Friday, September 11, 2009

It's Called Society

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 sCrowdtop 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 traf 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?

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  1. People get very rude while rushing into the busses in Izmir. But mostly people from east who came to live in this city do this a lot.

  2. Hello Nomad,I am Turkish,I live in Istanbul,and this thing never happened to me,and believe me I use belediye otobüsü all the time,I've never experienced it,and again in Starbucks too.I think some people sense that you are a foreigner,and think that you can not stand up for yourself and see this as a way to behave like this.I feel like Turkish to Turkish,this can not happen,it is just automatic.We know what will happen if we do this to each other,and we just don't do it,who wants an argument in the public.

  3. Your blog post was enlightening to say the least!! I experienced "queue jumping" in India and was frustrated by it although it wasn't purposely directed at foreigners - people who were considered to have higher staus and also women (esp. older women) were the ones who did it; probably teenage boys too - but I never experienced that. However it was all very peaceful and quiet - I was the only one who ever seemed to feel like screaming when someone cut in line in front of me!! My Indian companions hushed me though and told me to just let it go....

  4. It is possible. But I would hate to think that Turks would take advantage simply because we were foreigners. So I have trouble believing that this was related to being yabanci.
    Besides, there was a crowd of people there- all Turks- and nobody else said anything at all. Anybody could have said what I said. My point is nobody said anything- except myself- and she felt she had the right not to follow the basic rules of social norms.

    One of the key features of society is that it should be self-regulating. Following rules, which are fairly well-recognized, shouldn't always boil down into a shouting match on the street between two strangers? Why was it that I was the only one who found this odd woman's behavior unacceptable? Why is it that I was the only one who had to speak up? I certainly didn't want to be.

  5. I’m sure they found it unacceptable,they just didn’t want to experience an ugly scene.But there is another aspect of this event,maybe this is more true.Sometimes,men in this country let women get on the bus first out of courtesy,even if the woman is behind them in the queue.I’m a lady,they just suddenly let you.As you know Turkish soceity is patriarchal,men are supposed to protect women etc. etc.So men don’t hustle with women in this kind of situations,especially the woman is tiny.It’s not a manly behaviour.I think because of this,the lady yelled at you ‘’Ayıp’’.

  6. I am quite aware of rules of courtesy and, in fact, many times I have found myself to be the only person to give my seat to an elderly person or a pregnant woman. I am sure you have done the same thing, being a lady. But, conversely, Had you not given up your seat, I am also sure you would not have expected to be forced out of your seat and yelled at for protesting against it. Courtesies, like gifts, are by their nature, voluntary acts and not something you take without permission. I would add, this is something I have "chosen" to do and not because I was afraid that it provoke a shouting match.
    Many times I have invited women, especially elderly women to pass before me in lines, at busstops or at the market. But surely as a lady, you would have to admit that it is one thing to accept a courtesy or act of politeness that is offered, but it is quite another thing to duck under a person's arm in order to get on a bus before others who have been waiting before her. I am sure you, being a lady, would not turn and shout at anybody who did not offer you a voluntary courtesy.
    If it is not manly behavior to hustle, as you put it, you cannot consider this to be either lady-like nor socially acceptable behavior.
    I suspect the origins of the problem are people allowing such behavior and then making implausible excuses for it after the fact.

  7. "I’m sure they found it unacceptable,they just didn’t want to experience an ugly scene."


  8. The lady's attitude is of course rude,she is taking advantage of being a woman and I've never had the intention to imply that you are a rude person,I'm sorry,obviously you are a polite person and the things you've written about courtesy is absolutely right.I'm just trying to explain what was in her mind at that moment,what was her motives.Maybe we should find her.By the way what kind of action did you expect from the others?

  9. Her motives were quite clear. I had no doubt about them. I was opposed to her methods. :) Personally I doubt also it had to do with her gender. It is a kind of feeling of entitlement and exceptionalism.

    You know, I had not meant to isolate Turkey or Turkish people. Lord knows, Turks in no way have a monopoly on asocial behavior and from all I seen, people in the West can learn a lot from the Turks.
    To answer your last question, I can only tell you what I have seen in my native country. If a person were to do the same thing in the USA or England, it would most likely not be a single person expressing displeasure and resisting but several people would be supporting one person saying, "Excuse me,m'am, please wait your turn. We have all been waiting and we all equally want a seat." Perhaps an angry look from the others will suffice. Clicking of tongues could do the trick. Often, the person in authority might help and support the organization by saying, "Please step to the end of the line, m'am." None of this has to lead to a shouting match; it is merely a civilized and organized way.
    I find it strange that lucky you have not encountered such behavior in Istanbul. You certainly must have a charmed existence. I have seen it in banks - yes, even with numbers- paying utilities etc. People parking in the street, blocking traffic while they go and buy bread or cigarettes. A stroll of a park on a Sunday evening and you see the rubbish of a family from earlier in the day. All of it belongs to the same mentality.

    In any case, the post wasn't supposed to be merely a bitch session but an observation about the necessity of following some kind of social rules and that when people begin accepting the unacceptable and making excuses, we all have to suffer and we all are to blame.

    A friend told me that one time she was in Switzerland and had dropped a used napkin on the ground. An elderly woman suddenly stopped and pointed at the ground. There was no shouting "Ayip" and making a scene. My friend admitted her mistake with hesitation and disposed of her litter. Because sometimes we all need a gentle reminder that this is a planet, a nation, and a city we must share, despite whatever our passing selfish motives.

    By the way, thanks for your input. I may not always agree but your ideas are appreciated. If you get a chance, you may (or may not) enjoy another post in a similar vein. You can find the link at the bottom of the post. Take care. :)

  10. I d say, turks dont know how to form a decent line. I can say that because I am a turk and I see such stuff happening all the time. We have a hoarding tradition, so its no surprise.

  11. iLike this. In only 2.5 months I have experienced this SO many times already! Buses, dressing rooms, restrooms...And Unfortinatly I dont have enough Turkish or bravery to do any thing about it. I am always just too shocked as I am still used to uber friendly American customs.
    The thing that really upsets me is how FEW men give up their seats on the bus or metro to older women or children here. I am not really old fashioned, but the drivers are so rough! Standing is hazardous! I'm afraid that one of those little old ladies will fall down! (hell, I'm afraid I will fall down!) In the US, even my 18yr old brother would get out of his seat, and he is a little punk!

  12. I think the comment section was interesting here. Did you read it?
    There is also that old-fashioned idea of dignity. I mean, standing screaming nose to nose with some hag is not MY idea of dignified behavior. It's the equivalent to rolling around in mud with a crowd watching. About giving up the seat. Teenagers are the worst. They are so self-absorbed an old lady could collapse at their feet and they wouldn't look up from their texting. Telling note: whenever I gave up my seat, I noticed that other people did as well, but only after I did. What does that suggest to you?


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