The Lighter Way to Enjoy Culture Shock

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-- I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference. Robert Frost, "The Road Not Taken"

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Location: Boone, North Carolina, United States

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Every country has its own brand of Wheel of Fortune. Thus far I have seen Russian Wheel of Fortune called Land of Dreams and Turkish Wheel of Fortune which goes by the same name as the American version.

The most obvious deviations from the Wheel of Fortune to which I am most accustomed:

- Russian Wheel of Fortune involves children in Russian military uniforms, which might be boy scout ensembles

- There is also a tremendous amount of chanting and un-gratifying synchronized clapping in the Russian edition

- Turkish Wheel of Fortune has their Vanna White equivalent uniformed in a garish wedding gown

- While Turk Vanna White, the wedding cake topper ensembled letter turner, is not slaving away rotating portions of the alphabet she entertains the audience and home-viewers by dancing to the commercial break music, being that Turkey is a conservative country she does not remove any clothing during the dancing interludes. However, she is often accompanied in this dancing display by the show’s host.

I feel that the television game show hosts in Turkey work harder for their money than the American game show hosts, who clearly have a cushy position considering the lack of commercial break entertainment provided by the television hosts of America.

Remembrance of Moldova: As an American, accustomed to the unorganized applause which is typical to the States, I must observe that synchronized clapping is really crazy the first time you experience it. The volume attained by the synced clap is just as great as the volume of US applause; the only difference is that everyone is clapping together in a coordinated fashion. Nevertheless, I imagine that synchronized clapping would be less rewarding for the receiver of the phalangical praise.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

At the discount grocery store, which is reminiscent of Sam’s Club in a cramped New York City basement, candy bars are sold for 20 cents a piece. (The normal candy bar price is between 50 cents and one dollar) Sometimes I feel embarrassed when I go into the discount grocery because I always buy like 10 cheap candy bars and nothing else. But thanks to the Turkish partiality for sweets, I am absolved in the check-out line because there is always at least one other person who is there solely to buy a plethora of cheap candy bars.
The moral of this story: when in Turkey, never feel self-conscious about your penchant for over-consumption of sweets; because no matter what obscene amount of dessert foods you desire the person next to you is probably there for the exact same thing.
Case in point: I have seen two men at Mado Ice-Cream Parlor shamelessly eating huge bowls of sutlac, rice-pudding, while drinking large strawberry milkshakes.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Turkey has bred a population that watches things. They love to watch things, especially people, to the extent that they will watch, with almost unflagging attention, the most mundane of spectacles.

To exemplify the degree of tediousness, I have come across a pack of three or four people watching the digging of a hole. Not an interesting hole, such as a hole which is being dug with the latest of John Deere and CAT’s combined technology, but a hole being dug by one man with a shovel. In this case, it was neither a unique shovel nor a unique man, just a regular guy with an average shovel.

It is quite possible that these people watching the regular guy with the average shovel were only captivated for a short period of time. But I question the brevity of their spectating since I have also seen groups drawn, and held for a considerable period of time, by activities such as putting down/taking up paving stones or washing windows on the first floor of a building. So, you can imagine the veritable melee that occurs when something interesting happens on the street, like a fight or someone getting hit by a car.

I wonder if it is enjoyable being so easily entertained. I can see how it would have its advantages in certain circumstances such as long bus rides and boring meetings.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Scandal of Knees

The reaction of the general Turkish male populace to the sight of exposed female knees is similar to the reaction shown by the American male populace if a woman was walking down the street with a nipple slightly exposed.

It seems that anywhere in Istanbul it is obvious when an exposed-knee woman is walking down the street due to the flock of goggle eyed men turning, staring and commenting.

What I wonder is if they stare at local knees as well as foreign knees? Being a foreigner I can only speak to my own experiences which are composed of unremitting knee staring.

My theory is that they think that foreign female knees are different from Turkish female knees, for instance maybe there is a misconception that foreign knees bend backwards, in the opposite direction of regular knees. Or maybe they think that nipples sprout from our knees instead of our breasts thus they are giving thorough visual inspection in search of a knee nipple.

Monday, October 15, 2007

I always thought that fasting during Ramadan, no food or drink from 6 in the morning to 7 in the evening, would result in some amount of weight loss on a nationwide scale. Incorrect!

Actually, Ramadan fasting causes a general weight gain of about 5 kilos. Because consuming nothing for more than twelve hours sends your metabolism into a tail spin and then on top of that the non-fasting hours are spent pigging out on lentil soup, lamb and flat bread.

Additionally, due to the daylight hour calorie deficit there is a decrease in physical activity. What an unpleasant way to get fat.

(In my experience, Ramadan also tends to equal general societal crotchetiness due to low blood sugar)

Circumcision is quite the ubiquitous tradition. The Christians in America prefer a quick slicing and dicing right after birth while the Jews have an entire party centered around the act of foreskin removal.

