Cross-cultural explanation moment #456: Yes, many Turks drink alcohol (and a lovely video)

A wide variety of Turkish raki

This blog is about one Turkish-American couple’s road trip through a cross-cultural marriage.  In the U.S., one of our regular cross-cultural moments comes in explaining things about Turkey, the Middle East, and Islam to others – to the best of our ability.

A sign honoring the Galatasaray Spor Kulubu

At work, I have a small Galatasaray Futbol Kulubu sign on my door.  In part, this is to welcome some of the Turkish students who study in the English as a Second Language program where I work.  Sometimes, when my students visit during office hours, this leads to questions.  I consider this a good thing – and try to have a range of interesting objects, art and books that can generate conversations either about the topics I teach – or about the Middle East.  I want to do my part in creating more understanding amongst our students – and our society in general.

So, the impetus for this post comes after reflecting on a conversation last week with one such student, who had noticed my Turkish sign, and had asked about it.  Although it wasn’t a surprise, one of this student’s first questions was “Gee, well, I guess I am wondering – if it is a Muslim country, do Turks drink alcohol?”  In these moments I often sigh inside – and put on my freshest, most open face and walk them through the metaphor about people who are, for example, Jewish, but for example, do not keep kosher.  During this type of explanation, I channel the calm, collected and wise Hacivad, instead of the flighty, oppositional agent-provocateur with no patience, Karagöz.  This usually does the trick.  If it doesn’t work – then I move to Catholicism, and how there can be differing views on abortion, birth control and sex before marriage amongst people who attend Catholic mass on a regular basis.  In this case, I explained that most people in Turkey have Sun’ni heritage – but that many also drink  – beer, raki, etc.

M. alerted me to this video today – and while it is an advertisement for Yeni Rakı, the Turkish equivalent of anisette or the Greek ouzo.  I wish I had had this video in that moment with my student – not only is the video gorgeous – but it shows people singing a popular folksong all over Turkey – the landscapes, traditions and settings of the various regions of the country are shown along the way.  Of course, the downing of Rakı is everpresent in the video.  It’s lovely, take a look.  I especially love seeing the Urfa scene – near the Syrian border in South Central Turkey where we visited last year…a chili pepper is dipped into Rakı before being consumed…

Now I need to decide whether sending that student a link to this video – a link that gets the cultural message across but is also an advertisement for alcohol – whether that is a good idea professionally!

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10 Responses to Cross-cultural explanation moment #456: Yes, many Turks drink alcohol (and a lovely video)

  1. Alan says:

    ask M to visit with a bottle,a few glasses and some sliced apple, pear, quince, melon etc. Do wonders for cross-cultural enlightenment.

  2. Jack Scott says:

    The alcohol debate in Turkey is an interesting one. Of course, many Turks do drink (as we know Turkey is not Saudi Arabia). However, on the one hand, the Government has raised the drinking age to 24 and is gradually raising taxes, particularly on Raki, making alcohol considerably more expensive than it was a few years ago. They say they are doing it for health reasons and to discourage consumption by the young. Other say it’s for religious reasons to make consumption beyond the means of most people. On the other hand Diageo, one the world’s largest drink makers, bought Turkey’s largest producer and distributor of alcohol earlier this year. I assume this was a hard-headed business decision and they see a thriving market in Turkey.

  3. jolly joker says:

    this video is horrible…
    so many things are wrong: like drinking raki in tea glass, shame!

  4. Liz Cameron says:

    couldn’t agree more!

  5. Liz Cameron says:

    this is a fascinating analysis. such mixed messages. do you attribute the upped age to AK Partesi values? will be fascinating to watch.

  6. Liz Cameron says:

    dear jj,

    ah, ever the naysayer. i thought that bit was weird too – the raki in tea glasses – but maybe it happens somewhere? were there other reasons you thought it was horrible?

  7. jolly joker says:

    well, do you eat turkey in thanksgiving on banana leaves?
    make a guess.
    do you think it may happens somewhere in states?
    answer is no.

    there are many reason that this video is horrible.
    dumping the raki on drum!
    what a waste…

    dipping hot green pepper into the raki?
    what’s up with that?

    drinking raki on news paper?
    well, i guess i can not explain this, you have to live in turkey to learn this called “raki culture”

  8. Liz Cameron says:

    my dear oppositional jj,

    turkey to banana leaves is not a fair comparison. who is to say that someone doesn’t drink raki in tea glasses somewhere in your vast country?

    i have read about the tradition of “feeding” the drum with raki – i have had the sense that this was in the eastern part. given that you are from the western part of the country, isn’t it possible you don’t know about this? perhaps it is a waste, but this wouldn’t relate to the video being bad as in inaccurate.

    and….do you remember that night dancing with the ladies from Tokat in Urfa and the men eating peppers with their raki?

    and i love your point about newspapers and raki culture.



  9. jolly joker says:

    well, we, turks get this culture from Greeks (not from geeks)
    that’s why you never, never drink raki in tea glasses!

  10. Pingback: Moving from Madonna to Meditation and Myths | Slowly-by-Slowly

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