Global warming and diving ducks: Our “cultural iceberg” looms


Image of the cultural iceberg thanks to cross-culture.de

Yesterday, icebergs were spotted off of the Northern Aegean coast on the Turkish side here at slowly-by-slowly.  The field of ice was so wide that it reached all the way to the craggy New England coast.

Karagöz was at the helm of my ship of life and called out – “land ho!” and then screeched in horror “not land – crap – iceberg ho! scramble the hatches and lift the boats and whatever else sailors do – I don’t even know their terms!”  It is rare to see Karagöz shaken up like that.  He is the agent provocateur, the mischief, the imp, that wax papery shadow puppet from Ottoman times who has come to reside in my head.

Now, mind you, the icebergs I am referring to are metaphorical icebergs.  You can see the image to the left – or you can read a bit more about it here.  So, this morning I awoke to the wise wan Yehuda Rebbe, who was studying the iceberg intently.  “You see, m’lady,” he intoned, “I am observing this iceberg as I myself and my countrymen have much to learn about our own Israeli-Palestinian cultural iceberg fields. You, however, have it a little easier.  Make the silver lining of the aqua ghost monsters worth it to you and M.  Be sure to explore it all.”

“Hmmm,” I thought as if old oil was clogged in the mechanics of my brain, “I am not sure what he means.”

Icebergs or no icebergs, I am not a morning person, but my life partner and husband M. is very much a morning person, so, icebergs spinning in my head, I got up to spend some time with him.  I tried to offer something nice, to drive him to work on a chilly day.  What better place, I now realize, to find icebergs, than on the road to work, in the morning, on a chilly day?  And of course, we drove right smack into one.

“You haven’t commented on the new puppets, Saf and Dobra, and their love-hate relationship with Turkey,” I said slyly, referring to my last blog post and wondering how M. would respond. “Ce to think of it, nobody else has either – I wonder if they are afraid to comment as I wrote the words “Armenian genocide” even though do not think I was being offensive to the Turkish state and/or at risk for being 301’d.”

“You know me, I am better with images than words,” M. countered, “I love your blog.” Shifting a bit in his chair, M. continued “and you can write whatever you want, but don’t be surprised if they track you down and it impacts your Turkish citizenship application.  But you need to follow your heart and not be afraid to write what you think.  Screw the Turkish citizenship, you know?  I mean, I don’t think you wrote anything offensive – you wrote about your mixed feelings about how the whole thing is addressed in Turkey by the government – and you are in the U.S. so that protects you some – but I have been out of the country for many years and people may take something differently than I would expect so I don’t know.”

My head began to pound.  I was caffeine-less and driving and in the morning, a tough tripartite oligarchy for the moment.  “What are you saying, M.?” my brow was furrowed, and my sharp stomach pains from what I guess is a pre-ulcerous condition as a result of my stressful professorship panged and pinged across my upper-duodenum (site you start to feel an ulcer).

“I don’t want to censor you,” he said strongly – his voice loud with conviction, “I will never do that.  I want you to speak your heart and mind no matter what.”

“Are you saying you think I have insulted the Turkish state?” I gasped out the words as I inched the car across the intersection.

“Well, here is what I can say, in Turkey, we have a saying….” M began.

[Cross-cultural interlude:  I always know we have hit an iceberg when M. starts a sentence this way.  I feel as though there is a to-my-ears obscure/opaque Turkish saying for EVERYTHING. This is part of how I first began to notice the icebergs on our cross-cultural roadtrip called Turkish-American marriage]

Ducks, in this Turkish proverb, are a symbol of being made a fool of when people take things the wrong way...it took me a bit of time to understand the Turkish logic/mores/values/customs behind this one (image from http://www.poetry-innerspace.com)

M. cleared his throat and began to narrate the story.  “The story starts like this…two friends are talking with each other.  One said: today the weather is bad and it is going to be rainy, looks like it anyway.  The other friend said: you mean to call me a ‘duck!’ Scrambling to clarify, the other one said ‘No I didn’t mean that, where did you get this idea?”

Cocking my head to the right, I said, very eloquently, “huh?”  I heard the iceberg scratch the car as I drove along.

“OK,” M. said, “let me try it in this replay way.  The friend said ‘when the weather is bad, it rains, what happens in a rainy day?’ Well, where the water accumulates in the pit, it consists of ponds, the ducks swim in the pond, so you called me a duck…’ do you understand now?”

The metaphorical scratching of my head in confusion was only blocked out noise-wise by the shardingly-steely (new word) screech of iceberg against steel and I thought about the Titanic sinking.  “M.,” I said, “what the hell are you talking about?”

It took a while, but M. explained that in Turkey, to call someone a duck is to call them stupid or ignorant. The proverb suggests that people can take seemingly innocent statements and misinterpret them…which links to how M. was warning me about what I wrote on my post the other day.  Specifically, he wondered if someone might take it the wrong way…

So, here we have it – M. and I in the car, in the morning, pre-caffeine, debating the far-reaching fingers of cool censorship and oppression and how it may or may not be infiltrating our life in New England.  So, that iceberg that the car was grating on as we drove through the city?  Refer to the above graphic which suggests that 10% alone is visible.  Today, my image of that iceberg was one that was bobbing up and down in the waters of our relationship in the context of the world.  So, cultural customs are showing (albeit unclear from the fog at times) and the need for cultural courtesies are abundantly clear (e.g. Turkish cultural mores in the current political environment there re: not insulting the Turkish state).  However, the glimpses I am catching of the underwater portion of hte iceberg are harder to identify, namely, the values, the priorities and the assumptions – they are down there swimming with the diving ducks in M.’s story, I suppose.  I wonder when one of those diving ducks may surface to show me sliver more about the iceberg matter underneath – values, priorities and assumptions as they relate to speaking my mind and how to handle that.

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2 Responses to Global warming and diving ducks: Our “cultural iceberg” looms

  1. Alan says:

    . . sensibilities can be sensible or nonsensical – when mixed with nationalism they are a truly volatile mix. One could hope that a broad panel of ‘real’ historians could arrive at an honest appraisal that could be the basis of some hatchet burying that was not in the backs of Armenians or Turks!
    There is a saying that I love that says it all – ‘When you are up to your arse in crocodiles, it is very difficult to remember that the object of the exercise is to drain the swamp!’
    Meanwhile here is a link to a post about a trip to the soil in question that offers a gentle reminder that there are always two sides to any coin.
    http://archersofokcular.com/who-remembers-yenikoy-an-extract-from-the-'tardis-files'/

  2. Liz Cameron says:

    Yes indeed, sensibilities can be sensible or nonsensical – and I agree on the merger molotov that nationalism brings. I agree with all points. Have you read Taner Akcam’s work on this? I will bring it if you can’t buy it in Turkiye – let me know. Thank you for the link that continues my thinking.

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