Article 301:Insults and Compliments to Turkishness
Trip Start Sep 29, 2006
36Trip End Ongoing
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The last thing you want to do in Turkey is to insult Turkishness. When the Republic was founded by Ataturk and he worked to develop Turkish nationalism, Article 301 was enacted.
Article 301 reads:
1. Public denigration of Turkishness, the Republic or the Grand National Assembly of Turkey shall be punishable by imprisonment of between six months and three years.
2. Public denigration of the Government of the Republic of Turkey, the judicial institutions of the State, the military or security structures shall be punishable by imprisonment of between six months and two years.
3. In cases where denigration of Turkishness is committed by a Turkish citizen in another country the punishment shall be increased by one third.
4. Expressions of thought intended to criticize shall not constitute a crime.
These are the no-no's and yes's that I have observed thus far:
Gloves: Nobody wears them. Turks don't get cold hands. If you get cold hands, you are not a true Turk. Gloves are an insult to Turkishness.
Hats: Hats are an insult to Turkishness. Only women wear them. If you're a man and you have a hat on, you may as well just emasculate yourself because you're halfway to womanhood.
Mayonnaise: In America, you order a sandwich and they slip the mayo on unbeknownst to you, a fact that becomes readily apparent when you take a bite and your mouth is filled with the sickly white sensation of raw egg yolk. In Turkey you can order a Mayonnaise Sandwich anywhere, but be careful or they might slip something else in, like lettuce and tomato, or even a piece of meat. Mayonnaise is a compliment to Turkishness.
Headscarves: Headscarves are an insult to Turkishness. The place where I used to live, called Uskudar, is widely considered one of the most insulting places in town.
Fixed Prices: Outside of department stores and large corporate enterprises, prices are not listed. Anywhere you go to buy something you can get "Turked" (ripped off), so you just have to learn to intrinsically know the price of anything you want to purchase. ESP is very useful in Turkey for bargain shopping. Fixed prices are an insult to Turkishness.
Atatürk: The founder of the Turkish republic, he invented the word Turkishness. I predict that sometime in the near future his name will become a synonym for "cool", and people will saying things like "Hey man, that's an Ataturkin' jacket." and "That's was a pretty Ataturkular movie", and maybe even just "If you want to leave now, that's totally Ataturk with me." Ataturk is a compliment to Turkishness.
Orhan Pamuk: Orhan Pamuk has been saying things about history that some people don't want him to say. If Orhan Pamuk was the name you had to say in a game of Taboo, the card might look something like this:
My Name is Red
Insult to Turkishness
Even though he was the first Turk to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, Orhan Pamuk is an insult to Turkishness.
Insults to Turkishness: Insults to Turkishness are insults to Turkishness. Watch yourself. Article 301 for life, baby.
News: News is a compliment to Turkishness. Most news sources are owned by the state, and the sole aim of these sources is to promote Turkishness. At times, they may even tell you that the weather is five or six degrees warmer than it really is so that the masses don't "panic". Really, it's very comforting that they're watching out for me so closely. I hear that the newspaper Hurriyet is good, but it's all in Turkish and I can't read it...
Filtered Coffee: Filtered coffee is an insult to Turkishness, but it shouldn't be. The problem is that its glories have simply not yet become known. Perhaps it is because Turkish history is still somewhat angry for the Ottoman armies being halted in their Westward advance at the seige of Vienna in 1529, one of the results of which was the introduction of coffee into the Western diet. (Or maybe its just the American monopoly on most of the world's coffee). But the bittersweet chocolate-colored ambrosia is becoming popular in chains like Starbucks and McDonalds, both of which you can find almost anywhere at any time. Coffee is still viciously overpriced, but no other commodity is more worth it, either.
Lanes: Cars drive on streets in Turkey, but the word "lane" has apparently not yet established itself in the Turkish lexicon. Cars drive on whatever part of the road they can occupy, even if it happens to be towards oncoming traffic or on pedestrian walkways. I was in Nişantaşı today, the most modern, Westernized, commercial part of the city, and I saw cars driving in a semblance of order. I was blown away. Other than that, lanes are in insult to Turkishness.
