With time to kill in the Grand Bazaar and the name of our group’s later meeting place as a password, guest blogger and artist Tim Coursey considers the Turkish character…
No one could be treated as well as I was in Turkey and remain a critical observer, disarmed by our even-tempered, generous hosts, guides, drivers, innkeepers, even company spokespeople. But I like to indulge in assigning national characteristics– everyone knows what a German is supposed to be like, or a Swede or whomever.
Which is why, finally turned loose in the vast, seething maze of the Grand Bazaar with a magic word, “iri-jami”, my only way out, Alp-less and American as the dickens, I took the opportunity to frankly assess the Turks.
Here’s the first national trait: They are frankly assessing you. There’s an unhurried openness to that Turkish glance, nothing furtive, that’s either disconcerting or endearing; they’ve got your number.
Here’s another trait: If they find you amusing they’ll go ahead and laugh. It’s very different from derogatory asides you overhear from the Americans; that Turk is laughing at you, though not maliciously, and doesn’t care if you know it. The proper response to “Iri-jami?” is a chuckle, a vague directional gesture, and the word “kilometer”. And there was the hotel restaurant staffer who thought my hat was the funniest thing he’d seen all morning, and our elegant, laid-back industrialist who cracked up when asked what the Turkish for “dolma” was.
This one is elusive: Nearly all Turks seem a little sad. It is as if there’s something wrong kept in abeyance, some intractable difficulty that they are bound and determined not to let get the better of them. I think there’s a kind of sadness in the patient demeanor of folks so famously caffeinated.
Conviviality is an easy one to spot since I have so little of it. They keep it turned on all the time. The guy with the fake Rolexes, after I made the empty-pockets gesture, hung around a couple of minutes so we could talk about the weather. You can and probably should sit down over tea with absolutely anyone. Turkish drivers will execute astonishingly complex socio-mechanical maneuvers in the crowded one-and-a-half lane streets; horns are informative, not punitive. And I hadn’t seen people washing themselves at public hydrants since I was a child at Fair Park, where I was discouraged from doing so.
Apparently our group is representative enough of our own national character. The day after dinner with a family out in the countryside, Alpay, briefly describing what our hosts liked about our visit, squealed and chattered like an American. Glad we were appropriate.