course) we had been at their house for 5 hours! It was amazing. There is no such thing as a short meal or a short visit.

3. Neighbors who bring food - I love this! When Turks bring food to their neighbors they bring a real dish not a disposable one. When the dish is returned it is returned with food on it. My problem is I never know what to put on the dish when I return it. My neighbors will bring stuffed peppers, bulgur pilaf or cheese pastries (not a sweet dish) and I always wonder what they do with the muffins or cookies I put on the plate when I return it. They bring real food and I return dessert. I'm sure it says something about me, but I don't think they will like most of the American food I cook and I can't cook Turkish food nearly as well as they can.

Sorry for such a long post. Mentanna must have been tired of my fluff blogs and wanted some substance. Most of Mentanna's posts are long and full of substance and I guess she wanted some company. You can click on the link to her blog on the right side of your screen (you may have to scroll down to find her name) and read some really good stuff if you are looking for more substance! Thanks, MLG, for the great question!


Mentanna said...

thanks for the post, it was worth the wait. i can identify with everything you said. frane and turkey sound a lot alike. maybe you guys do belong in the eu!

Anonymous said...

I agree 100% with the things you would give up. I would add one more. I think Americans can be very arrogant when visiting another country. I think in general most Americans expect every country in the world to speak English.

It is good to know there are people like you, who try to adopt the language of the country you are visiting. You may not always get it right, but you are at least trying very hard.