Alcohol: Alcohol is both an insult and a compliment to Turkishness. Few other items can claim this uniqueness. Efes Pilsen is the most famous beer in Turkey, probably the only beer worth mentioning, and in most instances it is the only beer you can obtain so you better learn to like it. Yeni Raki (like ouzo) is another popular alcohol, a clear, black licorice tasting drink, but spirits are so horrendously expensive here that only the rich and the stupid drink liquor.
White Bread: White bread is a compliment to Turkishness for the simple fact that it is everpresent. I have never been privvy to a culture that enjoys the fresh taste of refined carbohydrates more than the Turks, and the special affinity for white bread evinsced by the local population truely astounds me, who would not touch a piece of white bread before coming to Turkey. Now I fill up on a nice white bread roll at least a few times a week for breakfast. Thanks, Istanbul!
Saw 1, 2, and 3: Saw 3, or Tesere Üç, is a complimentary insult to Turkishness. The people here love it. It has been out in theaters for months now, but every day the cinema is still packed with people looking to get another gritty glimpse of the gorefest. I was drinking a Pepsi that I purchased during the intermission (yes, every movie in Turkey has an intermission), but once the movie started I was unable to finish it. My stomach just didn`t love me anymore.
Smoking: Nargile and cigarettes. Smoke smoke galore. Turkish people who smoke... smoke. Like a house afire. After a particularly intense political discussion today in class, one of my students stood up, pulled out a cigarette, and excused himself for a moment. It makes me glad that I`m only addicted to coffee.
Getting Sick: Turks don't get sick. They get ill. In Turkey, the word "sick" means "fuck"-sometimes "penis"- but most the time some variation of "fuck". So. I am sick? No. You are sick? No. You are feeling sick? Never. Tom and Jane are sick? Maybe, who knows. But just say ill. You get fewer smiles that way.
European Drink Sizes: The Turks have mastered the European art of small portions. Despite American intervention in the form of fast food, most drinks come in a glass about the size of a shot. Sometimes I would give anything for a big, harty American mug full of tea or coffee. Usually I just end up ordering two or three of whatever I'm having. I can't adapt. I'm an American at heart. Bigger is better. My stomach is bigger than my eyes. I'm a glutton at heart.
Allergies: Allergies are insult to Turkishness when they come in the less-than-pleasing form of mucus. Blowing your nose in public is socially prohibited, and spitting is a definite no-no. Those of you who know me know what a problem this particular situation is, has been, and will probably continue to be. Much like my father, I'm given to carrying around tissues with me wherever I go. The state of Istanbul pollution alone is enough to drive my hyper-allergic immune system into spasmodic conniptions. Every now and again, when the urge (or pressure) becomes too great, I sound the ol' foghorn as forewarning and maybe let a mongo loogie fly. Never let go, Jack. Never let go.
Global Warming: Global Warming is an insult to Turkishness. As an ESL teacher, I am often given to asking general questions to stimulate conversation. For my Level 4 Exit Test, one of my questions was: "What is the world's biggest problem, and why?" Since that time I have tried out this question in other classes, as well. The two most common answers? The USA (with a particular focus on the war in Iraq) and Global Warming, for which the US takes the lion's share of the responsibility. In all fairness, we did not sign the Kyoto Protocol, we use well over a quarter of the whole world's natural resources while making up only about 4% of the population, we are the largest single emitter of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases (accounting for more than 25% of the total produced by humans worldwide). Now, on the other hand, we did not sign the Kyoto Protocol, but we also did not reject it. Emissions are, in fact, decreasing in the United States. There is a strong movement toward renewable energy. And besides, Turkey didn't sign the Kyoto Protocol, either. Snap.
