Bachelors, dudes and dağı: On respecting your elders…and reality TV


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The Bachelor shows his potential wife’s Filipina Grandmother a sign of respect upon meeting her – cultural responsivity hits the mainstream (Image by Liz Cameron)

It may come as a surprise that M. and I watch a really trashy American reality television program each week.

Namely, I say blushing, we watch programs from “The Bachelor” TV franchise. In this reality series, one man (The Bachelor) or one woman (The Bachelorette) interacts with what can only be described as a pre-marriage harem of men or women for possible marriage potential.Of course, not surprisingly, this is a heterosexually biased show so far.

The watching of this program, however, does not seem to phase the Karagöz puppets. It is natural to them that marriage is preceded by parades of eligible, potential partners. They are still in shock, those puppets are, that we eloped in a love marriage, versus a traditional arranged marriage.

And, while it might sound old-fashioned to think that arranged marriage still exists in modern, Western Turkish cities such as Istanbul, this phenomenon has been coaxed along more informally through family networks, even in the circles we know. Wishing M. to be married, even his own Father and stepmother set up an introduction once.  Both M. and the woman he was set up with graciously got out of it as soon as they were out of the reach of their parents. M., you see, wanted nothing to do with this type of parental control. He is a free spirit, an independent thinker and values his independence with vigor.  And lucky me, I wouldn’t be with him, otherwise.

In any case, M. and and I are fascinated by the group dynamics that appear to emerge as a result of social isolation amongst the women or men vying for the Bachelor or Bachelorette depending on the season.  We are most interested in how “group think” combined with copious amounts of the alcohol we observe being consumed on the set play out. It brings out the worst in the contestants. But I make this sound as though it is an intellectual exercise, which it isn’t really. In any case what in the world does the bachelor and all of this have to do with respect? Or Turkey or cross-cultural relationships, for that matter?

“Well,” Hacivad Bey says, “you may well ask, because I’m asking!”

Showing respect to an elder (Image from Filipinofunfacts.com)

Last season’s “The Bachelor” was nearing the end and – with four potential brides left in the mix – aka during the “the hometown dates” in which the bachelor meets the families of his finalists.  M. and I were thrilled to see that this season’s bachelor took a cross-cultural cue from his Filipina-American girlfriend, who suggested that when he greeted her grandmother, he take her hand and put it to her for head. Apparently, this is a sign of respect in Filipino tradition.

Of course, Turkish readers or Turkish-American folk into vintage Turkish etiquette will recognize this sign of respect. I will never forget the first time I saw it. M. and I were at an art exhibition honoring the paintings his Uncle, now deceased. I watched our Teyze greet all of the young artists milling around her to talk about her husband’s art. Many of them took her hand, kissed it and then placed it on their own forehead. I did not know what was going on I had never seen such a thing – it seemed almost medieval to me.

Quickly, M. explained that this indicates a sign of respect for an elder, and that it means something along the lines of “May your wisdom come to my mind.” It is a lovely gesture and I feel honored to know now when to use it. In our private life, M. and I do this to one another in moments when we are feeling especially loving and respectful of one another – even though M. is hardly my elder and I am not his elder.

For example, once, we were walking along the street in Antakya, enjoying the French and Arab influences that abound in that small city.  A young man bumped M. by mistake on the narrow sidewalk and said “excuse me, dağı.” Now, dear reader, let me explain this word, dağı, as I understand it.  My young friend M.T. tells me that it has come to mean “dude” even though traditionally, it is a term reserved for addressing an elderly uncle. In a rare show of upset, M. grumbled loudly, saying “I’m no dağı, that punk, who is he calling dağı???!!!” I realized that M.’s years out of the country might mean that he was not aware of the evolution of the term towards the “dude” and of the spectrum from the “elder” side.  Or, perhaps the “punk” was a traditionalist – given M.’s grey hair. Wanting to return back to our happy, romantic stroll, I took his hand kiss it and put it to my four head we had a good laugh.

