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!”
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?