Garbage in the Home: Garbage in the home is an insult to Turkishness. The other day, I asked my students to make a list of garbage in the home as part of a writing activity designed to use vocabulary, and particularly new adjectives to describe the nouns that are everyday household items. The response was uncanny. They refused to do the assignment. "We don't have garbage in the home. We are very clean people [Turks]." I said, "Really? I have a lot of garbage in my home." They said, "But you look so tidy." I said, "Well, thank you." I told them to get over it, that everyone has something they can throw away. Old clothes, new ugly clothes, old make-up kits, food that has gone bad, pieces of paper or crumpled receipts, McDonalds cups or plastic grocery bags. They looked at me, considering for a moment, and nodded. Everyone agreed except one woman. "I have nothing. My secretary keeps everything very clean." She meant cleaning woman. "Must be nice," I said. "Jon is my secretary, and he keeps things... well, there really is no word for it... dirty is no good... messy just doesn't fit.... Whatever is the exact, polar opposite of clean."
Saddam Hussein's Death: Saddam Hussein's death is an insult to Turkishness. The prevailing conspiracy theory here is that the whole hanging ordeal was a ploy by the United States government to make us THINK that Saddam is dead, when he is, in reality, alive and well. Why would the US government do this, you ask? Well, for power, of course. What power, exactly? No one is quite sure, but I'll be sure to post the answer when I hear it. And where is Saddam now? Where else... in Kuwait! This is a very popular and widely-believed theory that was all over the news. There is, of course, the counter-argument even if the US government didn't want Saddam dead, the Iraqi government certainly did. With the US holding a tenous grip on Iraq, and with a constant threat of military withdrawal looming, the last thing an Iraqi government led by a majority Shia block with a Kurdish Prime Minister at the helm wants is for the old, ruthless, angry Sunni dictator to return to power in a post-withdrawal coup. A dead Saddam stands much less chance of returning to power than a living one. My arguments, thus far, have only been met by skepticism. Oh, and Neil Armstrong didn't actually walk on the moon. That was fake. We just wanted to one-up the Russians (interesting to think about, no?).
Mugs: Mugs-and I mean big frigging cups, the kind of cup you want to put your coffee in after a long night of drinking, the kind of cup that will hold enough coffee that you won't have to get up from your chair for fifteen minutes, the kind of cup that can hold enough caffeinated beverage to pummel your sleep-deprived mind into consciousness-are an insult to Turkishness. Everyone has heard of Turkish coffee. Turkish coffee means twice or thrice boiled coffee grounds, usually with sugar. But more importantly, ordering Turkish coffee is an implicit request for coffee in a thimble. Traditional Turkish tea is also served in a thimble. In some restaurants and cafes you can forgo the thimble and order a cup of tea, for which there is a separate word in Turkish (fincan-basically means give me the smallest cup you have; and bardak-give me the second-smallest). Then they bring you a shot glass worth of tea or coffee. One of the biggest disappointments of my life was when I was in a city in southeast Turkey called Mardin. I hadn't slept much the night before due to the dirtiness and hotness of my room, so I got up early to try and find a proper coffee to bring me out of my stupor. In my sleepy state I walked into a café and ordered a cup of coffee. I was fully prepared for bitter Nescafe, which is crystallized coffee that you can often times almost chew, and which requires a lot of sugar and milk before drinking. Instead, the waiter brought me a Turkish coffee. I looked down despairingly at the thimble before me, and I think the waiter new something was wrong, as a single tear crept from my eye. I took a sip, which is really all you get from a thimble, chewed the coffee grounds, and left. As an added bonus I got to pick the coffee grounds out of my teeth with my tongue for the next hour.
Lines: Organized lines are an insult to Turkishness. Conversely, disorganized lines are a compliment. That may sound a wee bit paradoxical, and although I can't really explain it, I can at least try and put it in context for you. On more than one occasion I have had a person point out to me that Turkish people don't stand in lines. Right after that they mentioned, quite proudly I might add, that Italians don't stand in lines, either. Case in point: I went to a government office to renew my residency permit the other day. Everyone took a ticket with a number on it, but no one followed the number. Rather, everyone stood in a group and it was basically a free-for-all who got to the window first. I think it's a bad system, but Turks seem to enjoy it. I'll be honest, though, while standing in a line is always boring and flavorless, constantly jostling for position makes the time pass quicker. Sometimes standing in a line in Turkey is more like establishing position in the paint for a rebound than anything else.
Full-priced DVDs: The pirated DVD market in Turkey is burgeoning. No one pays full price for movies. Full-priced DVDs are an insult to Turkishness.