I am curious, dear readers, do other American partners of Turkish American marriages use this vintage etiquette? I believe it is still used commonly in on Anatolia, but perhaps not in the cities? What’s your experience?

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This entry was posted in Cross-cultural learning moments, Puppets on the move around the world, Turkish Art, Visits from the Karagöz puppets and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Bachelors, dudes and dağı: On respecting your elders…and reality TV

  1. Jack Scott says:

    Liam loved watching the Bachelor (and the bachelorette) in Turkey but, alas, it’s not shown in Britain. We never saw the hand to head gesture in Turkey and, in egalitarian Britain, such displays are rare – except, perhaps, in some more traditional immigrant communities.

  2. Alan says:

    . . here in Okçular it is seen all the time whenever a child meets with an elder. You will likely remember from your visit to our school as it happened several times to J and me (we look old, of course). For us here it is normal, even our Vali ‘son’ greets us in this manner because we don’t see him every day. you are right, it is a lovely gesture that costs little and conveys much.
    So wonderful to have you back out on the blogging trail.

  3. What a wonderful gesture. I have never seen it, but I love the idea of the transfer of wisdom from the elder to the younger person.

  4. omentide says:

    I have seen this in Selçuk – in family homes and once, during şeker bayram, some children did this to us when asking for (and being given) sweets. Not, I hasten to add, in our neighbourhood! I have also seen this regularly in Herakleia. The elders of the village came to a soap making session and everyone (including me) showed respect.

  5. L. says:

    I had read about this way of showing respect in a book before I went to Turkey, so I knew it was coming, but the first time I had to do it I think I kissed before the hand hit my lips and then shoved my nose into H.’s elder uncle’s knuckles. I was very awkward with the hand kissing for a while, but I’ve gotten better – especially after all the practice at our recent wedding (this gesture is still very common in Maras). I still am not a pro at knowing when to do it and when not to, so I probably do this more often than needed. To add to the confusion a lot of people will pull their hand down so you can’t kiss it, so then you are left knowing if you should fight to kiss the hand, or let it go and kiss the cheeks. Whew…

    In the end – I like this gesture of respect, and I feel like participating in this ritual is an important way to show my relatives my respect for them and their culture. Also, like you – H. and I often do this to each other to be silly and bring a little lightness to the house. 🙂

    Hope you are doing well! I’m glad you are back to blogging – looks like I have a bunch of new posts to read on here!

  6. lizcameron says:

    Total LOL here on “if you should fight to kiss the hand…” WOW. I love that you both also do this at home. Thanks for your good wishes, I’m coming back to blogging at a V-E-R-Y slow pace as things are still evolving health-wise. 🙂

  7. lizcameron says:

    Hello folks,

    Yes, not surprised to hear about seeing the gesture during şeker bayram – this is what M. grew up with. Although when I attempted to do this to my Teyze, she said “No, canim, we don’t do that in this family.” She’s an avid (rabid) Kemalist secularist, so…perhaps that’s why! Did you do a post on the soap-making session? I’d love to read about that!!!

    All the best,

    -Liz

  8. lizcameron says:

    Isn’t it lovely? Is there an equivalent in Italia? Perhaps just the acceptance of the MIL’s brodo, et alia? 🙂

  9. lizcameron says:

    Not at all surprised to hear of this in Okçular … it does convey much. And I wish our world conveyed more of that. Thanks for the blog-couragement (encouragement to blog). It is a slow process as my brain cells are in short supply. 🙂 I’m taking a much different approach now. 🙂 XO

  10. lizcameron says:

    Ah – fellow Bachelor/ette enthusiasts! Love it! I think you can watch online after the fact each week if you want to re-addict Liam to that! Not surprised that you didn’t see the gesture in Bodrum…the variation in answers here on this post re: observing the gesture say a lot about Turkey these days, I think. 🙂

  11. Priest says:

    Geez, that’s unlelievabbe. Kudos and such.

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