Sunday, July 20, 2014

Sunday, July 20, 2014 - 2 comments

On the Verge of a Bi-Cultural Breakdown

Disclaimer:  I might not mean all of this tomorrow...but it's how I feel today.

One aspect of my job here involves mentoring new arrivals to Turkey during their season of cultural adaptation.  This sometimes involves formal teachings on “getting yourself from culture shock to cultural fluency” as well as a whole lot of informal conversations full of “Why do they do it that way?”s and  “How am I ever going to survive here?”s

This week, as I looked over something I’d written for a past teaching, I had to laugh at myself.  I sound like some amazingly well-adjusted, bi-cultural hero.  But today, that feels like the farthest thing from the truth.  


Here’s the excerpt:

I think of myself as a half-Turk, half-Canadian.  This is my home and my life is here.  In a lot of ways, I am much more a part of this society than the one at home.  I have Grocery store discount cards, bus pass, bank account, a “greens guy” at the pazar, a “usual” gözleme that the waiter automatically brings me at the waterfall, and a tab at the photo place.  I have three Turkish women who claim me as their adopted daughter and in whose houses I am the one who serves the tea because I am “the kız.”  I do my devotions in Turkish.  I can make some amazing dolma - stuffed peppers.  Some of my favourite music and TV shows are Turkish.  I have an ever-increasing collection of glittery shoes and billowy village pants and sweater vests that I never would have worn back home but have come to totally love now.  When I am in Canada, I have a habit of headscarf stalking, chasing down people who may or may not be Turks in shopping malls.  I have pictures of Atatürk up in my room, and it’s not uncommon for me to tear up when I sing the Turkish national anthem.  

I also still prefer a latte to Turkish coffee (though not by much), would rather read a book alone on my day off instead of hanging out with a big crowd of everyone and their relative, keep a stockpile of Thai sweet chili sauce and curry packets in my stash cupboard, prefer watching hockey to futbol, and get super excited when I get off the plane in Vancouver and see the Canadian flag.

But getting to this place of being comfortable with “the Turkish me” has been a long process - one I am still in, really.  It started off with a sense of novelty and fascination with this culture, followed shortly by a season of “how will I ever live in this culture” to “being as Turkish as possible and getting frustrated that people still saw me as a foreigner” to “accepting the fact that I am part Turk, part Canadian, and I will always live in this tension” and getting comfy in this spot that is uniquely mine.

But you want a little honesty?  In the end, much as I love these people and this culture, I still ultimately want it on my own terms.  I love going to a neighbour’s and eating stuffed peppers on the floor, taking pictures of the colourful patterns I spot in the pazar, and writing cute stories about unique cultural phenomena.  But I like it best when I still have a bedroom door to close on it at night.  I like it best from the outside.  

When Turkey’s charming “togetherness” and its whimsical “spontaneity” encroach on my alone time, my writing time, or my productive time, I get a little grouchy.  When being “on the inside” involves too much cigarette smoke, having to give up “my” bed for a surprise guest, or a “ten minute errand” that turns into hours of shopping, I just want to crawl into a hole and hide.  I thrive on “plans” and “predictability” and “to do lists”, and life here lately seems to enjoy throwing all that back in my face and laughing at me.

I’m having one of those weeks where I feel about 80% Canadian and 20% Turkish.  And that 80% wants the 20% to just go away.  I’ve been staying with my Istanbul family for two weeks while I attend a language course and work on material for my book.  I adore them and am loving the quality time I’m getting with them, especially in this unique season leading up to my little sister’s wedding next month.  But I think the combo of me having a lot of work I need to be accomplishing, and the fact that Ramazan and wedding-related things make for lots of extra social events has got me feeling quite at odds with the world in which I’m currently attempting to live.  

Often, in prep for these “cultural acquisition lessons” I’ll scour my old journals for examples of my own adjustment process.  The earliest pages - the ones from when I lived with my host family - are filled with tearful frustration and the cries of a suffocating introvert.  Sometimes when I look at entries from that first year, I think, “Was it really that hard?” But then I have weeks like this one, where I am more or less fluent and have a “good grasp of the culture” and yet still struggle so much, and I wonder how I ever survived four months of “non-stop Turkishness” without having a breakdown...


Hon, I can so totally agree, 'tho I will never be as Chinese as you are Turkish. There IS a tension in living "between" cultures, and for people like us, who like our alone time, living in group-centric cultures can be stressful. Just remember: You are amazing. You love with your whole heart. Don't let the duality of your life bother you, It is just two sides of the same fantastic coin.

Thanks Pat. I know you understand! Thankfully I had a good "recharge" this morning, and connected to my life source. Prepared me for a long night at an iftar meal (post-fasting Ramadan meal) which I was able to really enjoy. :)