1/29/07

Istanbul dos and don’ts: tips for the neophyte


For all you brave souls who have already stuck it out in Istanbul for some time, you have probably learnt by now how to get into the swing of things – well, some of you must have anyway. These words of advice go to the uninitiated who might need some tips on how not to look like a deer caught in floodlights upon arrival.

DO learn some basic words of Turkish before you arrive. It will make your life a lot easier if you can at least say “post office” in Turkish rather than have to make a fool of yourself as you keep licking the tips of your fingers, slapping your hands, and imitating an airplane, all on the off-chance that the dopey shop assistant will get “stamped envelope” from your little charade and then deduce “post office” from that, let alone figure out where one is. Nobody deduces anything around here, so learn the basic words – and DO work on pronunciation.

DO NOT think if you speak English really loud and slow that people will understand you. They’ll only think that you’re shouting at them and respond by shouting back at you in Turkish. Before you know it, a harmless little awkward moment has quickly degenerated into a street brawl that would take pride of place as yet another anecdote in the Great Moments of Cultural Misunderstanding Hall of Fame.

DO give money to beggars if you feel like it; don’t if you don’t. Nobody will think you a saint for doing so or a cheapskate for not.

DO NOT give the people you’re with an explanation outlining your reasons for giving money or not to a beggar. Nobody’s interested in your ethical concerns or your sociological theorems on societal reconstruction, because nobody is interested in beggars. Even Mother Teresa preferred the company of lepers, so just do what you have to do and walk on.

DO give constructive criticism, or tell us something we don’t know… like how unemployed artists in your country get a cash allowance from the government, or how you have automated, self-washing, transportable public toilets that are so clean you can actually use them.

DO NOT keep whining on and on about how public toilets stink, how people stare at you, how your private space is violated, how the electricity in your place keeps getting cut, or how cab drivers go too fast. Some unpleasant things you just have to learn to live with – like back hair, or North Korea. So accept that you’re NOT in your pristine little clockwork Legoland anymore. It’s the third world, deal with it.

DO try and fit in by learning your way around, picking up some of the language, and interacting with locals, even if conversations rarely go beyond “yes pliz,” “hello my friend!” “velkom, velkom” and “tea?”

DO NOT assume you will fit in by wearing a shalvar and/or any type of headgear or clothes that can be bought in the Grand Bazaar, thinking you’ll look exotic or oriental. You will not only still look like a foreigner, you’ll also look like a joke and a sucker who’s capable of paying 20 bucks for a flimsy souvenir. Also stay away from cutesy theme t-shirts with Turkish flags or “I Heart Istanbul” drivel on it. Save that stuff for the slide show back home.

DO read up on Turkish history, culture, religion and politics when you can. Books by Lord Kinross, Bernard Shaw, Andrew Mango, Stephen Kinzer, Andrew Wheatcroft are a good (albeit mainstream) start. Bookstores with foreign-language books abound in Beyoglu, most notably Homer (0212-249 59 02, or 0212-292 42 79), Robinson Crusoe (0212-293 69 68) and Pandora (0212-243 35 03 – also check out their Books On Turkey catalogue).

DO NOT ask if Turks can have four wives, whether they can drink alcohol, if women are allowed to leave the house, if Turkish is different from Arabic, and how you thought everyone rode camels before you got here. All you’ll get are offended people with defensive answers like “this isn’t Saudi Arabia” that’s always followed by a long-winded, incoherent monologue on Ataturk. So read up and try not to deserve being treated like an idiot.

DO try street food in Turkey. Kokoreç, döner, durum, pide, lahmacun, kumpir, midye tava, çiğ köfte, midye dolma (all best tried at the Fish Market – or Balık Pazarı – off Istiklal Avenue in Beyoğlu) are all so good, and we don’t care what the EU and its holier-than-thou standards have to say about it. If it was up to them they’d have us all eating hospital food through an organic sterilized straw. Besides, what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.

DO NOT try street food in Turkey if you’re going to ask a bunch of inane questions like “What is it made of?” or “Has it been washed?” or “Will anything happen if I eat this?” You either eat street food or you don’t. If you simply must ask, and receive an answer you don’t like, DO NOT scrunch your face, say “yuck,” and then laugh like it was funny. It’s not funny, it’s obnoxious, and that gesture makes you an instant jackass.

DO take private lessons if you are serious about learning Turkish. Really, this isn’t French or Italian. It’s a language related to Mongolian and you need all the help you can get.

DO NOT sprinkle your speech with unnecessary Turkish words if you do not speak Turkish, unless of course you have to order a doner kebab and the only words you can use are “doner" and "kebab.” Saying “Merhaba” or “Inshallah” or “Gule Gule” just for the sake of saying them – because they’re the only words you know – does not make you worldly, cute, or knowledgeable. It’s uncalled for, and only slightly less annoying than finding bubble gum in your hair.

DO ask for directions, but only if you want to strike up a conversation with someone.