In Turkey, the Muslims choose to wait until the tender age range of six to eight years old. At this point they dress their boys in miniaturized pimp outfits, complete with hat and feather lined cape, and parade them down the street; thereby, allowing strangers to lavish the unknowing and unsuspecting boys in sympathetic looks.

The rest of the ceremony has a similar tone to a christening or a baptism, complete with the taking of pre-ceremonial family photos and consumption of finger foods, the main difference being that the splashing of some water and hair dampening is a painless, non traumatic event while circumcision….

Saturday, June 02, 2007

I have noticed since being back in America, after having been in Moldova for the period of a year that things seem a little different. In reality, things are exactly the same but not the same through my eyes. I theorize that this is because I have suddenly been put into a situation in which I am cognizant of seeing things from a different point of view. On the list of things that suddenly seem culturally interesting:
Guest Rooms (an entire bedroom dedicated solely to the possibility that someone might need to sleepover, definitely a phenomenon which occurs primarily in countries under the developed heading)
Coon Dog Days/Firefly Festival/WoolyWorm Festival (no offense to these events intended, I have attended them all and they were lovely affairs; but, one must admit that it is a unique selection of species in which to pay homage)
Petting Zoos (a place where children can pet and feed barnyard animals... creatures that in most countries are considered commonplace necessities that must be taken care of in order for consumption, not something on which you lavish affection)

The following are strictly personal views/observations and in no way reflect the views of the Peace Corp nor the federal government of the United States.

During hot weather in Moldova, some of the men attempt to minimize the heat by being unfettered by clothes; so, they walk around in only their underwear and pastel colored flip-flops. (Side note: Boxers don’t exist in Moldova, the male underwear options here consist of tighty whities, banana hammocks or nothing.) Fetching water from the community well, walking to the local convenience store to buy bread or beer, visiting the neighbors’ house, any number of everyday activities can be done wearing nothing but underwear and flip-flops. As such, on any given afternoon on a hot day in Moldova, gaggles of men of various ages can be seen meandering around the village in small, tight pairs of underwear and flip-flops.

Friday, May 11, 2007

The following are strictly personal views/observations and in no way reflect the views of the Peace Corp nor the federal government of the United States.

Rubbing alcohol, traditionally used as a disinfectant for cuts, is dyed dark green in Moldova. This colorant was added because so many people in Moldova were drinking it.

I am not sure if the green colorant is a deterrent to the potential rubbing alcohol drinker or if the colorant serves the purpose of making the rubbing alcohol drinkers easily identifiable; because, the colorant would definitely serve to give the lips, tongue and teeth a green hue.

When one sees a person with obviously green lips and mouth, what is the appropriate course of action? Do you comment, “you have something green all over your mouth, have you been into the disinfectant again”; or, would you just know it was time to organize an intervention.

Personally, when I see someone with green lips my first thoughts run to oral gangrene rather than rubbing alcohol drinker.

The following are strictly personal views/observations and in no way reflect the views of the Peace Corp nor the federal government of the United States.

Last week I got stuck in an elevator with four other people.

The elevator was about half the size of the standard American elevator and was not equipped with an emergency phone.

After all five of us packed into the elevator the doors closed with an ominous slam, and we knew a problem was afoot when the floor buttons had been repeatedly pushed and the result was nil.

Once we had come to the realization that the doors were not going to open nor was the elevator going to move we began pushing the buzzer button. The buzzer button’s purpose was to make a faint humming noise in the corridor right outside the elevator; needless to say, no one came rushing to our aid since no one outside a three foot radius could have heard the noise made by the buzzer button. We then discontinued use of the buzzer button and concluded that yelling would be a more effective means of attaining assistance from someone outside the confines of the elevator.

We saved our energy, since we knew we might be in the elevator for a potentially incalculable period of time, by only yelling when we heard someone in the corridor outside the elevator. Our yelling must have seemed overly calm because despite our calls for assistance still no one came to our aid. After about twenty minutes of hollering a gaggle of children had appeared outside the elevator door.

The children didn’t do much in the way of helping, instead they harassed us like we were ‘a cat in a bag’. First, they said dirty things through the door in various languages; then, proceeded onto prying the elevator doors open just enough to stick a screwdriver through the crack between the doors. Eventually, the children tired of us and went onto other malevolent activities. Thus, we resumed our systematic yelling.

Finally, we were able to elicit the help of an adult. However, he would only help us after he went to the store. So, he left us with ‘a lick and a promise’ of his assistance upon return. We neither saw nor heard from him again.

At this point, we gave up on getting out of the elevator and began to take pictures to document our escapade. During this documentation period the elevator doors miraculously opened. When the doors opened, standing on the other side was a man who was borderline coherent due to excessive alcohol consumption. If he was the one who opened the doors, we will never know; because, as soon as we exited the elevator he began to chase us. Thusly, the five of us sprinted up four flights of stairs to our destination apartment with the not entirely coherent but shockingly spry drunk man on our heels.

Total time clocked stuck in the elevator: 50 minutes