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North Texas Artists in Turkey: Tim Coursey on Turkish Traits

by Anne Bothwell 30 Jul 2010 5:31 PM

Artist Tim Coursey assesses the Turks, finds a few common national characteristics.


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.

  • kimberly alexander

    Here’s a list of Tim Coursey traits, just to balance out the point of view. Comfortably quiet and observant. Tim and I silently manned the rear windows of most of the road trips in Turkey, noses pressed to the glass. I loved not talking together. Brilliant. I learned quickly that I never want to miss a word from Tim Coursey when he finally speaks. He draws from a deep well. Big hearted. He’s as tender as a frog belly in the way he treats others, but stone tough in what he expects from himself. That’s a man you can trust. He’s as genuine as they come. Among our band were friends who have known Tim since the Bronze Age, and I could easily see why they would lapse into a chorus of Tim-praising. Oh, and he hates to be complimented, which is endearing because he deserves it so much.