01 March, 2010


"opt" is instant-messaging shorthand for "öptüm" (pronounced ewptoom), a way of saying goodbye to friends. Literally it means "i kiss", a reference to the custom of kissing on both cheeks when meeting or parting. This casual, physical affection is one of the most foreign things about Turkish culture for many Americans - and Scandiavians, Torbjörn observes. We're not accustomed to it.

Well, i have grown accustomed to it easily. I'll admit the first couple of times it was strange - to kiss someone you've never met before, as when Eyup welcomed me to the dormitory like a an old friend. But, surrounding myself with turkish friends, i began to relish the ease and comfort of the custom.

view toward the heart of Ankara: from a pedestrian bridge near CEPA mall. 
note sidewalks, pedestrian bridges, and new contruction

Kissing on the cheeks is perhaps the most visible difference in interpersonal interaction. Turks are unquestionably warm - not to mention hot-headed; open emotion also manifests itself as heated argument. But Turks are generally agreeable, and  small acts of collectivism are a hallmark of public life. 

On the dolmuş - small, privately operated buses which carry perhaps fifteen passengers - drivers tend to hit the gas as soon as the door closes. Hence it is customary for people to sit down immediately and pass their money forward. The driver makes change on the go (bus drivers here take cell phone calls in traffic). And then everyone passes the change back to the new rider. It is a habit that implies, among other things, the general sense of trust in some (but not all) segments of Turkish society.
A closer look finds evidence of a subtler cultural difference in the act of passing change, in kissing on both cheeks: Turkish culture lacks the pathological obsession with hygiene that plagues Americans. After an evening drinking çay, Sefa, Torbjörn and i stood in the kitchen and discussed these differences. Sefa was curious how public transit differed in the U.S. The biggest difference we could observe? The mechanization of payment is ubiquitous in Amerika and Scandinavia, and conspicuously absent here. Perhaps there is a cultural link, an interaction among collectivism, trust, and germophobia; perhaps the only connection is that lower frequency of technological mediation in small daily acts conserves interpersonal warmth - which supports the immune system in two ways.