Thursday, November 06, 2008

I did it again.

There doesn't appear to be a simple Turkish equivalent of the term 'expatriate'. While this is of no concern to my cats, one of which has been sniffing the same spot on the couch for half an hour, the other chasing a small shiny metallic object about the hallway, I find it problematic.

In English, the word conjures up opinions and thoughts numerous enough to fill a couple of tomes. Good, and not so good anecdotes come to mind.

To face the not-so-attractive reality, we, the expatriates, are everywhere. And I, one of them, seem to have issues with some of the others, who recently, count themselves among people I'd like to maim in a painful manner. Damn, that's two sentences commencing with a conjunction... What kind of language teacher am I?

Have you ever walked down the street in a culture fairly dissimilar to your own, where the natives act, look, dress and generally go about their daily lives in a manner different to your own? Of course you have, since we've all travelled at some point and even a trip from the suburbs to the centre of town can bring the out-of-my-comfort zone sweat stains and accompanying unsightly rash.

And while making your way down that very same avenue, have you ever crossed paths with another from your world, your own culture? You can spot it in the eyes. When you've travelled a decent amount you can spot the tourist, spot the native, spot the lost tourist, spot the evil person with a moustache who is going to scam you, the person who needs help with directions, the pesky unavoidable thing who's going to ask you for some spare change. Nothing wrong with any of that though.

In Istanbul, I can spot Antipodeans easily. First, there are few of us in Turkey. Secondly, we generally dress appallingly. It seems to us that if you walk around in un-ironed garments and clothing more suitable for the beach, we hope that others will think us relaxed and easy-going. It's not for me to explain what my Turkish friends really think of they way we dress, but hey, it's not that complimentary.

Anyway, we expatriates are a sometimes funny breed. We come in contact with another of our kind and immediately look away. We did not see each other. Why is that? It's impossible to blend fully into the Turkish fabric for most of us, and what should that matter anyway, we're here to absorb the culture, hopefully learn the language and make a few friends along the way. I'm not the only expat in Istanbul and I couldn't care less about it. This is not a competition.

I passed another of my kind on Sıraselviler Caddesi this morning, an untamed, ramshackle thoroughfare with the world's most hilarious excuse for functioning footpaths. The expat guy looked at me and straight through me. But it was immediately preceded by that flicker or recognition, that you-look-just-like-me-and-that-makes-me-less-special-now. Yeah, go away quickly.

I'm not putting forward the idea that we should shake hands each time we run into another expat. I mean, granted, most of us would probably not get along to well if we were on our own soil. What's amusing here is the conscious decision to be annoyed with someone after making eye contact with them. for no good reason. I guess, chances are that expats engaged in conversation are often just moaning about Turkish food/currency/housing costs/weather/traffic/disorganisation ad nauseum. So, sure, move on. Just why the obvious displeasure in your demeanour?

I've even been guilty myself of acting the moaning expat. Hey, sometimes it is hard to live away from your native culture and, while I'm positive Turkish norms are not so different from what might be branded Western culture, there is language, customs, mores and morals that certainly differ from those which many of us grew up with. I'm sure I'd even suffer from culture shock in the United States, least of all because they('re about to) have a black president...

Anyway, expatriates do tend to hang out together because we sometimes need a dose of the familiar, and if living outside Australia has taught me one thing, it's that humour rarely translates gracefully or successfully between cultures. My apartment has known both Irish and American flatmates with their respective humours, and while we chuckled along quite well together humour often fails when you have to offer alternate cultural elements that can be summed up otherwise in a single word or short phrase.

I remember crying with laughter at a recent Australian mini-series or mockumentary or whatever the ABC was flogging it as, which naturally failed to impress or leave much of an effect on the flatmate. And I guess that's the very reason why so many of us do eventually suffer bouts of homesickness; we miss laughing. Well, I do.

So why completely ignore each other now when chances are you'll be at the same party in a few week's time? Just we just accept this town is big enough for the two of us?

The second part of the now overlong post deals with the nastier expat. There are quite a few. Those who consider themselves superior or inferior because a) they've landed a great job that pays them seven hundred times more that the average Turkish wage and have no need for you, b) they still haven't bothered to acquire even the most basic Turkish after an embarrassingly long period and believe after seven years that every Turk is still out to scam them, c) they're French by nationality or d), they can't live in their birthplace because they are hated by everyone, possibly already belonging to group c).

Man... today I was in the bank and that was already stressful enough - I loathe those institutions. However, this was going to be exciting for me as I planned to deposit instead of withdraw. Took my ticket. Waited in the queue. Over the next fifteen minutes, as I slowly lost the will to live, a tall man with hair that can only be described as a gross error in judgment twice jumped the line and decided that he wanted his customer service now.

In principal, I'm not against queue-jumpers, provided they offer the obligatory 'I'm sorry but (insert reasonably lame excuse) and have to get this done before my head falls off'. For example. During his second approach to the counter I politely demurred and asked what might be the issue, prey tell? I questioned him in Turkish but since he looked both blank and irritatable I understood French was the way forward. His response?

'This is not Paris. Things are done differently here.'

What the $%#* is that supposed to mean, other than my French accent is damn impressive?

So of course, I decided to let him know that basic rudeness is hardly culture-specific and all he had needed to do was ask if he could move forward in the queue. Basic politeness demands this.

And then he did something that he shouldn't have done. He moved his index finger to his mouth in a teacher/parent manner to silence me. He really oughtn't have done that. I think. I rather lost it, in fluent French fashion.

It all turned out satisfactorily, though designating him un clochard instead of un connard took something away from affair's general sucess. I don't think he cared that I called him homeless tramp instead of a #$%head, though with his haircut not all the effect was lost. Sometimes my savoir-faire amazes me.

Then he called me tourist - a little rich considering his Turkish made my French sound worthy of l'Academie francaise.

I uttered something very, very rude.

This evening I have a wallet stacked with un-banked lira. I guess it's back to Anger Management classes and the local branch tomorrow.

More comical yet, me and the Gallic turd will undoubtably cross paths at a party in the near future. Let's hope he's had a hair cut and wearing non-staining, inflammable clothing. I'm not going to shake his hand, and I will look right through him.

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