DO NOT ask for directions if you actually need directions. People are ashamed to say “I don’t know” and often give an answer out of embarrassment, not because they actually know the answer. So unless you’re trying to figure out how to get to the next wild goose chase, forget it.

DO wipe that sheepish smile and smug “Look at me, I’m in the exotic orient!” expression off your face. You may as well be wearing a “Pluck me, I’m a plump chicken!” sign on your forehead. And if you happen to be one of those who closes their eyes and lifts their chin up toward the sky and smiles to yourself at that magic instance when the sun hits your face and the call to prayer sounds out and the cacophony around you transmogrifies into a mesmerizing moment of inspiration… then don’t be, because you’re annoying the living shit out of everyone and all they want to do is punch you.

DO NOT do that, not in public. I can’t stress this enough.

DO mention at some point to a Turk you just met that you’ve seen Midnight Express. Go ahead, make our day. We LOVE it.

DO NOT ever mention that you don’t think Turkey will ever join the EU. We know that already, so what does that make you, Nostradamus? DO tell us something we don’t know instead please, like how the EU is a joke we’d be better off without anyway.

DO go ahead and give me your clichéd commentary on how lovely my country is, how you think we’re so “human,” and how your people could learn so much from mine.

DO NOT assume that I give a shit, unless of course you want to buy something from me.

DO spend your money wisely. Those crappy hubble-bubbles, tea sets and leather sandals at the Grand Bazaar which you were thinking of buying (I optimistically use the past tense) are actually idiot filters. If you’ve resisted thus far, you’re not a total moron.

DO NOT act like you don’t have any money. Just be honest and say “no” to those trying to sell you something you don’t want. Seriously, who travels to foreign countries without any money except Gypsies? And I know you’re not a Gypsy, because Gypsies don’t buy Time Out. Gypsies have better things to do, like sing and dance and make fun of people like me and you.

DO tell me how you think those little water pipes in the toilet bowls that wash your ass after you take a dump are great, because they really are.

DO NOT ever refer to Turkey or Istanbul as a “bridge” of any sort, not between East and West, not between Islam and Christianity, Europe and Asia, modern and traditional... no “bridges” no “gateways” no “meeting points”. If we wanted trite metaphors we could just watch CNN. So no banalogies please.

DO listen and learn from the experiences of others who have lived here and who will be more than happy to be given the opportunity to sound like been-there/done-that smartasses for the sake of your edification and their self-gratification.

DO NOT listen to arrogant cynical tosspots who think they can get away with telling you what you should or should not do. Oh, wait a minute…

1/28/07

Generation X-pat


Armed with lap-tops, digital cameras, trendy clothes, vanity blogs, English-language certificates, and the odd trust-fund, Gen X-pat is the new global scourge.

The idea of the expatriate life evokes romantic images of the Lost Generation: Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, or Henry Miller, living day-to-day, scraping together just enough francs for a bottle of Beaujolais, a hotel room, and 20 Gauloises. Some of the greatest novels of the time were scribbled onto café napkins in the pause between a bullfight and a date with a lady of the night, chased by a shot of absynthe and a swift departure to the mountains for a revolutionary battle alongside a band of Spanish anarchists.

But times have changed: gone are the days of waving handkerchiefs from the decks of ocean liners and correspondence through hand-written letters; nor do we take up grand causes and fight in wars of foreign idealisms, for the greater good, imbued with the conviction that the future could be changed through our actions. We live in the age of ATMs and e-mails, internet and jet travel, health insurance and relocation companies, visas and terrorism… and as a result, the expat life isn’t exactly what it used to be.

Whereas our expat predecessors created masterpieces like ‘A Movable Feast’, ‘Down and Out in Paris and London’, ‘Under the Volcano’ or ‘Tropic of Cancer’, these days we are instead subjected to blogs about taxi rides gone wrong, foreign-language blunders at cocktail parties, and banal culture-clash anecdotes about how the Chinese spit, or how nobody in Paris cleans up after their dogs.

From Istanbul to Hong Kong to Buenos Aires, the expat life has become pretty much homogenous, with the same problems, the same kinds of stories, and the same clichés and generalizations. In a globalized world, even the phenomenon of difference has become the same standard of experience. So, in succession to the frontier-crossing generations of the Lost and Beat, we now have Generation X-pat: overeducated thirty-something Gen X’ers with Hemingway syndromes who travel for the sake of expanding their impressive BTDT (Been There, Done That) collection through self-indulgent blog rants and volumes of online JPEGs.

These BDTD Gen X-patters hog internet bandwidth as aggressively as they hog the chicest downtown suburbs in their temporarily adopted cities of choice; gentrifying like fashionable culture-moles until a neighbourhood achieves just the right balance of local authenticity and cosmopolitan faux-Village/SoHo convenience and trendiness. Whether you’re in the Condesa in Mexico City or Cihangir in Istanbul, you’re in the same place, paying the same inflated price for your canned-tuna salad and overcooked pasta at the fashionably gimmicky local brasserie.

