Friday, December 30, 2011

Friday, December 30, 2011 - No comments

All in the Family

A Turkish family tree is a thing of complicated beauty. Whenever I ask a friend to show me how they are related to so-and-so, I usually get lost at the part where one cousin marries another cousin and their uncle becomes their father-in-law. To make matters worse (or better, once you’ve figured it out) there are specific names for every member of the family according to how they are related, so your brother’s wife is called something different than your husband’s brother’s wife, and your maternal uncle is different than your paternal uncle, and your uncle is yet another kind of uncle if he is married to your actual aunt. There is even a special word for women who are married to brothers.

Some of these “relative names” are also used when interacting with others in public. The words “abi” (older brother) and “abla” (older sister) might be used when, say, trying to get the attention of someone working at the veggie pazar, and you’d use the word “teyze” (auntie) when giving up your seat to an old lady on the bus. They can convey a sense of familiarity amongst friends and neighbours, or a sense of respect between strangers. You would most certainly never use a person’s first name without tacking on one of these titles, unless you were using a more proper “sir” or “ma’am.”

I recently caught a comical glimpse of how deeply this system of “respectful address” is engrained in the Turkish heart. On the news, they showed security footage of a man robbing a gas station convenience store. He burst through the doors, held a gun to the cashier’s head and said, “Abi (big brother), give me all your cash!”

You can terrify a man and steal all his money, but always, always do it respectfully.