I have often thought that perhaps we should be working more in the area of cultural exchange rather than politics to make any real significant difference towards living together peacefully in this shrinking world.
Turkey, over the past three decades or so, like many other countries, is in transition. Some things are changing quickly; however, it seems like other things may never change. But I guess you can say that about just about anywhere, though.
I am reminded of the change when I go to the movies. I remember in 1979 a Turkish friend and I decided to go see a film. It was at one of the old movie houses in Şişli. The theater appeared to have been a very grand place at one time, but what really struck me was the segregation that took place in the theater. I grew up in a southern state in the United States, where racial segregation was enforced. I know racism still divides America somewhat, but there has been progress. However, with progress there always come setbacks.
When my Turkish friend purchased our tickets, she did not think anything of it and just accepted the fact that there was assigned seating. Because we were two women, we were automatically allocated seats in the women and family section, which was the back one-third of the seating area. Going to the cinema in Turkey has changed drastically -- the cinemas are luxurious and you are free to sit anywhere.
If you are not a Turk, you will be interested to know that there is an intermission and people usually use their mobile phones or go for a cigarette break. I must admit I found it quite interesting this past summer when I went to see a film while in the US and noticed that it was not necessary to remind people before the film began to turn off their mobile phones, and also that there was no intermission. American telephone etiquette requires that if you are in a meeting or in discussion with another person, you should let it ring or set your phone to silent and then return any missed calls at a later time.
In Turkey, nowadays, you can find nicer restaurants and fast food places where seating is open for all. A woman on her own or with a group of female friends can sit comfortably and socialize without feeling out of place or socially uncomfortable. Before the mid-1980s, though, this was not so common, and you can still come across it in more conservative areas, be it in an urban area or a village, where restaurants and tea gardens will have a family section (women or children do not sit in an area designated for men!).
Many Turks smoke cigarettes. If you are a non-smoker, you will find sitting inside a Turkish restaurant better than outside because the smoking section is outside. The Turkish government has outlawed smoking inside buildings. If you sit outside, be ready for smoke to blow you way. Your Turkish friends may smoke heavily at the table and will be hurt if extensive complaints are made.
Table manners vary. As in most European countries, Turks hold the fork in the right hand and the knife in the left and do not switch them. The table may be laid by placing the cutlery crossed on the plate. Turks do not rest one hand on their lap while eating; both hands are kept above table. When you have finished, place your knife and fork on the plate side by side. Waiters will whisk dishes away if empty, since it is considered rude to leave customers sitting with an empty plate in front of them (so hold on to your glass if you haven’t completely finished it). Watch out! They may take your plate, cutlery or drink away before you have finished with it and give you a clean one at any time.
Here are just a few quick table tips for Turks visiting America this summer:
When asked to pass the salt, pass the pepper, too. Don’t reach in front of someone to get the salt or pepper.
Avoid placing your elbows on the table. Never hunch over your plate or hug it.
When eating family style, food is passed to the right.
If you get food lodged between your teeth, excuse yourself from the table and take care of it in private.
Only take what you can eat and don’t waste food.
Take a minute and share a table tip from your culture with us.
“Respect for ourselves guides our morals; respect for others guides our manners.” Laurence Sterne
Note: Charlotte McPherson is the author of “Culture Smart: Turkey” 2005. Please keep your questions and observations coming: I want to ensure this column is a help to you, Today’s Zaman’s readers. Email: email@example.com