But there are certain features that unite different generations of expats on a more fundamental level than certain superficial idiosyncracies might indicate: just as the Lost Generation and the Beat Generation were an intellectual minority who sought to escape the all-pervasive White Anglo-Saxon Protestant capitalist work-and-life ethic of the U.S. to immerse themselves in the cosmopolitanism of Europe in the ’20s, ’30s or the ’50s, today’s Generation X-pats also leave their countries with the hope of immersing themselves in something more than is offered in the homeland. Political, social and economic saturation has given rise to a hyper-competitive corporate totalitarianism and a generally deranged mainstream in the US, while the aging and sterile technocracy that is an emasculated post-post-WWII Europe, is teetering on the side of an over-regulated continental open-air museum.

In other words, choosing to leave one’s own country to become an expatriate is still a valid form of protest against the suffocating centrism of Western democracies that strangle any true avenue of dissent or change, and against a stuffy societal and economic system that has become so regulated as to demand either conformity or marginalization. Here are eight points that further define Generation X-pat, in Istanbul and beyond…

Cyclicality
a) Enchantment (the ‘WEEE, I’m in Istanbul!’ stage) b) Normalcy (the ‘Here I am, still in Istanbul.’ stage) c) Drudgery (the ‘Istanbul, schmistanbul’ stage) d) Annoyance (the ‘Why can’t anyone do anything right in Istanbul?!’ stage) e) Hope (the ‘I can always leave Istanbul if I want’ stage) f) Indifference (the ‘Fuck it, I’m used to it, I may as well stay in Istanbul’ stage) g) Rediscovery (the ‘Now that it’s not “exotic” to me anymore, Istanbul’s even more interesting… and besides, I can still always leave if I want’ stage).

Anomy
This word aptly sums up the Gen X-pat experience. The accepted rules and norms of conduct, ethics and social etiquette no longer hold. You’re free in the most terrible and exciting sense of the word. You can reinvent yourself, experiment with all the drugs you wanted, be promiscuous with exotic locals, get drunk on Mondays, work from home, and convince people (and yourself) that ‘Freelance Writer’ is a legitimate career path. (Speak for yourself – Ed.) The high point of anomy is having handed in your travel piece on deadline before taking an evening ferry ride across the Bosphorus on the way to seeing your girlfriend. The low point is a coke hangover on a weekday. Ouch.

Limbo
The natural result of your state of deracination is Gen X-pat Limbo. Your life is on hold in a vacuum where time not only defies perspective, but you find that there’s somehow more of it, that you’re not rushing as much with yourself, your goals and your expectations, all caught up in the matrix of family, friends and colleagues back home. It’s a welcome relief at first, but causes you to lose touch after a while, making the transition when back home that much more unbearable, thus often leading to (re-)expatriation.

Alienation
Normality is on hold as you’re caught in a country, city, society where you’re an estranged outsider, where you have no say in politics, in how things are done, in what needs to be changed (or not). Every time you voice criticism you will be shouted down by the flawlessly myopic ‘It’s not your country, it’s ours, so if you don’t like it, go home!’ rant. Also, the language is a bitch to learn, and nobody picks up on your subtle sense of irony and sarcastic humor.

Monomania
The classic Gen X-pat affliction is getting caught up with an idea and spending an inordinate amount of time compulsively obsessing over it… like how everybody’s constantly hammering something around you when you’re trying to get some sleep, or how nobody respects your personal space, or how the girls are all either spoilt moody bitches or obsessive stalker sociopaths, or how the guys are all jealous insecure possessive poseurs, or why nobody ever pays you on time, if at all.

Transience
Just as you come and go, living here and there, so do others. It leads to a certain sense of stranded loneliness. Others come and go, but the original ones you knew and bonded with in the enchantment stage of your expatriation can never really be replaced, and you’re wondering if you’re being left behind in a rut, and whether people are moving on to bigger and better things without you. You close the curtains, smoke a joint, watch ‘South Park’, and suddenly find you don’t care if they are.

Vulnerbonding
This is an expat phenomenon that refers to the act of bonding that is brought about by a sense of vulnerability which consumes the expat in the first stages of his or her expatriation. Your new flat is still strange and unwelcoming with no fond memories to associate it with; the city is different and frightening; the language and people are strange; you don’t have a steady job yet and you don’t even really completely know how to buy a loaf of bread, or from where. Vulner-bonding at this stage is crucial until you acclimate to your new surroundings.

Wanderlust
Expatriatism is essentially a Western thing, born of that explorer/conqueror wanderlust. Non-Westerners also choose to live abroad, but in a different manner. They usually take their culture over to the host country and establish themselves in a little colony where their culture is fully recreated like a little replica of home. Their relocation is for mainly economic reasons and it’s done gregariously. But what defines ‘expatriatism’ as a Western phenomenon is that expats seek expatriation for its own sake, to experience difference and feed off it creatively; they do it in a solitary way as a self-enriching experiencing that’s anathema to any sense of community or normality, which is precisely what expatriatism is a revolt against.

