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Sunday, July 27, 2008

Cultural Differences

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?

My answer...

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.

For example:
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.

17 comments:

Alice said...

Great stories! It's funny to think of these doctors having such antiquated beliefs. But then my Mom used to spout stuff like that too. Hmmm...

Charlie Girl said...

You know what I think about the medical stuff... I could never be an EMT there... I would go bonkers at the care system....

I know, not very culturally diverse of me, but my western training would clash big time.

Andrea's Sweet Life said...

WOW, what a difference! It's so opposite here - it's hard to find a doctor who will support eastern medicine at all, much less superstitions! (did i spell that right?

Sparkliesunshine said...

That is really interesting. All of those things dealt with getting sick due to being cold. Hmm...it's always so interesting to hear what other cultures think in terms of medicine.

sista #2 said...

I love your stories.
I hope they still wear socks....dont want any frozen ovaries...lol that cracked me up.

peace
#2

Sra said...

That's very interesting!

I'm reminded of when I broke my arm as a young girl. My mom said I was entirely calm as they wrapped my arm up in a cast; didn't cry at all. But then when we got home, I said, "Mom, can we take the cast off now so I can have a bath?" And my mom said, "No honey, the cast needs to stay on for several weeks." And that's when I started to cry.

moosh in indy. said...

So funny. Seems like they have a thing with getting cold?
And I mean funny in a nice way of course.

Greta/Does This Blog Make Us Look Fat? said...

Crap. NOW I know why I had so much trouble getting pregnant ;)

Mike S said...

It's strange when I think back, but it must have a bit to do with climate, as all the strange 'stay warm, stay dry' advice we were given always seemed to be most abundant in the hotter climes.

Also got some 'different' treatments, the most unusual being the application of leeches to a sprained ankle. Actually worked though. Perhaps something to do with fluid reduction at the injury site?

One of the 'childhood cures' I underwent in the EARLY 1950s at the hands of my Aunts, one of who was a RN, was having a 'mustard plaster' applied for a severly congested chest. May have worked, at least I survived it with no further treatment. Much less hassle than in the hospital with a recent bout of pneumonia too!

Greta....love the blog name!!!:)

citizen of the world said...

Thanks for answering my quesiton, Natalie. It's an interesting thing - the idea of staying in bed was followed here not so long ago, and now they get you up and moving as quickly as possible. ANd I remember in Switzerland, a waitress refused to let some of my classmates order sodas with their findue because she said the cold with the hot fondue would hurt their stomachs and hinder digestion. Old ideas have great staying power!

~m said...

Yes! That is awesome.

Once I had really severe bronchitis in Korea because I taught little children who never washed their hands after they pottied and transfered their little germs all over me and the cold I got settled in my lungs.

But the first doctor I went to see told me that I had this cold because the germs had come on the winds of the yellow dust from China (which is a biannual occurrence in Korea).

Those are great stories! :)

Wicked H said...

Along the lines of frozen ovaries, the fact that women have to change out of a wet one piece after swimming for the same reason. My cousins would be so worried about me any time I was visiting and we'd be at the beach...

I was born and raised here by parents who were raised there, we were always barefoot in the house and let our bathing suits dry on us in the sun.....

paula said...

So interesting! I just love your blog! Some of these folk remedies reminds me of my mother in law in Kentucky!

Jennifer H said...

Wow. It makes me wonder if doctors are taught those things in medical school? They must be, right?

Natalie said...

alice - i do think a lot of their beliefs are things that have been passed down over the generations. and sometimes those things are hard to overcome i think. i know my grandmother used to tell me to put socks on all the time. i don't recall her ever saying anything about my ovaries in connection with that though!

charlie girl - i know. you would for sure! they over take care of people if that makes sense!

andrea - i know. many of the doctors we've seen have been trained in the states so they aren't quite so eastern in their thinking, but some of them combine both science and folk medicine in their practices.

sparkliesunshine - i know we used to think the same thing in our culture so it is interesting to see firsthand.

#2 - i made the girls put on socks but told my neighbor that i had four kids already. i was perfectly fine with my ovaries freezing!

sra - i know. jacob was angelic. they couldn't believe it. i told him it was ok to cry, but i didn't want him throwing a fit. and he isn't a fit thrower anyway which helps!

moosh - i know. it is interesting for sure! i am always shocked all over again when someone tells me something about getting sick because they got cold.

greta - see...you just didn't have the right people around you to tell you like it was!

mike s - i can imagine that you have seen way more than i have! i can't imagine the leeches, but i'm sure some of those old remedies had to work or they wouldn't have kept doing them.

citizen of the world - i know! my language helper got on to me one time because i was drinking hot tea. i decided to put some cool water in it to cool it down some, and she freaked. said i would get sick from mixing hot and cold water.

~m - how funny. the winds of the yellow dust are scary!

wicked h - i am always amazed by stuff like that. it never would have ever crossed my mind to get out of a wet swimsuit unless i needed to change for some other reason. but letting your swimsuit dry on you in the sun is perfect to me!

paula - thanks! some of them reminded me of my grandmother quite a bit!

jennifer h - i have no idea. i know some are very educated, but it is hard to put aside something you've been taught your whole life i guess!

Andrea said...

Those are interesting stories! It is funny to think about different medical practices. I hear funny ones from my SIL, who is Japanese, as well. I think a combo of East/West is good. I do like the Japanese medical practice of staying in the hospital for a full week and then at least 30 (or more) days of doing absolutely nothing while your mother or MIL takes care of you and the house. I think I have some details incorrect, but you get the gist.

BTW, we take off our shoes when we enter the house at the lower level and go barefoot. I did have a friend send some cheap house slippers from the 100 Yen store in Japan for guests who don't want to go barefoot. Maybe they don't want illness, or cold ovaries! Just wondering...

Natalie said...

andrea - the differences in medical and social practices is interesting...and sometimes funny. and i guess uncomfortable at times as well! and i agree with the idea of someone else cleaning my house for a month. i would totally go for that! no frozen ovaries for your girls...good for you!