Karagöz bangs the marriage counseling drum: Explains tone and twirl

Davul in shadow puppet theater. Here, Karagöz ...

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Karagöz came into my mango room to have tea with me today at teatime. He was unusually calm and collected – not in trickster mood at all. This surprised me. Hacivad Bey called up the stairs, “We sent Karagöz because we thought you might take the news more seriously from him.”

Sensing a puppet coup d’etat, I turned away from my newfound love (pinterest.com) and faced the tiny wax paper puppet, who was standing on the windowsill, the late afternoon grey-orange dim light of February illuminating him in what could only be called a very serious way…

“Karagöz,” I ventured, clearing my throat ever so carefully, “what is it that you have been sent up here to tell me?”

“Well, m’lady,” Karagöz began carefully, “we see that you have been distant and hiding out for the last day or so. We see that you are exhausted from work and that your back and neck hurt and that you are sad. We also saw that, well, how shall we say, you had a tone and twirl moment with M. the other day – something about a disagreement on terminology and remembering stuff.”

Sighing, I just nodded my head in defeat, and turned to the Ibuprofin bottle sitting next to me, pushing down the cap to twist it and shake out my medicine booty. Downing two of the dull coral circlets with vibrant orange carrot juice, I turned back to him.

“M’lady,” Karagöz continued, this time with more confidence, “your disagreement aside, what you need to understand about M. – and indeed many Turks – but I would HATE to make a generalization – what you need to understand is that tone – be it loud or louder – does not mean the same thing to you as it does to them. Tone is not such a consideration here. You need to let the tone thing go a bit – although we plan to whisper into M.’s ear at night that just as you, M’lady, are trying to be cross-culturally sensitive and aware, perhaps he should understand how he is perceived as well.”

Shifting in my seat, I looked at Karagöz directly. “You make a fair point, Karagöz. You are, after all, King of the Screech, Whoop and Holler – so maybe I do need to think a bit about that. Cross-cultural sensitivity – and what to do once you understand that different people may have different standards for tone – well – that is hard. It is just hard.”

“We agree, M’lady, we all agree. And that brings me to twirls. OK, in case I am being too obtuse, twirls in this case refer to the shaking of hands and arms in gestures. We Karagöz shadow puppets, we LOVE to twirl – and if you think back to your knowledge of the streets of Istanbul, for example, think of all the twirling going on there in the form of hand movement. Don’t get upset at the twirls, M’lady, you have your own associations with them, and they are separate. We promise, though, to whisper into M.’s ear at night so that HE can work on his side of it all as well.”

“Well, Karagöz, I never would have thought of it even though it is so obvious. I agree,” I said, sighing.

Concluding that his serious business was done for the day – neigh the year – Karagöz hopped off of the windowsill, resumed banging his davul and marched on down the stairs just as the dog marched up the stairs, his leash in mouth, with the entire troupe of Karagöz shadow puppets regally riding on his back to congratulate me on completing my first formal Karagöz puppet marriage counseling session, all by myself.

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8 Responses to Karagöz bangs the marriage counseling drum: Explains tone and twirl

  1. Ah, yes, the issue of tone, I know that very well. I hear you loud and clear, Liz, about how this is a challenge in a cross-culture relationship. This is something that I still struggle with – that what sounds harsh to my American ears doesn’t sound that way at all to someone from Turkey. Being a New Yorker, you’d think I’d have a higher tolerance to what I experience as the sometimes abrupt or overly direct tone that Turks use (or at least some of the Turks that I know). Today’sZaman ran a three-part series recently about Turkish behavior and one of those pieces was about how English speakers might be put off by how direct Turks can be in certain situations. I believe the example they gave was when you’re eating and someone asks for the salt. A Turkish person would likely say, “Pass the salt,” whereas an English-speaker would say something like “Would you please pass the salt?” That missing “please” used to (and still does, sometimes) drive me crazy. And while we’re on the topic of accommodating oneself to different discourse styles, how about the tsk-tsk chin-chuck that Turks use to indicate “no”? The first several times my husband did that, it seemed so dismissive to me. Now I realize it’s just a different way of saying “no”. Anyway, I don’t know that you’re looking for advice with this post, and, even if you were, I wouldn’t have any. 🙂 Just to say that I get what you’re saying. Hang in there.

  2. Liz Cameron says:

    Hi Justine,

    Thanks for writing and relating! It is good to hear that this is not unique to my relationship. 8 years in and we are still processing through stuff like this – and I do have to say that it gets a lot easier with time! We are fine and as with most marital arguments in the world, this was temporary.

    Perhaps what didn’t come across in the post clearly was the fact that even though I know there are cultural differences around tone – I think I am only starting to realize that I don’t know what to do with that when I relate back from my cultural core (the unspoken, the gut instinct, all of which comes from how we learn culture as kids, etc., in our family, etc.). Sometimes I think an ideal cross-cultural marriage would be one where the cultural core is eliminated somehow – or perhaps there is a permeable membrane? I don’t know. This is one of the central reasons I decided to write this blog – to get at the things we don’t immediately discuss…the harder things to figure out or even name.

    I am laughing at the tsk-tsk experience you had – I get less of that – but I do get the tilting of the head up with the eyebrows up to mean “no” – and only figured that out 2 years ago. I always used to think that M. was ignoring me or not answering when he did that – and only figured out that it was an answer when our mouths were both full of delicious lamacun in Kilis (near the Syrian border) and it happened.

    Such are the joys of figuring each other out over a lifetime!!


  3. Yes, it’s the tsk-tsk with the head titled up and the eyebrows – exactly! Maybe the tsk sound is the Laz variation. 🙂

  4. Alan says:

    . . some times it feels like J and I are in a cross-cultural relationship – she being from Yorkshire and me from England! The hardest thing for me to get my head around is her absolute honesty and frankness, which can be painful at times. In another sense, any relationship should be cross-cultural if it is to have any meaning – we are all children of our up-bringing with conditioned reflexes that battle with heart and reason and, yes, prejudices, as we strive to understand each other.
    I know if J reads this she’ll be asking why I don’t put theory into practice more often – I’d have to blame my mother (again ;-D).

  5. Liz Cameron says:

    I think you are on to something – I have a female friend in Turkey who has Georgian roots – and she does that too…I wouldn’t want to tag it all on the Laz since they get enough crap as it is! 🙂

    isn’t humor just the right balm for dealing with cross-cultural stuff? 🙂

  6. Liz Cameron says:

    Yes, I totally agree. Micro cultures are everywhere – I see this, for example, with my students all the time. I live 19-4- miles from where most of them do – but they couldn’t be more different in their cultures in so many ways.

    Yes, the striving is lifelong, we are in for the long haul in trying to figure it all out. The human instinct away from individualism is fascinating.

    Ah, the old mother excuse – works every time!

  7. sumanyav says:

    😀 i am reminded of my Australian friend E’s visit to India the first time. She looked all wide eyed and shocked when she told me, ” do you know, I thought, there was some kind of sexual revolution happening here in Amritsar” All because she discovered men unabashedly holding hands on the streets. Little did she know that it was quite ‘normal’ to do so and did not carry any homosexual connotations.

  8. Yes, I have heard such stories. I always find it so heartwarming to see my M. and his brother walking down the street in this way. It is so important to open our eyes, hearts and minds, no? While I see a lot of the negatives of the age of globalization, this is a positive, the ability to travel and learn through osmosis.

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