1/27/07

Gastrointestinal nationalism



Left: Turks, Greeks, Arabs and Armenians battle it out over who has claim to the racial origins of baklava

Do you ever wonder about the national origins of the delicious food you eat while you’re here, who invented it first, and where? Neither do I, and here’s why…

There are few things more pathetic to witness than grown and educated men debating the nationality of food. Turks, Greeks, Arabs, Israelis, Bulgarians, etc., will all argue heatedly over the nationality of things like cheese, coffee, pastry desserts and kebabs, as if their whole existence depended on it. “Coffee is Greek,” will say Spiro, and Memo will counter “No, it’s Turkish!” Seriously, I’ve heard this being said. They were arguing so ferociously over the national honor of their warm beverage that they forgot to drink it. So it went cold, and when they did have a lull and took a sip of their cold, hardened, [insert-whatever-nationality-you-believe-it-to-be-here] coffee, they both nearly spat it out and put it down with bitter expressions on their faces. You know nationalism has gone too far when you can’t even enjoy your coffee without having to listen to a pseudo-historical lecture on its glorious racial roots.

We all know nationalism is stupid enough as it is without bringing food and drinks into the equation. Go out in public and you’ll find that 95 percent of the people you share a national identity with will annoy the living shit out of you – especially if they happen to be in close proximity. In fact, just looking around, you’ll find that everyone is annoyed with everyone all the time. Walk into a restaurant and it’s guaranteed that half the people in there are talking dirt about people at other tables. Get in a queue and everyone starts sighing and complaining and puffing their cheeks and looking around like they would rather be anywhere else than stuck with each other. Get on a bus and everyone treats each other like they’re lepers. But tell us baklava is Greek, and we’ll suddenly become proud nationalists, thumping tables, pointing fingers, and using phrases like “When our ancestors first came to Anatolia…” or “[so-and-so] is a Turkish word!” Tell me the best feta cheese is from Bulgaria and me and my nation of 70 million Turks will stand united to defy you to the end – even though we’d rather not have to stand in the same bus stop together.

Of course, food and drink nationalism isn’t just a Turkish trait, but nowhere in the world is it as ridiculous as in the Balkans and the Middle East where insecurities and complexes about national identity are more extreme than anywhere else in the world. Recently, Turkish baklava-makers countered Greek Cypriot allegations that baklava is Greek, and it was all over the news, with even state ministers joining in the debate. The whole thing was straight out of Gulliver's Travels, Lilliput versus Blefuscu. Similar disputes have been going on for decades over other things too, like Turkish Delight, yoghurt, meatballs, stuffed vine-leaves, in fact pretty much every single item of food in Turkish and Greek cuisine, because they pretty much share the same cuisine. You know how when Pakistanis and Indians fight over whose-cuisine-has-what and you eat it as a foreigner and go “I don’t get it, what’s the difference?”… Well, that’s the same with Greek and Turkish cuisine. It’s the same thing. That’s why they fight over everything when they should be happy instead that they share an excellent common Byzantine-Ottoman heritage.

Honestly, you could understand people getting all proud about past empires, conquerors, great wars of liberation, wonderful feats… but the nationality of food? I could be proud of Pericles or Suleiman the Magnificent being my supposed ancestor or something, but stuffed cabbage leaves in olive oil? Gee, let’s run that up a flagpole and see how it flies. You don’t see Americans and Germans at each others’ throats over hamburgers, or Mexicans and Guatemalans trying to cut each others’ heads off with flying tortillas, but say “Turkish Coffee” to a Greek waiter and he’ll spit and walk away as if you just told him his mother is a donkey. Say “Greek Baklava” to a Turkish pastry chef and he’ll fume and rage and swear to make the ultimate Uber-Baklava.

It’s time for Turks and Greeks – and other peoples – to accept that if people other than themselves share the same traditional dish then it’s also their dish as much as it is yours, regardless of obscure and impossible to verify “national” origins. Thus there is Greek Coffee in Greece and Turkish Coffee in Turkey, thus tzatziki and cacık are both Greek and Turkish, thus baklava is both Greek and Turkish (and Syrian, etc…), thus keftedes and köfte are both Greek and Turkish (and whoever else has it), thus börek is Greek and Turkish and Armenian and Serbian and so on. All these nations should be able to proudly claim each one of these dishes as their own respective national dish without being threatened with reprisal attacks from skinhead chefs wielding fascist kitchen appliances. To seek national and racial origins in food is just as ridiculous as looking for them in people. Like people, food evolves, mixes, changes over time, representing layer upon layer of history, interaction and cross-cultural influences. Thus, looking for origins is futile, and ramming your nationalist insecurities down other peoples’ throats with your food chauvinism is even more so. You are what you eat, as they say, but you don’t have to force what you are on what other people eat.

But if you really, really insist on the national origins of food, then this is as close as you’ll get to the truth: feta cheese comes from Goat’s-teet-istan, coffee comes from Ground-beans-in-hot-water-ovo, and kebabs come from Butchered-and-skinned-animal-ia. That’s all you need to know.

