středa 13. února 2013

The Famous Headscarves

Headscarves. We imagine there is just one kind and all muslims wear it. Wrong and wrong. The kinds of scarves and the ways to wear them are uncountable! And all the stupid stereotypes we have about them! 

Stereotype number one: When we see a woman with a headscarf, we either think she is completely stupid or we are sorry for her. We make films in our heads about how unhappy she must be and who probably makes her wear the scarf. Why do we do that? Who am I to judge them? What do I know about them and their reasons to cover their hair? 

Recently, these stereotypes and prejudices have been hitting me even more since I joined a fitness centre for women. (Why did I join a fitness centre for women? Simply because I like their programme. It´s different from other places. I can go there when I want, how often I want. And I don´t need to care if some guys are excited about having a foreign girl around.) It seems that at least half of the members are women with headscarves. The funny thing is that they take them off when they exercise so you are all the same in the gym. You have no idea which woman does and which one doesn´t cover their hair. I joined this gym a month ago but it still surprises me from time to time, when seeing a smiley chatterbox with her hair dyed to blond, how she covers her hair when changing her clothes. 

Then I ask myself: Why is that exactly? I´ve been living here for almost a year and a half, I have studied about the religion, history, culture, language... So why is that when seeing a happy modern Turkish woman, I expect her not to cover her hair? I don´t know and somehow I am ashamed for that but I guess that´s what I brought from my country. That a headscarf is a symbol of violence, injustice, reactionism, silence, modesty. I am not saying that in some cases it isn´t so, nor am I planning to wear a headscarf. I am just trying to be a bit more open-minded and not to judge those who don´t judge me for wearing a mini skirt for example.

There are not only many kinds of headscarves, but even more types of women who wear them, naturally. Some of the more modern ones can wear a headscarf together with jeans and sport shoes. I´ve seen covered women with tons of make-up, high heels, lots of jewellery and a handbag ten times more fashionable than mine. I´ve seen uncovered calves too. I´ve seen sisters, mothers and daughters, best friends walking side by side, one dressed as a very modest muslim, the other one with high heels and a skirt so short I would never dare to wear it. 

One thing I am sure about though is that headscarves is something that kind of divides Turkey. Ones hate them, believing that wearing them is like betraying the greatest Turkish hero Atatürk. But hand in hand with the Turkish nationalism, there is also the religion. Still, sometimes the families whose women do not cover their hair, are more religious than the others.

This is Turkey. As I had said before, the bridge between the East and West. And so is the question of headscarves in Turkey. Stuck between the East and West.

středa 19. prosince 2012

Christmas in Turkey

To be honest, I have never spent Christmas in Turkey, nor am I very interested in doing so. The reason is very simple: because there is no Christmas in Turkey (and all my family is in the Czech Republic). On December 24 and 25 people work and go to school like any other day and most of them don´t have even the slightest idea what is happening in many other countries, not necessarily christian, but with the christian tradition let´s say (because that is the case of my country where most of the people are atheists).

The funny thing is that even a lot of English teachers mistake Christmas with the New Year´s Eve. Why? Because they call it the same in Turkish (they usually use the French word Noel for both) and some of the things we do on Christmas, they do on New Year´s Eve. They sometimes get a little Christmas tree and give gifts to each other at midnight. Still, they like to celebrate it with their friends and many choose to party. Oh and various shops and especially shopping centres have Christmas decorations. You can also easily get plenty of Christmas stuff, such as napkins, candles, mugs with Santa etc.

Anyway, this Christmas/New Year´s Eve trend depends on people. Some welcome it and enjoy celebrating it. Some say that it is not a Turkish tradition and it just copies Europeans and Americans.

I spoke to a Turkish girl who has spent Christmas in England once. She was glowing when telling me about her experience. I was happy because sometimes the Turkish idea of Christmas is not so flattering. They for example say that it is a commercial holiday. I agree, unfortunately it is. But I love buying gifts for my family (especially here in Turkey – when coming home, I feel like a Turkish Santa Claus) and all that thing with the Christmas tree and colourful boxes under it. So whenever I have the chance, I try to tell the people here about Christmas. About the traditions, about why we Europeans and Americans (talking about both North and South Americans) love it so much, why it is so special. It is just one of the many many missions I promised myself to complete in here. I also wish all of us understood better the most important holidays in Turkey and people weren´t judging each other´s culture without having enough information.  

pátek 7. prosince 2012

"Are You Married?"

Are you a foreigner? Maybe coming from Europe? Did you bring some of your "European ideas" to Turkey? And you´re not married, still you want to live with your boyfriend/girlfriend? So don´t be surprised when the owner of the house tells you no already on the phone. Why? Because no matter how European Istanbul sometimes can be, the idea of two young people living together without being married is still a taboo in Turkey. My advice? Lie. Lie where you can, when you can. On the phone say that you are married. Wear a ring. Come with some relative to show that you have the support of your (/his/her) family. And if you like the house, then tell them that actually, you are not really married, you are just engaged, but you are a poor lost foreigner that cannot live alone in this huge city and you are going to marry very, very soon. Let them have mercy on you.

