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February 22, 2013, Friday

I don’t understand why…

When you live in another culture you may find yourself saying or thinking to yourself these words: “I don't understand why…” Below are a couple of letters from Western expat Today's Zaman readers who describe their feelings about Turkey . You know the type -- sort of a love-hate one.

Dear Charlotte, Most of the time I enjoy living in Turkey. However, when I read your article the other day I could relate to the comment about knowing when a Turk really means to get together for lunch or not. I still have not been able to really discern sometimes what people really mean. From Janice (İzmir).

Dear Janice: It is normal to pigeonhole or fit people into familiar cultural molds, when often they don't fit. Often we do this because we have not come across another behavior or way of doing things. When we meet people who are a different nationality we need to be ready for an element of surprise and for things to be different. When living in another culture it helps to remember that people's values and behaviors are influenced by their culture. But their background, experiences and personality also influence values and behavior. Avoid attributing too much of what you observe to a cultural difference. Be ready for the unexpected.

Dear Charlotte, I've been working in Turkey for five or so years. I have read every book on the market about Turkey. I am always taken by surprise and usually frustrated when I think I know what to expect and how the situation might go and then it doesn't. I find when I go to do some official work at a utility office, a bank, or government office or have to deal with a repairman it always seems to become more of an ordeal then you would think it needs to be. I don't understand why this has to be. I guess what I am trying to say is that nothing ever goes the way I expect it to. The other day just trying to get to work was an ordeal. I don't know whether or not the minibus driver decided to take a different route or there was a detour but it made me late to work. I think many of us never really appreciated how predictable life was back home until we lived abroad. My Turkish friends recognize these things but seem to just accept that is how it is. From: Fredrick (İstanbul)

Dear Fredrick: Living abroad can be stressful. People who come from cultures where directness and precision are valued (e.g., Britain, Germany, America) may find the indirectness and uncertainty you experience here frustrating. Let me share a few tips that you may find helpful.

You will most likely experience uncertainty daily. You will begin to get an idea of what could go wrong and you can bear that in mind when you are making plans. You may be the type who likes clear, concrete answers. If so, prepare yourself, because things may work differently here from what you are used to. It is best to focus on what you can determine and try to let go of minor details that are unclear.

You have heard the old saying that love makes the world go 'round. Humor and tolerance probably keep it going ‘round. Humor has many levels: from slapstick and teasing to sophisticated and high-level humor and satire. My two cocker spaniels help me unwind and laugh about the day when they are goofy.

One evening, after a bad day in which everything had gone wrong, Ginger, who is young and full of energy, thought she would cheer me up. Before I knew it she came to me with her yellow plastic squeaky bones on a rope. She wanted a good ole game of tug-of-war. Playfully, she flagrantly snapped it from side to side with great joy. She danced around the room with the bone toy in mouth. I don't know if Ginger knew if she was being funny, but she definitely got a lot of enjoyment from it. And so did I. I forgot all my worries momentarily.

In a way that is how we all probably have felt at some time. Eventually we understand the ground rules. We may not always be able to understand why things happen the way they do. They just do! Try to minimize your stress and go with the flow.

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