Now could everybody shut up and enjoy their meal please?

1/26/07

The Splat Pack



What’s with all these spoilt little brats everywhere? It’s time to cut back on the dog-trainers and start training our children instead.

Is there anything more depressing than being on a bus while having to bear the antics of an attention-starved seven-year-old all hopped up on soft drinks and junk food, fake-crying to his mother in a desperate attempt to be taken seriously, please, mom, please, mom, mom, mom, please? As if being 36 years-old and still having to ride the bus isn’t loserly enough, I have to mentally wrestle with a fat hyperactive human tub of high-fructose-corn-syrup-fueled evil that’s tangling up tighter and tighter into my nerves with every repeated tug at his mother’s shirt. Blow in a big fat bubble of Global Warming from North Africa and insert about two-dozen fellow passengers sweating out a steady diet of garlic/onions/tea, and we end up with an enormous bucket of What-the-fuck-am-I-doing-on-a-bus-in-July?

The children aren’t to blame of course (even though they should be made to feel like they are). Parents are the ones who bear the real onus of shame for the existence of so many Splats (an admittedly pathetic portmanteau of ‘spoilt’ ‘little’ and ‘brat’, which is even actually a redundancy, but it’s really hot and I can’t think so piss off). Why are parents responsible? Because once you decide to breed, your job doesn’t end with giving birth and then paying for and feeding your offspring; your job also requires that you train your children in the ways of civilised behaviour from as early an age as possible so they don’t annoy you, everyone around you, and – most importantly – me. Think of it as an unwritten law that will eventually benefit us all when we find that that Splat didn’t turn into just another Mama’s Boy.

So where do we Turks go wrong and how can we turn the Splat tide? The problem in Turkey is that, for many, having children is still considered a societal obligation rather than a matter of choice, and so once one has given birth to the children expected of them, they continue to think of children as an obligation, as something to be bought toys, given things when they cry, to be ignored when they start wanting more and more attention, and to be shut up with any old answer – or none at all – when they ask inquisitive questions. In other words, pedagogy rarely goes further than production and maintenance of progeny. A common phrase is ‘Çocuktur, yapar’, meaning ‘They’re children and children behave like that, so it’s normal that they run around screaming and breaking things’. Wrong. Children only act like that when they are not given the time and consideration to receive answers to their questions, thus showing that they are taken seriously as a person and not just treated as a child. They act like that because they are left starved of mental stimulation and instead given an overdose of affection, which, when unaccompanied by the former, has little character nutrition value other than creating a sense of emotional dependence in the child (often at the expense of genuine respect) which lasts well into adolescence and beyond.

This whole attitude leads to kids growing up with a lack of ethical sense, of rules of right and wrong which would give the child a sense of responsibility for one’s actions and consequences that result from those actions, thus bringing in a self-discipline mechanism which develops further the earlier it’s fostered and brings with it added social intelligence and awareness. But a child that has no sense of annoying people, no awareness of other peoples’ discomfort or infringement of their rights, who thinks screaming, shouting, breaking and begging for things is acceptable, grows up to be the same person who doesn’t mind cutting ahead of you in a queue, who nearly runs you over at a pedestrian crossing, doesn’t pay you your money on time, thinks the world revolves around him/her, and generally becomes the sort of person well-bred people hate.

So here’s the new rules for training kids: 1) listen to – and answer – their questions, 2) treat them like they’re adults (or at least ‘fellow people’ rather than just kids), 3) don’t allow them to drink or eat crap, 4) buy them toys when you want to, not when they want it, 5) let them get dirty, 6) laugh sympathetically when they hurt themselves and cry (no more of this ‘Ooo, my poor little Sultan!’ shit everywhere), 7) set certain regular times and limits for treats, TV, and video games, and stick to them, with some kind of a punishment/reward system to back it up, 8) get them used to fetching their own things around the house instead of asking for it from mommy, 9) train them to greet your adult friends and let them exchange words with them, even if it’s short and perfunctory, 10) if you’re a mother and can’t do all of the above, then you seriously need to find some other way to satisfy your own need for validation instead of fostering the emotional dependence of your child for the sake of your own unconscious egotistical gain; and if you’re a father who can’t contribute his equal share to achieving all of the above, then you’re a dick. If we could engrain these rules nationwide, we’d finally be rid of the Splat scourge. Now if only we had a decent education system.

1/24/07

How to make a Turkish TV series


Known locally as dizis, soapy Turkish TV series have transformed our national airwaves into a culturally vapid wasteland of inane drivel. Here’s how to make one!

INGREDIENTS:

1 plot, preferably ripped off already existing American series

1 production crew – without a sound team (sound will be dubbed in later because it’s cheaper and because overall quality of production doesn’t really matter)

1 studio decorated with fake furnishings (which actually looks realistic, because most Turkish middle class homes look like they have fake furnishings)

1 can of laughter (if the show purports to be a ‘comedy’)

10-12 actors, of which one or two should be former Turkish beauty pageant contestants, three or four should be models, singers or recent reality-TV personalities (make sure to check expiration date, as reality-TV stars usually go bad pretty quick), and the rest should be drama school graduates who have a pathological compulsion to hammed up theatrical acting, which – when viewed on TV – looks more like a pantomime. Oh, and one or two slots should be reserved for the director or the producer’s zit-faced kid.

