Likened to a Taliban on the cross-town bus: A sparkly response


The inspiration for today’s pit-stop on the cross-cultural road trip of this Turkish-American marriage sprung up while we were watching a re-run of the television sitcom “Seinfeld.” Let me explain that almost 20 years after moving to the United States, M. experienced cable TV for the first time in our home – when I plugged the cable sticking out of the wall into my TV (he didn’t have one before) to see if it still worked. We only had access to the Food Network, and it was love at first viewing. However, once we purchased cable services, M. fell truly, madly and deeply in love with Seinfeld.

Now, Seinfeld, of course, is an American sitcom that is best known for both “being about nothing” as well as its fabulously over-the-top stereotypes of a raggedy bunch of crass New Yorkers. The puppets are learning a lot about American life through this television show – every night at 7 pm they are lined up behind M. to watch the re-run. I am not sure what I think about this, but try to join in once in a while in order to share in the learning experience. I feel as though M. is catching up on a lot of what has already been “culturally said” and perhaps is culturally obvious to me…just as I might while watching Turkish drama series episodes from over his shoulder on the laptop (if I understood Turkish better).

So perhaps it was the Seinfeld-infused environment that led M. to share what happened to him on the bus today as he knows this kind of thing makes me nervous. The puppets, of course, saw this coming down the pike, and all put their hands to their ears and leaned in towards M. as he plopped down on the couch saying “you’ll never guess what happened to me on the bus today.”

If anything, M. looks like Hamid Karzai, but with hair – and Hamid Karzai is certainly not a Talibani

[Cross-cultural interlude for explanation: Now let me interrupt myself now and say that it took about 5 minutes from this point to the heart of the story. I don't know if it is M. or all Turks, but the telling of a story starts at the veeeeeeeeeeeerrrrrrry beginning (e.g. I took the 8:35 bus instead of the 8:17 bus, so I didn't know the people) and goes through allllllllllllllllllllll the details on the way to the point. I sat, nodding my head, as if making my way through an asteroid field of detritus in the form of non-relevant information (or so my overly analytical and American to-the-point mind things).]

Finally, just as Karagöz fell over onto my shoulder in an active listening stance, M. got to the point of his story. “So these two ladies,” he said, gesturing wildly like a somewhat subdued Kramer character on Seinfeld, “they were in their forties – and they were looking at me and whispering.”

Nodding my head as Esma the hippie tolerance-minded puppet cued me, I murmured “Mmmmm hmmm,” waiting for the other shoe to drop.

M. pointed his finger up as he said “I heard them say – ‘he looks like a Taliban!”

Now this, this is my personal stereotype of a Talibani (image from The Nation)

If my eyebrows could rise any higher than they did, they would have. All of the puppets cried “shiver my timbers” as they fell backwards in shock. Karagöz did a power whoop. Yehuda Rebbe spluttered in shock, holding his head in his hands. I mean – M. looks nothing like these four dudes on the left, maybe a bit like Hamid Karzai or a younger :) version of the gentleman on the bottom left, but I would never, ever liken him to a Talibani.

[Cross-cultural context-setting moment: Now let me set the stage a bit. We live in a town that is often referred to with "the People's Republic of..." before it, indicating that it is a very left-leaning, diversity-accepting town. Now, we know that this is often a load of malarkey, given some world-famous racist cop-related events over the past year or so - not to mention our own experience with ethnic stereotyping about M. But, still...I just wonder at people's observational powers sometimes, really.]

Bringing my mind back to the couch, where I was sitting with M. as he was describing his bus ride. it was then that I noticed the wicked sparkle in M.’s eye. “Oh no,” I said, “what then?” Karagöz was already jumping up and down in anticipation – he and M. are at times like peas in a pod. They love moments like this – moments when the potential for shock factor is almost appropriate. “So I turned to them, and I said – ‘but I’m a good one!” His speech glittery with pride at his mastery of the moment, he continued “They were so embarrassed that they looked away with a studied desperateness” and I imagined the women, like little baby goats clambering up a rocky hillside on a rainy day.

OK, I have to admit this Hazara Talibani does bear some resemblance in the beard department…but still…

Now, on the face of it, this sentence doesn’t make all that much sense, as M. is not a Talibani at all – and I would argue does not look anything like one. However, his point was to let them know that he had heard them – and to shock them a bit (Karagoz inserts this as he reads over my shoulder “damn tootin’”). It’s all about taking it in stride, and taking control of what you can, in these moments, I suppose. Kenne, the Queen of Manners was not even aghast at his bold and brusque behavior – calling attention instead to the not-so-subtle women. “Of course,” she sniffed, “making an observation about a person is not a crime…but to do it so brazenly? That is not polite, given the stereotypes people have about the Taliban – as terrible as they may be.”

Taking it in stride is what I love about M. – even though I fear for the chance that he will run into a less-friendly audience in some wrong place, wrong time kind of way…I guess I would need to make mirth out of it too if I were M., bravo!