Citizen of the World asked...
What are the difficult aspects of living as an "outsider" in a culture very different from the one in which you were raised?
There are so many cultural differences between Turkey and America that I'm not sure where to start. I think one that can be difficult at times is the differences in medical practices. While medicine is a science there are so many things that are done here that go beyond science. More like folk medicine.
Several years ago we visited the Black Sea coast and stayed with a wonderful Turkish family. They took us in and showed us so many amazing things. We visited many of their relatives and enjoyed quite a bit of culture we didn't get to experience in Ankara. One afternoon we went out on the rocky bulkhead next to the sea to go fishing. In between the rocks there were little brine shrimp that we caught for bait. The kids had a blast catching the little shrimp, splashing in the water, and sitting on the rocks in the sun. The next day our hostess complained of stomach cramps. We were visiting some of her family so she went in to rest while they entertained us. Later she told me she got those stomach pains because she sat on the cold rocks the day before. I was flabbergasted. It could have been something she ate or even that time of the month, but she was convinced it was sitting on the rocks.
Since that time we have heard so many other similar stories. Our next door neighbors are both doctors. One of them is even an OBGYN. The first time they came to dinner at our house they were appalled that we weren't wearing slippers or socks in our house. It is customary to take off your shoes when entering a house, but they always put on a pair of indoor shoes as well. We just go barefoot. This highly intelligent, educated man told me that I needed to make sure the girls wore shoes at all times so that their ovaries didn't freeze. Walking on the cold tile in our house was not good for them. I made the girls go put on socks that night so that our neighbor didn't worry, but I was still shocked at his ideas.
In May of 2005 Jacob broke his arm and had to have surgery to pin it back together. We stayed in the hospital overnight, and it was the hardest hospital stay I've ever had. The room was stifling hot. I am used to freezing in hospitals in America, but there were no worries about that happening here. At some point the evening after Jacob's surgery he needed to go to the bathroom. They had given me a bedpan for him to use. He took one look at that thing and said no way. I helped him out of the bed, and he walked to the bathroom and went. He was only wearing the hospital gown so he didn't need any help with his underwear. When he was done I helped him get back in bed. The next morning the nurse was talking about us staying another night. I couldn't believe it. We were bored to tears, sweating like pigs, and perfectly capable of going home. I begged her to let us go home. The nurse went to find the doctor so he could come talk to me. In the meantime Jacob needed to go to the bathroom. I helped him out of bed, and he went. While he was in the bathroom the doctor came into the room to talk to me. Before he could say anything Jacob flushed and went and got in bed. By himself. The doctor was shocked to see him up and walking around. All I could think was that he broke his arm...not his leg. Of course he is up and walking. The doctor did end up letting us go home later that day. I think Jacob being up and around helped our case for sure. Later I was talking to some of my Turkish friends, and they said that a Turkish mom wouldn't have let her kid get out of bed for fear of getting sick. She would have made him use the bedpan so he could stay covered up and not get cold. We were even given advice after we came home to not bathe Jacob for a month so that he didn't get cold while his arm was healing. I didn't listen to that advice. I wrapped his arm in a plastic bag and kept him clean. I was fascinated by all of it.
I love this culture. I really do. There are so many things that really appeal to me about the way they do things. The way they invest in people. The way they aren't constrained by time. Their hospitality. Their sense of family. So many things that I want to emulate...adopt. Their medical practices and ideas just don't happen to be one of them.