When you travel to a new place, especially a place where you don’t know the local language, there are moments when you behave in a way that shocks other people. Sometimes the shock value is low, other times it is high. Here are some of our recent experiences in Turkey and how we think we rate on the ‘shock value scale’:
1. I Swear, I Can’t Understand You (Shock Value: Low)
As you know, my (Pouneh) ethnic origins come from Iran, Turkey’s neighbor to the east. To Turks, I look like them, so they are shocked to learn that I am, in fact, not Turkish.Their eyes grow wider as I stumble over the very little Turkish I know to express that I’m a foreigner (usually with words like ‘no Turkish’ or simply ‘no, sorry’.). In some ways, it’s good because we can blend it quite easily. In other ways, they expect us to behave according to Turkish social norms, which we absolutely cannot since we are not Turkish and/or have not yet learned them yet. This situation is a double-edged sword, if you will.
2. Public Monologues (Shock Value: Medium….I hope!)
When I prepare to speak Turkish out in ‘the real world’, I prep myself by forming sentences before actually saying them. No problem, right? WRONG! I prep myself by whispering the sentences out loud while I wait in line or on the walk to my destination. To the casual observer, I must look like a crazy person who just talks to herself. To others…well, I don’t want to know what they think. I have caught a few people staring, so I’m trying to keep my monologues to the lowest whisper possible.
3. We’re Childless by Choice (Shock Value: High)
In Turkey, it seems that many people marry in their 20’s and have children shortly after. Our students, in particular, are surprised (and some shocked) to hear that we’re more than newlyweds and still childless. They know the joys of parenthood and wish for us to have the same joy. I personally have been told by 3 different students that I should have children now… once from a student who is younger than us and unmarried! Perhaps our lifestyle choice is unorthodox for most, but in general they do respect it. They just can’t quite understand it!