Sonic the Hedgehog Hair: This is definitely a Turkish compliment. Some directions on how to arrange your hair alaTurka. Picture a man with a flattop hair cut and the vestiges of a mullet. Now throw about two pounds of gel into that dew, the kind of gel that is very gooey and shiny. Spike that flattop hair up into something resembling a baby Mohawk. Spread the gel around thoroughly so that it also gives the mullet a greasy sheen. Next, comb that mullet straight back with your fingers. Be careful that you don't comb the sides of your hair back. That would look silly. You want the sides to be going straight down. Look, you want your hair to be doing three completely different things. On the apex of your cranium you will sculpt a summit, a veritable Mount Everest of hair. The sides will be gelled completely down. They must not move. To test the strength of your gel-job, turn a blow dryer on high and hold it an inch away from your head. If the hair doesn't budge then it's ready to go. The back of your noggin, which is where the true artistry takes place, must look like Wolverine had a bad hair day. Just ruffle it around a bit, gather it as if it were long enough for a pony-tail, and make sure it points straight back. If you think it looks silly at first, well, you just don't know anything about style.
Your hair should now be a solid mass. This mass is multifunctional.
1) The first and foremost function is, of course, coolness. Just having this hair automatically increases your net coolness percentile by 32S%.
2) The second function is utility. Your hair in its current state is a durable, inert helmet that will yield to neither hat hair nor bed head. You are going to be stylish at any time, day or night, whether you like it or not.
3) The third function is protection. With this hairdo you are effectively wearing a safety device and are prepared to do any number of things ranging from heavy construction to extreme motorcycling. Go to www.hedgehodhead.com to see a complete maganda (Turkish for greasy douchebag) go toe-to-toe (or head-to-head, rather) with a wild buffalo. This hairdo is, after all, about alpha-male status.
Note: If it doesn't look like you've been running headlong into a gale force wind then you're not doing it right.
Ruining Perfectly Good Polo Shirts and T-shirts, as Well as Button Up Shirts: Infantilizing adult outerwear is, unfortunately, a compliment to Turkishness. There are three cases in point.
a) Dragons. Imagine a perfectly good polo or button up shirt. It looks normal-the kind of thing you might have various versions of in your own closet-a hip little number that is so widely accepted that you may even be able to tuck it into a pair of nice pants and wear it to work. Now throw a screen printed dragon on the shoulder. Why, Turkey? Why???
b) Pockets. Pockets, pockets everywhere. Two pockets on your right breast, one on your left. Two others around your waist. One on the back of your shirt just for kicks. And you know those pants you thought looked cool at first? Well, they have ten pockets running up and down each leg, four dotting your toosh, and three normal sized pockets ringing your waist, enough pockets to put a heavy pair of cargo pants to shame. Half of the pockets are sewn shut and can't even be used, but hey, nobody ever said 'style' was a synonym for 'useful'.
c) Phosphorescent Glows. Many a shirt that you can buy in Turkey exudes a luminous glow, as if one were wearing the Northern Lights themselves. I can see why this trend might be popular. Crossing streets at night can be dangerous and with these shirts you are a walking, talking reflector.
Dieting: Dieting is a compliment to Turkishness. The word diet is the same in Turkish as it is in English. However, Turkish also has an additional word that they use just as frequently: 'rejim', which is similar to the English word regime, or regiment. A girl told me that she was gaining weight and that she was going to start a rejim.
"Really?" I said. "So what are you going to do? Walk, run, maybe join a gym?"
She looked at me quizzically, clearly surprised by my questions. "Of course not. I'm going to stop eating."
"But that's not a rejim," I insisted (oh, the ignorance of a foreigner). "If anyone over the age of 21 wants to lose weight, the quickest and most efficacious way to do it is to combine healthy eating and exercise."
"That would be so boring!" she replied. "It's much easier just not to eat anything."
Much to my chagrin I have discovered that this is, in fact, the most common way to undertake a rejim in Turkey.
(*note: I didn't say efficacious in the actual conversation, but it sounds damn good, doesn't it?*)