As an academic social worker, I am trained to the gills on the need to encourage my students to work towards “cultural competence,” as they work with people from a range of cultures and sub-cultures. And of course, although I question the concept on a number of levels, there is a lot of good buried in it. And of course, I do my best to work on “cultural competence” with my Turkish husband – who I often feel is more American than Turkish. I am sure he would agree. You can weigh in, dear, if you like.
So, today, I am going to address how I am a slow learner, especially when it comes to cultural competence in the Turkish-American context. My slow learning is usually due to my ability to over-work and over-think things. I am, after all, trained to over-work and over-think everything – that’s my career as a researcher, teacher and academic community member.
I have mastered the basics of cultural competence in Turkish-American land – greetings, simple praise for food, identifying which futbol team my host/hostess is connected to in order to avoid loud Turkish debates, figuring out whether someone is too Kemalist or too pro-AK Partesi in a too out there way so we can be sure not to offend them in any way, or whether they are in the Armenian genocide denial camp. It can be a minefield out there, but mostly in the futbol arena (all I have to say about that is “Cim bom bom!”). What I have not mastered, I have come to realize, is when something is NOT about culture. Yesterday, I learned that in our marriage, the Christmas tree is NOT a cultural issue.
So, yesterday afternoon, we finally bought a Christmas tree. Until this year, I have thought our annual arguments about this item was some manifestation of our Turkish-American cultural and religious differences. Every year, I remind M. that Saint Nick (Santa) came from Turkey after all – so he should embrace that aspect of Anatolian culture given Santa’s relationship with trees – whether that began in Anatolia or somewhere in the Black Forest. And, I feel I have to remind him that the tree is a symbol of something hopeful, and it gives me something to meditate on as a process through the past year – and these past 44 years. And the glowing lights are calming. And sometimes the dog likes to sleep under there, which, yes, is pretty cute.
But this year, I realized that actually, our annual argument is not a battle rooted in cultural, nor religious elements. Rather, I started listening to M. and realized that for him, the thought of wasting a tree in a planet facing deforestation and global warming is abhorrent. And, of course, he complains about picking up tree needles in May. “Aha,” I thought with glee, “this is a battle in honor of all that is green and environmental.” So, I thought I would give thanks to M. for relenting on the green front – and figure out a way to offset this year’s environmental destruction next year.
However, Mercan Bey, the Arabian Spice Trader Puppet, was sitting on the shelf all afternoon, observing. He tried to convince me that he feels this year’s Christmas tree battle led me to realize that M.’s resistence to the tradition may also be a gender-based thing. “M’lady,” he comments softly, “I’ve been all over the world at this time of year, delivering various spices to this culture and that – and I see it as a gender thing.” I didn’t buy his argument – until the following happened:
Karagöz jumps in here “no patience, M’lady, you talk tooooo much, I’ll tell it for you, fast, while somersaulting!
And here’s his version of the story:
“Tree parked in front hall, abandoned. Snigger. M’lady roots around basement like a truffle pig searching for tee stand, lights and ornaments. Whoop! M’lady bats eyelashes at M., says ‘bring the poor thirsty tree?'”
Karagöz does somersault #1
Reluctant Turkish futbol watcher sighs, retrieves heavy bundle. M’lady and M. make mistake of collective effort to place tree in stand – pointless argument #1. Whee! M’lady snips reminder to M., something about ‘important part of my culture.’ Sigh! M. agrees, pointless argument #2 ensues.
Karagöz does somersault #2
M’lady thinking ‘Is this a cross-cultural issue or what? Maybe Mercan Bey is right.’ Why she so overthink it? Typical. Doorbell rings – blond angel lady arrives – a glowing light lady M’lady call “best friend.” Karagöz no have such one. All huggy-huggy, M’lady and M. ‘fess up about tree troubles. Glowing lady throw back her head with belly laugh, Karagöz like this, says ‘in my childhood home in Europe, as soon as decorating-the-tree-time came around, all the men beat it, post-haste, to the farm, leaving it to the ladies.’ All laugh, M’lady think secretly, “OK, Mercan Bey, you win,” as he winky wink at her, throw her some new cardamom seed varieties he found at the Indian store yesterday.
Karagöz, now dizzy from somersaulting, curls up by the dog, under the tree, and crashes into a deep slumber.
Lesson of the day ends with M. having the last word – something recycled into Turklish from some of my Dad’s last words with me: “Take it little bit easy.” And Yavaş, yavaş,” or “slowly-by-slowly,” I’ll try.
- Alternative Christmas Trees (neatorama.com)
- What’s the environmentally preferable choice: A real Christmas tree or a faux one? (mnn.com)
- A new holiday trend: Renting Christmas trees (miamiherald.com)
- Spotlight: Chevy Volt Parts Are Used to Make Christmas Tree (news.softpedia.com)
- ‘Green’ options for an eco-friendly Christmas (swrnn.com)
- 5 Eco-Friendly Holiday Tree Ideas (blogher.com)
- Homegrown: Recycling Trees (thegazette.com)