17 February, 2010

Cumartesi (Saturday)

backdate 13 February

In Kızılay, Saturday means streets thronged with people. "Balık! Balık!" sellers call, and the smell of fresh fish from open stalls occasionally finds your nose. People here and there hold up a flyer - something political, not something they are distributing, but as if in protest. Young men loiter in knots on benches and near the broad steps. After Wednesday night's experience, i am wary of them - but on the crowded street, there are many levels of social privilege and with each, different intentions. Some young men carry purchases from the department stores; others scan the crowd like starlings. If anything, being shaken makes you hyper-aware.

At the curb of Ataturk boulevard, half a dozen or more Polis vans are parked. Riot control shields and helmets lean against them. Between the vans officers stand, smoking cigarettes, while a man with a basket full of small plastic cups and sugar cubes pours them çay from a thermos. I feel a current of unease - and so i head towards Tunalı, searching for Erkek Kuaforu. At Karanfıl Sokkak, a boy buys a bag of roasted chestnuts from a street vendor, and sets off with his friend. Another two boys, another vendor, selling bardak misir - a cup of corn. The golden kernels are tempting.

In Organizational Behavior, the first topics we examined were the macro-level variables that influence behavior in organizations, particularly for global companies - national culture. One assigned reading gave a handy definition: national culture is what lies between individual idiosyncracy and universal human experience. But what that is can be hard to pick out at first.

Here, one of the cultural habits is leaving your tray, your plate, your crumbs wherever they sit. There are cleaning staff to handle them for you, whether in the dormitory kitchen or the mall food court. Another cultural difference is linguistic: the lack of gender in the third person. While traditional Turkish society is profoundly divided into male and female spheres, the third-person singular pronoun "o" - yes, simply O - means he, she, or it. As a result, even proficient English speakers often stumble and say "she" when they mean "he", or vice versa. I, personally, would like to import the agendered third person into English.

Near Kızılay there are department stores and restaurants galore, but few barber shops. Soon i am in the less crowded Kavaklidere neighborhood, and the hotels grow smaller, but no less expensive-looking. The first few barber shops i see look pricey, and then, in Tunalı, i find one that looks inviting. I sit in the barber's chair and between the mirrors are two television screens - futbol. It was a weekend of upsets. Since Turkiye has only six athletes in the Vancouver games (one figure skater, three cross-country skiers, and two alpinists) there's little attention to them. What people are talking about this weekend is that both Galatasaray and Fenerbahçe lost.

I'll leave you with one last thought. As i walked the streets of Kızılay i realized - you can tell a lot about social status from shoes.