That´s about renting a house. In other cases, just say all the time you are married. You go to a shop, you say you want this and this for your husband. You meet new neighbours who are way too curious, tell them you moved in with your husband and what your husband´s job is. Lie, lie and lie and be careful when your bijouterie ring loses its shine. And if you can´t lie about your boyfriend being your husband, just change to "fiance".

I had a conversation with a modern middle-aged Istanbulian woman about important achievements in each one´s life. She was supposed to compare "get married" and "become a parent". She said that without getting married you cannot have a baby. I just smiled and said that you can but it is not exactly common here in Turkey. On the very same day, a relative of mine told me that she got pregnant. She is not married and she lives with her partner by the way (in the Czech Republic, naturally).

The funny thing is that I am already so well aware of some of the Turkish prejudices and taboos that I get embarassed when I ask a middle-aged businesswoman if she´s married and her answer is no. My Czech soul aplauds her, screaming well done, you did it, you broke the stupid stereotype, you are going your own way even in this crazy country, you don´t need a man! But the fact that she is Turkish and we are in Turkey, makes me feel almost like apologizing and changing the topic as quickly as possible. 

pátek 30. listopadu 2012

Would You Like a Massage or Some Alcohol?

It´s been more or less two months that I moved to Istanbul. I´ve been very busy so I am discovering the city step by step. (Actually Istanbul is so huge that I think even if I had nothing to do, it would take me a lifetime to discover all this incredible organism.)

I live in an area with a lot of banks and markets. If I want to go to a shopping centre, I need to take a bus but except for that, I have everything I need within walking distance.

Last week, I wanted to buy some wine in one of these markets. I entered the biggest one near my home. No alcohol. Ok, I walked in the opposite direction to the second biggest one. No alcohol. Another market. Nothing. Well, no alcohol in any of these markets! How is that even possible?! I move to Istanbul, to a nice neighbourhood that doesn´t seem exactly super conservative and I can´t buy wine anywhere? Wow. In Eskişehir to buy some alcohol was the easiest thing in the world! At last, I remembered I had seen a small tobacco-alcohol shop on the way home, so hallelujah!

Massage. What about the massage? I have really wanted to go for a massage here in Turkey. I even found some special offers on the net. I showed them to my boyfriend. He said it might be ok but I should be careful because these places in Turkey are usually used for prostitution. For what?! As usual, I thought he was exaggerating. One or two days later he wanted to show me some cards distributed in our street. They were business cards inviting people for a massage. The photos on the business cards were quite interesting. Girls in lingerie with their legs wide open. And what was written on them? Something like "if you have doubts, just call us". My only doubt is – how can I be sure that I am going to a real massage place and not to a brothel?  

sobota 17. listopadu 2012

The Turkish Language

First of all, I would like to say that the topic of languages is my favourite. I studied Philology and I work with languages. I speak a couple of languages and I really love studying, teaching and translating them. Languages are my passion. They are my life.

Here in Turkey it is not very common to speak foreign languages. And if someone speaks a foreign language, it is hardly ever more than one. In my little country in the centre of Europe it is let's say more necessary to speak different languages.

There are nine languages in my CV. It might sound crazy or incredible but I can always explain it. I hate showing it off so I never really know how to answer the question "how many languages do you speak/know?". Why? Because I don't know. My reply gets unfortunately a little long because I try to explain that I for example understand Italian on intermediate level but I can't speak it (it would become a horrible mixture of Spanish, Portuguese and French). Or I can read a book in Slovak but again, I can't speak it. So the best question would actually be: how many languages do you speak fluently?

Anyway, enough of this long introduction that has very little to do with the Turkish language. People like to ask me: Petra, which language is the most difficult for you? I don't hesitate for a second to say it is Turkish. Still, I do believe that my mother tongue, Czech, may be more difficult (unlike Turkish, we do recognize feminine, masculine and neutro and we don't change only nouns, pronouns and verbs, but also adjectives and numbers).

Now what is difficult about Turkish? Writing and pronounciation are easy, but (alike us) Turkish uses cases and its word order doesn't really have enough rules to follow. The shock comes when you realize it has nothing in common with all the Germanic, Latin and Slavic languages you have ever studied. The biggest grammar difficulty (at least for the beginners) is the suffixes (ev-house, evler-houses, evlerim-my houses, evlerimde-in my houses, ...) and the vocabulary also teaches you a lesson: you were a fool to believe that some words (such as student or literature) are kind of international. Student in Turkish is "öğrenci" and literature is "edebiyat". Welcome to Turkey. The only thing that sometimes helps me a little bit is my French. (Some of the modern terms of the 20th century were taken from French.)

And my impressions of Turkish? It is not an ugly language to listen to but you are probably not going to fall in love with it like with the pretty romantic French language.

