I was on my way to London a couple of weeks ago when I walked in the CIP lounge at the airport, not only carrying my travel bag, but also this ambiguous feeling of burden in my heart, clutching my breath tight… exhausting me. I found a spot by the self-playing piano that softly played old tunes and settled in.
It’s hard to describe what followed next within me. I relaxed. My shoulders dropped. I realized I stopped holding my breath. A sense of self-confidence emerged like an old friend. As if I had re-located my center and was beginning to recognize myself again. “Oh, there I am.” I didn’t want to analyze this positively sweet change that sneaked up on me. It was probably taking a break from work anyway. I just wanted to enjoy it.
Finally. Four girlfriends in London, giddily running around the city. One would stereotypically imagine the front runner of conversation would be the battles we face in our love lives. It turns out, we were more aggravated and pre-occupied with the general Turkish way of living than men. As if in an AA meeting, we helplessly swapped horror stories, finding comfort in being able to share the same frustrations.
We began to scratch the surface with traffic. “Think how much of your time and energy the traffic sucks out of you when you’re just – trying – to go – to work!” my sister exclaimed. As someone who doesn’t drive and have to throw herself in front of oncoming cars just to be able to cross the street, my main complaint was that no one lets a pedestrian pass, let alone a fellow driver. In fact, instead of slowing down they hit the gas. “It’s because if they slow down or wait, they feel like they’ve been taken for a fool,” we concluded.
This reminds me of the canceled Nice flight I was on that made the news. While a few foreigners, Cey and myself patiently waited in line, we watched in horror the other Turkish passengers screaming, chaotically walking around the line in an attempt to jump in front of everyone else, without realizing their “I must go first” attitude was the cause for further delay. Unfortunately it’s not just rare cases like canceled flights that we deal with people assuming they outsmart you. Just like in traffic, it’s also at restaurants, at the bank, at the store counters… Yet, I grow more angry at the people who are on the other side of the desk allowing it to happen by assisting the people who do cut in line. It’s the system.
The system also dictates that no matter who you are – a bouncer, a cashier, a waiter, doesn’t matter – you must have an attitude like you are the most important, successful, gorgeous person you’ll ever get in contact with. Like this woman who was at a mutual friend’s birthday party. We both arrived early. I said hello and was about to introduce myself when she looked at me and then looked the other way. Luckily I was confident enough not to take it personally, and experienced enough to realize she was simply trying to prove herself, confusing bad manners with fake superiority. She does that because tragically, people do think she is superior because she is rude. Unveiling the phony attitude even further however, was the way she rushed over to me the second she found out I lived in New York. “I need advice on my upcoming trip,” she demanded as if we were best friends. Sadly, ulterior motives seem to be the common thread of social connections here.
The biggest ulterior motive of all is to feel superior, but with the least amount of work. That is why employees who kiss ass the most get ahead of the people who work the most. It works both ways to create a vicious cycle of unproductivity. The boss wants to feel superior without doing the work. So he surrounds himself with people who are willing to do his work while sucking up to him. The employees feel superior over their colleagues because the boss pretends to trust them more. The ones who actually do their jobs go unrewarded and begin to resent the workplace and as a consequence stop working as efficiently as before. “What’s the point?” So the employees who were slacking off have to pick up the pieces eventually. And the quickest way to do that is by copying the works of others.
The most politically incorrect travel book titled “Clumsiest People in Europe” written by a viciously critical Victorian lady Mrs Mortimer in Protected content , with surprising accuracy, the following about Turkish people, “They are so grave that they look wise. But how can lazy people be really wise? They like to spend their time sipping coffee, and sitting still. They are so lazy that, though the land is very fruitful, they do not sow grain enough for their own bread, but send for grain to other countries.”
Our land is, or was, fruitful. Our jewelry and textiles were one of a kind. We had unique craftsmanship such as the art of çini or ebru. Yet instead of embracing our true strengths and values, we’ve not only been lazy, but paralyzed by constantly comparing ourselves to others. This chronic self-comparison is fundamentally derived from self-doubt. It spreads like a disease, effecting our everyday. As Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”
Let’s take Turkish women as an example. When they get together at a bar in the hopes of meeting men, why do they sabotage their one friend who does get hit on? Why, even in a place like Alaçatı, do they stare at a woman with a tiny bit of cleavage as if they want to burn her on a stick like a witch from Salem? At a party, why do they always feel the need to label their boyfriends with constant hand-holding? It’s because they unnecessarily compare themselves to other women and no matter how wonderful they are, they assume the grass is always greener on the other side.
Combined with laziness, that dangerous assumption leads to copying others with the mentality of a herd. Like fake designer bags, everything is an imitation. From attitudes to restaurant concepts, from soap operas to life-styles. Yet it is such a misguided interpretation of what is being copied that, in the similar fashion of the need to prove one’s self, one loses all sincerity, originality and validity. But when it’s an epidemic, who notices it? It becomes a state of mind, a way of life. It becomes the system.
Traffic. Daily interactions. Socializing. Work. Dating. “I am no fool. I am not inferior to you,” is the subtext of every action of a typical Turkish person. And as the American moral and social philosopher Eric Hoffer simply puts, “Rudeness is the weak person’s imitation of strength.” A culture that mistakes politeness for foolishness, apologizing for weakness, sincerity for inferiority is bound to breed a nation of hooligans.
Is it the genes you think, that make the general population this way? Like the hungry barbaric conquerors of Mesopotamia screaming “Allah Allah Allah,” people attack an empty seat on a metro. Is it cloning the West throughout history that created a degenerate population that misses the delicate distinction between Modernization and Westernization? Is it Islam? Bernard Lewis points out in his remarkable book “What Went Wrong?” the following:
“The point has been made - if Islam is an obstacle to freedom, to science, to economic development, how is it that Muslim society in the past was a pioneer in all three, and this when Muslims were much closer in time to the sources and inspiration of their faith than they are now? Some have indeed posed the question in a different form – not “What has Islam done to Muslims?” but “What have the Muslims done to Islam?”
A country cannot be defined solely by its geography, but almost entirely by its people. That is why when we leave a city as magnificient as Istanbul to travel, we get comments like Romantic Rocker who just returned from Italy, “I remembered what it was like to be human again! People were so genuine.” Or a British expat living in Istanbul sighing deeply and admitting, “I miss people doing things, no matter how small, with care. You know… care.” Or why I get all jumpy when a man holds the door for me out of courtesy even at a place like New York. We are simply not used to it.
Genuine. Caring. Polite. Everything that I miss in this country. Except when I was at Gezi. I think it had brought out everything that is good and forgotten about Turkish people back into the daylight. Under this government, our nation has completely lost the capacity to fulfill the minimal requirements of living in a civilized society. The majority has dramatically lost the most basic human values and decency that is necessary to live in harmony. Because to make matters worst, the shepherd the herd elected to follow has been Erdogan.
In the end, I ask myself, “Where is home?” Is it where your family lives? Is it where you were born? Is it where you own property? No. For me, home is where you feel safe. Home is where you are able to enjoy the small pleasures of life. Home, is where you get comforted. Now I realize why I felt that light at the airport. I had lowered my guard and put away my boxing gloves that protected me from unkindness, hidden agendas and barbarity. I was on my way home which these days – I am ashamed to say – is anywhere but here.