Finally, we need 1 make-up artist who has the task of turning every actress into a blow-up doll that just got hit by a technicoloured paint bomb, and every actor into a sleazy Middle Eastern James Dean with shadow and blush to enhance their approximately zero chiseled features. (NOTE: Half the actresses must have their hair dyed blonde, one or two red. If the dizi is on a religious channel like Samanyolu or Kanal 7, actresses must wear headscarves – unless they’re playing evil characters)

PREPARATION:

Take the American rip-off plot and mix with uninspired ideas to suit Turkish viewers. Stir gently, but not too long, so as not to lose lumpy inconsistency. Plot should include: one love affair between the main girl (played by one of the former beauty pageant contestants) and the main guy (played by one of the models/singers/reality-TV stars); at least one or two hospital scenes where said love affair is in danger of being tragically cut short; a major misunderstanding in which the protagonist model/singer/reality-TV star has a run-in with the law but turns out to be innocent; two or three sinister characters who are jealous of protagonist and try and dick him over and steal his girl while failing miserably in the attempt; friends of protagonist who seem a little dorky and idiotic compared to protagonist (who’s the real deal); prudish conservative parents who disapprove of their son’s and daughter’s reckless love affair and whose disciplinarian restrictions they must overcome (but without upsetting them or breaking any rules).

Next, insert actors caked in make-up onto an over-lit set. The secret ingredient here is cheese: the cheesier the better. Grate it all over so it covers everything. You don’t need good cheese either, just get that fluorescent radioactive orange plasticky cheese they melt over nachos in microwaves. Subtlety is a big NO-NO. Keep in mind the average I.Q. of the dizi-viewing audience who will be bemused as to what emotion is being conveyed unless it is hideously overacted. Therefore, sadness should be portrayed with mawkish and hysterical sobbing, anger with fist-shaking and shouting, happiness with twirling around and throwing arms up in the air, and comedy with hyperbolic laughter and knee-slapping (yes, real knee-slapping). The actors should really clobber the viewers over their heads with acting so as to leave no room for ambiguity. If the devious intentions of a character must be made clear, then make that character talk to himself so that all his motives and plans are clearly outlined in a minute-long soliloquy. End soliloquy with actor looking away with a sinister squint (hand-rubbing is optional, though not discouraged).

It’s also important to note here that the sound dubbing should not be done too well. There should be a split-second delay between the movement of the actors’ lips and the sounds that are supposedly emanating from them. Child actors’ voices should always be dubbed over by adults trying to speak like children. Whether actors are in a park, a bedroom or at a party, they should always sound like they’re actually talking in a studio with perfect acoustics. This way we can be sure that the viewer never has trouble understanding any of the words uttered, and also so that any accidental instances of decent acting could still look pathetic thanks to the dubbing. Remember, the show must be right on the cutting edge of mediocrity to appeal to as many people as possible. Each weekly episode should also stretch out to two-and-a-half hours. This can best be achieved through very bad editing where a lot of footage which has no relevance to the plot can be left in the final cut so as to draw out the episode, thereby creating more room for advertising. Chop up program at will – mid-sentence if need be – for sake of insertion of said advertising. Ok, now that you’ve mixed all that up, it’s time to put it all in the oven. Make sure not to cook it for more than half the time needed to prepare it properly. A Turkish dizi must always be served half-baked.

NOTE: While diversity is well represented in American series (where it’s almost obligatory to have Black, Latino, Asian, Jewish characters, etc.), a Turkish dizi must reflect none of the rich ethno-cultural diversity of Turkey whatsoever. If absolutely pressed, insert a humourous Laz character who speaks with a funny accent and gets into ‘all manner of mischief’.

1/22/07

Diplobratic Community


We’re jaded, spoilt, cynical, pampered and obnoxious - but there are also negative aspects to being a Turkish diplomat’s kid.

Most people think that the life of a diplobrat is all fun and games, as if it only involved cocktail parties, tennis and polo, summers in Bali and winters in Saint Moritz, chauffeur-driven bulletproof Chevrolets, maids and cooks and butlers, weekends partying by a swimming pool, attending the best schools money and influence can buy, and… actually, come to think of it, that’s exactly what it’s like. But did you know that such an idyllic upbringing can have adverse effects on diplobrats in the future? Just kidding. It’s the best life in the world!

Diplobrats are easy to spot in Istanbul because they’re loud and drunk and probably doing something really stupid every time you look their way. Actually there are two types in the Corps Diplobratique: the levelheaded ones who steer straight along the course prescribed them by parents with high expectations, and the ones who do a 180-degree flip to stray completely from that course by doing something irresponsibly artsy and hopelessly impractical with their lives instead.

