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!

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

  1. Alan says:

    . . one woman’s Taliban is another’s Pashtun Freedom Fighter! Have many US citizens seen the pictures of British special forces that were operating with their allies in the rebel rabble in Libya (and now in Syria)? They look just like a bunch of A-Rabs – appearances can be deceptive. Pity that so many never look beyond the ‘label’ of difference.
    Anyway, those ladies should be happy and proud – where do they think bin Laden and al-Qa’ida emerged from if not from under a CIA/US stone! Created to drive the Soviets out of Afghanistan, and now shipped around the Middle East and Caucuses to wage low density wars where the US wants regime change. Aaaaagh!
    Give M another hug, then one from me for being a fellow human being – unlike those ‘ladies’.

  2. Jack Scott says:

    It’s ironic that a country created by immigrants from across the world likes to indulge in a little racial stereotyping.

    Love the new look btw!

  3. Wow, what a story! And M’s response was terrific – grace under fire, for sure. But the part I most loved reading were your “cross-cultural interludes”, especially the explanation of Turkish discourse style. Whenever my husband shares a “guess what happened story”, I find myself often thinking “Hurry up, already and get to the point.” But I’m learning to use lots of “hmms” and “oohs” to mask my American impatience. 🙂

  4. Liz Cameron says:

    Grace under fire indeed. I am so glad you wrote with this feedback, it is a direction I have been intending to take more of as of late in the blog (re: interludes). I am MOST interested, however, in the fact that you also experience this during storytelling moments! It helps just to know this. There is such a fine line between the IDEA of cross-cultural competence/sensitivity and actually living through those tiny drive-you-nuts moments and moving into a different space about it – and how to handle it. Thanks, Justine.

  5. Liz Cameron says:

    Well said and strongly felt.

    Thanks for the compliment – I wanted something cleaner, more modern, more design-y – and also something that highlighted the “slowly by slowly” brand, if you will. I guess I am starting to gear up for the next phase of this project…and you are totally an inspiration on that front. 🙂

    Hope you both are feeling better today.

  6. Liz Cameron says:

    Preach it! (As my students say as I go on a roll about something they agree with). It is maddening to think that we can be so taken in about this all if not wary. Here’s to the human beings of the world!

  7. Well, sometimes it feel more like a “drive-by” than a “drive-through”, I’m a bit ashamed to admit. 🙂

  8. Liz Cameron says:

    HAH! LOL. I hear you!!!! You guys are not alone. We have drive-by moments all the time during storytelling episodes – and aspire to the drive-throughs 🙂 Part of my blogging is to get at just this moment – the difficult moments of cross-cultural relationships (in this case marriage) and unpacking them a bit.

    The other day when M. was on the phone with my stepmom, I was frantically whispering at him to “get to the point” instead of all the leadup details. When we had the plumber over recently, it was the same thing – don’t go through 7 stories before getting to business. I have to remind myself that when in Turkey, we sit down with the plumber for tea and chatting before getting to business, at least on the island, where “old ways” are still in practice…

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  12. sumanyav says:

    Thank you for liking my review of The Gaze. Thanks not only for acknowledging my work but also introducing me to this blog. I have spent the last week all over your website and I loved every bit of it. I love the idea of your puppets and the fact that you can project your worries onto them and seem almost carefree in that difficult, challenging and enriching experience of the cross-cultural marriage.

  13. Liz Cameron says:

    You are very welcome! Thank you for reviewing the book and getting me to put it on my list of next books…

    And thank you also for your VERY kind words about slowly-by-slowly – I am SO happy to hear them. Are you also living in and through a cross-cultural marriage road trip or anything like it? I’d love to hear more. Do you have puppets in your head as well? 🙂

  14. sumanyav says:

    ha ha ! nothing as romantic as a cross-cultural marriage, I am afraid (atleast not yet :P)! As a social worker in what is perhaps the world’s most multi-cultural country (India), I am interested in identity and how we construct them for ourselves. I write on identity and culture on my blog and you might find some of what i write interesting.http://sumanya.wordpress.com/tag/identity/ I find your blog interesting also because we, in India, have imported the western stereotypes of Muslims.

    As for your last question, don’t we all???

  15. Liz Cameron says:

    Ah – in my non-Liz-Cameron life, I am a social worker as well, actually a professor of social work now. Nice to have that connection!

    Yes – the construction of identity is fascinating – and I am aware of some of the debates/struggles/controversies and realities that exist around Muslims in India. My stepmother lived in Southeast Asia for a number of years and keeps the whole family on our toes re: news of that part of the world – but so much more to learn.

    I am going to head on over to your blog and give it more of a read beyond The Gaze post. Looking forward to that.

    Maybe one day we’ll hear from your puppets too? 🙂

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