A Greek-American friend, Marika, came down from Istanbul last week. She emigrated to Turkey a few months ago and she is still in that rosy wide-eyed stage that all expats pass through. A lot of things I now take for granted she finds interesting and strange. Looking at Turkey with borrowed insight can often remind me why I love this country so much. This isn't one of those stories, however.
So, there we are, waiting for a bus in Konak. The day was warm and cloudy and stuffy and it seemed like the bus might never arrive. We were - meaning me- jabbering away about life in Turkey, etc etc. when the city bus finally showed up. There was the usual nebulous crowd-cloud that gathered at the door. At that moment, as we trudged forward, I noticed from the corner of my left eye, a rather squat pale woman beginning to squeeze past me. I attempted to put a stop to this by leaning on the bus, thus forming, what I assumed to be, a gentle barrier. A mild restraint to her impatience, in other words. However, to both of our amazement, the woman simply ducked under my arm, pushed past us and climbed onto the bus. Then, she turned back to us and began shouting as loudly as possible, "Cok ayip bir sey, ya." A shameful thing, she blared. Rather dully, slightly embarrassed by her outrage, I repeated in Turkish, "Yes, That's right. It was a shameful thing you did." At least, it was something to that effect but I rather doubt my subtle sarcasm had much of an impact.
All the other passengers, by this time, were intrigued not overly surprised. They watched for a moment and then lost interest. Whatever was the problem, it wasn't their problem. The woman, smugly sat in the last available seat, trying to appear as if she had won some kind of great victory.
A bit later, after we sat down, Marika said,"I can't believe that. She just pushed past you.."
"You mean, you've not seen this in Istanbul?"
"It happens all the time in Izmir. Just the other day, I was standing in line in Starbucks. There were only a few desserts left and I had my eye on the last slice of cherry chocolate cake. A woman with pumpkin colored hair comes up and begins making a conversation with the man behind the counter but then she starts to order. I turned and said, 'Excuse me, there is a line" in Turkish. She then lets loose with a blast of indignant noises. You should have heard her."
"Oh no. What did you do?"
"What do you do? I sputtered and mumbled something stupidly. It wouldn't have matter anyway. This is a technique. If they shout loud enough, they embarrass you and you don't argue with them. If you shout, then they will merely shout even louder and make more of a scene. I figure they have more practice at it so it would be a losing game for me. I knew this game even while it was happening and I could do nothing about it."
We both stared that oily-faced woman again as if she were a corpse on the autopsy table.
"You mean, because you are a foreigner?"
"That's part of it. If I could speak Turkish perfectly, maybe that would make some kind of difference. But, probably not. I mean, I wasn't brought up that way. To shout at stranger's in public. To make a scene. I was taught that if you raised your voice you had lost the argument. Even when I know I am right, I just can't do it."
"Why do people like that do it? I mean, standing in line. It isn't so hard, is it?"
I smile, sadly. "Look around. There are people in this country..maybe it is only a small minority, I can't tell, but there are people that honestly do not think rules are made for them. Maybe they are rich and maybe they are poor. It is a very common way of thinking. Rules are made for other people."
Marika sighed. "But that is what living in a society is all about."
"Maybe the idea of society doesn't impress them much. I don't know."
One of the trade-offs to life in society, as opposed to a solitary life, is that one is forced to follow the Golden Rule slightly more often than one would prefer. We have to wait in line too much. We have to speak as politely and behave as respectfully as we can. We have to turn down our music at night. We have to stop at red lights. We have to pay taxes and dispose of our trash properly. Whether we like it or not, we have all kinds of obligations to our fellow humans. It's called society. It is called civilization and, despite my grumblings, I am, all in all, fond of it.
I mean, not always, of course. Quite a few of these obligations and responsibilities are dreary and not much fun; almost all of them are time-consuming and some are seemingly pointless. A routine of daily compromises that seem to go unrewarded, while those who do not recognize these rules are allowed to push past us in order to find the last seat on an overcrowded bus. And then they scream in our faces for trying to keep some kind of order. Admittedly, it is not my job to make the citizens of the world obey the rules. I suppose it is something that in a hundred small ways we all have to do every day-if in no other way, but by serving as a model.
Because after all, what is the alternative?