Regardless of the path taken, the diplobrat always has one thing to fall back on: Team Daddy. This is a network of dedicated ambassadors all over the globe ready to spring into action with phone calls and mutual favors every time one of their diplobrat progeny encounters trouble getting a student visa to the U.S., or realizes their passport has expired upon having already arrived half-drunk at Mexico City airport, or suddenly finds they’re broke while filming a documentary in Berlin, or off sailing in Vanuatu. Team Daddy is ready for every ridiculous eventuality that a screwed-up diplobrat is capable of – and they’re capable of A LOT. You name it, missed flights, traffic accidents, bail, angry pimps demanding their money… Some may argue that the Team Daddy security net actually hampers the diplobrats’ maturation into full-fledged adulthood as responsible members of society, to which an official diplobratic response might go something along the lines of PFFF, CARE FACTOR?

But despite this state-sponsored tax-funded pseudo-aristocratic louche lifestyle, there’s also the problem of diplobratic crises which have to be dealt with from time to time. A life constantly spent leaving places without establishing any roots, generally devoid of any traditional or cultural anchors of identity, having everything brought to your feet and encountering almost no significant obstacles throughout one’s childhood, all takes a toll on fitting into normal society in adulthood, on relating to your own personal, social and national identity, and even on giving you some sort of reason and meaning for living when all your life you’ve experienced firsthand the relativity of values which others might hold to be absolute and sacrosanct. Therapy may be the obvious answer to overcoming this existential diplobratic crisis, but a better way does exist: alcohol abuse. Nothing helps you forget your problems like booze-driven short-term amnesia… provided you keep it up consistently over a long period of time, preferably all your life. Think of it as a diplobratic hobby. Um… where was I? Oh yeah, diplobrats.

So is there nothing endearing about these lost souls? Sure it’s hard to feel sympathy for children who have had it all, but did you know that eventually as they grow older they have to forfeit their red diplobratic passports and accept blue ones, as if they were riff raff? Try traveling on a Turkish blue passport and you’ll know what that means. Unless you go to Pakistan and Azerbaijan a lot, you’ll be spending lots of time and money dealing with officious visa trolls whose only joy in their pathetic measly lives will be to subject you to the same quotidian hell that constitutes their own pointless and unnoticed Sisyphean sojourn on Earth. Besides that, diplobrats also eventually have to get jobs themselves and make a living without any government support and with nothing to fall back on but the occasional Team Daddy intervention. Granted, employment can be postponed until well into your thirties, but sooner or later it has to happen. And as if having to work wasn’t enough, eventually, as diplobrats, we too are expected to have to save money, have a meaningful relationship, marry, breed, and – yes – even get a career. I’m sorry to use the c-word there but sometimes it’s better to face the brutal truth than to keep avoiding it. Which reminds me, it’s time for another drink.

But I don’t want you all to get the impression that diplobracy is only comprised of maturationally-challenged socially-reprobate ontologically-void culturally-estranged spiritually-vapid pleonastic strings of endless adjectival hyphenation thrown in to fill up the necessary word limit on yet another pointless article by a bitter asshole whose only pursuit in life can best be described as a sort of aimlessly creative procrastination… like, say, me. Because some diplobrats do go on to do great things. And besides, even if we don’t, at least we’re not as fucked up as dictabrats. I mean, Kim Jong-Il? Uday Hussein? Marko Milosevic? Those guys are just plain creepy. Plus they all have this nuclear weapons fetish which diplobrats tend to shy from. It’s good to know that at least the A-bomb is one thing even Team Daddy can’t provide.

1/11/07

Mabel Micklethwaite - I scream, you scream, we all scream, Dondurmasi!


Hello again my little cookie crumbs! Dear me it’s hot, and what better in summer than some scrumptious Turkish ice cream – or ‘Kahramnanmalash Dondurmalsi’ as the natives call it! Dondulumasi is of course Arabic for Ice Cream from the region of Kanmananmarsh! Goodness me, did we get a shock when we asked for our dooldumnasi! A man in a fez wielding a massive metal rod started shouting things at us and smashing pots and bells that dangled over his head in true barbarian fashion! Well butter my scones, I thought, all poor Mabel wants is some refreshing ice-cream, yet you would think we were going to do battle with Genghees Kahn! Hubby Phil and I thought it uncalled for and demanded my dondullumnasi without further ado! But then he had the cheek to toy with me! I reach to grab the ice cream on the end of his rod, and he flips it over! I reach again and he flips it back! Utter tomfoolery! Then he took the ice cream cone off the end of the rod and extended it out to me in his hand with a devious smile! But Mabel Micklethwaite wasn’t born yesteryear! He was obviously going to continue tormenting me! So I remembered my self-defence classes from Slough community centre (thanks Asheef!) and got his arm into a full body lock! As I twisted and pulled, he begged me to release him, immediately letting go the ice cream into Phil’s hands! He wasn’t so haughty now, pleading for mercy from yours truly! I let it be known that I would be denouncing him to the tourist police! Honestly, it takes just one person like this to ruin it for everyone! Next time Phil and I are going to the Kandalanmalash donodurmnisi place across the street instead! Ta-ta till next month my little tim tams!