There are two aspects of Turkish that make the people both extremely polite and slightly rude.
The Turkish use so many polite expressions that are almost impossible to translate to other languages! For example, after a meal, it is a custom to wish health to the cook's hands. Or if you visit someone, you are supposed to react to their "you came nicely" (=welcome) with "we found it nice". You can also use "let it be overcome" (=get well soon) when someone drops a lot of things on the floor. Or if you see someone washing the dishes, working or studying, you should wish them "let it come easy (for you)". To learn all these expressions and to use them in the right situations, is a real challenge.

So what makes the Turks slightly rude if they have so many social expressions? Overuse of the imperative. Instead of "could you", "would you" etc., they usually prefer the form of imperative (e.g. "bring me water"). Not only do they love the imperative even with people they don't know, but many times they forget to use the magical words "please" and "thank you". Oh and sometimes, people automatically treat me as "sen" (the informal pronoun, like "du" in German and "tu" in the Latin languages) although I am for example their teacher. But I mean, of course these are some things that make the Turkish people a little impolite in my eyes. At the same time, I am aware of the fact that I cannot quite "feel" their language yet. İnşallah (as the Turks always say to express their hope, no matter how religious they are or not), I will feel it soon.

čtvrtek 8. listopadu 2012

A Couple of Things You Probably Didn´t Know about Turkey

(I say probably because if you live in Turkey and pay a little bit of attention to what is happening around you, you must have noticed.)

When I came to Turkey for the first time (more than two years ago), I wasn´t able to open youtube. Why? Censorship. (Though, every Turkish knew of course how to get on youtube and nowadays, it works normally again.)

Today, if you watch TV, you are not going to be able to see any cigarettes there. They hide them. In my opinion, they just manage to call more attention like that, but what do I know, right?

I also remember how nervous I was about any kind of intimacy in public in that summer 2012. I was so worried not to offend anyone in this new exotic country that I was refusing just to hug my boyfriend. Well, of course I was exaggerating. Still, unlike in many other countries, you can hardly ever see any French kissing in public.

About Turkish dining, a couple of things are going to surprise you too. Like that even in many restaurants, it is not common to use a knife. Or when visiting someone at their place, you may eat on the floor (I actually like it, I believe that it somehow brings the people closer). And you are all probably going to eat from common plates, bowls and pans. (My mother was stunned when I decided to do that with a saucepan in her house this summer. Unfortunately, the board I chose to put under the pan wasn´t exactly wooden...)

There are some funny details we, Czechs, have in common with the Turks. A couple of words (kral-král, cezve-džezva, hele, na, vişne-višně, fasulye-fazole etc.) and a few habits. We for example both knock on the wood when we say something good and we don´t want it to get bad. ("I have never had any problems with my teeth." - knock, knock, knock!)

What else? The people are extremely generous, they love talking about money, they are too curious, they have a very large amount of social rules, they love foreign brides (I don´t know why but they do), they are crazy about visitors and they are mad, mad drivers. They are more than that (long live generalizing!), but about that next time.

čtvrtek 25. října 2012

Istanbul, here I come!

I have just read most of my blog to see if I still agree with what I had written. Also, a lot has changed for me. I have recently moved to Istanbul to start a new life here, hopefully better than in Eskisehir where I hadn´t been very lucky. I´ve been living in Turkey already for one year and a couple of weeks! I have realized that living in this country is by so far the biggest challenge of my life. Mainly because my boyfriend is Turkish. It means that I am more and more expected to behave like a Turkish because I am not just any tourist or foreigner. So lately it has felt like this country and I are in a kind of war, testing each other. I guess the reason why I haven´t packed my luggage and left yet is because I like challenge. And I don´t like giving up.

I am not sure if there was first Turkey angry with me or me angry with Turkey. However silly it might sound, I believe that a country is like an organism capable of treating you well or badly. I believe that sooner or later you find yourself in a kind of relationship with the country. And like every relationship, this one too has its phases. You are curious first, then you fall in love, everything is new and you can´t see any mistakes. You just accept everything as different. But then after some time you open your eyes and suddenly there are some problems and conflicts. And sometimes they make you really unhappy. And you are not sure if it is worth trying. But you keep on going. You hope in better tomorrows. You change the city, try to find new friends... 

I am not saying this country is better or worse than other countries. Please. It is just so damn different. It makes me wonder if I really am as open-minded as I used to think. It makes me wonder how much one is supposed to accept from a new culture. And it shocks me how difficult it can be from time to time. It makes me see my country and culture from a completely new angle and it makes me reconsider if what I had experienced before can really be called "living abroad". I can say now: erasmus is not living abroad. Visiting your friends or boyfriend in a foreign country, even if you stay for a couple of months, is not real living abroad. This what I am living right now is living abroad and it is pretty hard most of the time. 

But, yes, Istanbul, here I come. I am thinking that if I am to be happy in this country, it is going to happen in Istanbul. If I am to have a good job, it is going to happen in Istanbul. If I am to attend language, sport and cultural events like I used to back at home, it is going to happen in Istanbul. So here I am, Istanbul, trying to make a deal with you. Take it because you are a country on your own and we can forget about the conflict with Turkey.