1/8/07

Tourist ticket torture

I’d had an idea of the ridiculous state of ticket pricing in our tourist spots and museums from when I was taking my foreign friends around. I’d often end up feeling embarrassed about telling them they have to pay 10 dollars to get in, whereas I only have to pay 1 or 2 because I’m Turkish. But then just when they think they’re in to see the museum, I have to painfully remind them that they still have to buy more tickets, one to see one part of the museum, another to see another part… So all in all, amid baffled expressions, they would end up forking out 25-30 dollars to see a museum – which, for my poor backpacking friends, was pretty much their daily allowance, including food. By the time we were going through the gates, everyone’s previous look of excited expectation had turned into those of stunned lab animals that had just been anally probed with a metal rod. Then there’s that awkward silence as they look stupidly at their handful of tickets, and then at each other, trying to figure out what just happened. It’s like jackals had taken over and established their own rules, laughing maliciously as we entered.

So on a similar occasion, my two new visiting friends and I set off for Dolmabahçe Palace. It was Sunday, and as soon as we got there we found ourselves at the end of a 20-meter-long queue that twisted and wound its way to one tiny ticket booth with a little guy in it selling tickets all by his lonesome. There was another ticket booth next to it, but I guess they don’t open that until the queue stretches out to Inönü Stadium. So we stood there under the punishing sun, proceeding so slowly it was like we were in a midget chain-gang, one foot shuffling two inches at a time before the other. Our progress was not aided any by the scavenging tour guides with furtive vulture eyes who would pounce on their prey and then cut into the front of the line, get their prey tickets, and then flap away with the green blood of tourist dollars on their moustachioed beaks.

After about a 25-minute wait, we finally found ourselves near the front of the queue. We saw that every person buying tickets would take minutes at a time. When we saw the sign next to the booth outlining all the permutations and algorithms of the ticket purchasing process, we found out why. It was like you not only had to get a ticket for every part of the museum, but you also had to buy extra tickets for taking photos or filming with cameras, and so on. But it was too late; we were now standing in front of the vacant-eyed ticket attendant fumbling with a wad of sweaty liras…

“Three: one Turk, two foreigners,” I offered.

“Three what? What do you want to see?”

“Everything, why?”

“You need more tickets.”

“But we’re only three.”

“That’s right, so you need… 9 tickets.”

“Why?”

“You need a ticket for the Haremlik, a ticket for the Selamlık, a ticket for the clock museum, another one for the glass house…”

“So then we need 12.”

“12?”

“Yes, 4 each, 12.”

“Okay, 12.”

“So how much?”

“12.”

“No, how much money for each one?”

“It depends, 16 lira for Haremlik, 12 for Selamlık, 1.50 for the clocks, 1.50 for the…”

“Okay, okay, so how much for all four, per person, then we’ll times that by three...?”

“…”

“Okay, forget it, that makes 31 million lira each,” I said, exhausted.

“What? How many dollars is that?” cried out one of my friends.

“Okay then 31 lira each… but you’re Turkish, right?” said the ticket seller.

“Yes, yes, I forgot. How much for me?”

“Um let’s see… You pay…”

“Wait,” interjected the other friend, “you pay less?”

“Yeah, I’m Turkish, 31 for you guys, and…”

“Hang on,” said one friend, “that’s a lot, how about I just see half?”

“Yeah, me to,” said the other. “You see half, I’ll see half, we can tell each other about it and swap photos!”

“You want to take photos? That’s 6 more lira,” said the ticket guy. People were sighing and clearing their throats more and more audibly behind us.

“What!? Another 6 to take photos!? I’ll leave my camera here.”

“We don’t look after your personal belongings.”

“So then we HAVE TO take it in? This is ridiculous!”

“STOP!” I shouted. “Here’s how it is: you don’t want to spend too much, so you see the best bits, that is the Harem, so you guys cough up 16 lira each for Harem tickets, and check out the grounds and gardens too. Now you don’t want to take your cameras so leave them with me, I’ll wait out here by the clock tower. Actually, while you’re at it, it says here that for 2 YTL you can get a joint clock museum/glass chamber/gallery entrance too, so grab that…”

“That’s only on public days,” said the ticket seller. “And for Turks…”

“OKAY, scrap that! Just go in, see the XXXXing Harem, I’ll wait here…”

“Wait,” said one friend, “I wouldn’t mind seeing the clock museum, I always liked clocks…”

“ALRIGHT, you buy the clock museum ticket for 1.50…” I felt like I was in a Monty Python sketch.

“Me too, we may as well see it togeth…”

“FOR GOD’S SAKE, JUST GO IN!”

We finally turned to the ticket booth one last time panting, sweating and frustrated, holding out a stack of money, but the ticket seller was gone. There was not even a sign. I asked some guy who sort of looked like he may have worked there. He said “Closed for lunch till 1:30.”

Now I know why people become anarchists.