I had an interesting couple of weeks. I had several conversations with others about languages, about why we are here in Turkey, about why some don’t like it here, about what people miss about home, about religion, and about life and death.
All of these conversations boiled down to one thing: comfort zone.
I don’t know why some people are more comfortable with certain things than others are. I wonder if anyone has ever done research on it. I know that we are usually more comfortable with what we are used to. But why?
I know that many Americans generally “take issue” with foreigners who live in our country and don’t speak our language. I wrote a blog post about it, “Press ‘1’ for English.” To me, I think the larger problem lies with the foreigner who can’t speak the language. After all, they are the ones who have to get by every day in a land without the basic skill of communication. What I didn’t know is that for some of those people who insist that the foreigner learn the English language, it is simply because they are uncomfortable with hearing the other language. But why?
I have a friend with a theory on who the foreigners are that come to live in Turkey. According to my friend, there are those who marry a Turk. There are those who come for work at places like the Embassies or as missionaries. But then there is a third group who come because they are running away from something. They seem to be uncomfortable with their own people or with people that know them a little better. But why?
I have another friend, a Turk, who simply refuses to visit the States. Believe me; it caused some bad feelings in the past. A young person who had a great opportunity to travel, to see another land, a great land, at little cost; it just didn’t make sense to me. This week I confirmed that travel is just outside of this friend’s comfort zone. But why?
Many foreigners come to Ankara and after a relatively short time they decide Ankara is not the place for them. I have to wonder whether they gave Turkey a fair shot. How long were they here? Did they learn the language? Did they make friends with the natives or mostly other foreigners? Did they dislike the food, the television shows, and the malls? Did they give Turkey a chance or did they make their decisions based on American standards. Often, foreigners are just outside of their comfort zone. But why?
There are the things we miss from our homeland. I am very guilty, for example, of trying to cook recipes that require American ingredients, items that I can’t find here. I try to substitute this or that. But this week, I found myself saying that I just need to start learning Turkish recipes with Turkish ingredients. Now when I catch myself saying that I really need red potatoes, I find myself asking, “But why?”
Conversations of religion mostly turned to gaining a greater understanding of different facets. But it seemed clear to me that I was comfortable with my religion. I think most religions all have the basic tenets and I have no expectation of changing any time soon to something “different” that is mostly the same. To that statement, I was asked “But why?”
And there were brief conversations of life and death, well mostly death. I found this week at least three people who “knew” how they would die. Cancer-related problems. Diabetes. Driving off a bridge into the water. Was there some comfort taken in the so-called knowledge of our fates? But why? Did we fail to realize that we could simply walk out our front doors and . . .
I don’t know, sometimes I just push people too hard. I want to get to the bottom of things, but it is often misperceived as telling others they are wrong. That’s just not my style. I know I’m not always right. But I am well-educated and I seem to like to get into these conversations. I just don’t see “I am uncomfortable” as a good answer. Perhaps I had ignored a vocational calling as a psychologist. I view the comfort zone as an excuse, as an impediment, as a fear that one needs to get over – just like the fear of flying. I know it is for me.
You can take the girl out of lawyering but you can’t take the lawyer out of the girl. It’s as simple as that. I have been well-trained to play the devil’s advocate. Life for me ends when I stop asking, “But why?”
Always fun to read you. Stateside HughE
Always great to read you too HughE! I hope you are getting an Ankara following! Now, go to sleep!
To your friend’s theory of the 3 types of foreigners living abroad, you can add a fourth (because I think this one is missing because it’s me): the TCK. There are some of us that have grown up in a culture that is not our own, so our comfort zone is to be in a new or different culture. I know that that is true for me. Being in the unfamiliar and challenging environment comforts me and makes me feel most myself… being at “home” in Canada makes me uncomfortable and feel like I’m trying to be what I am not… Just a thought.
Thanks Angela! I think I kind of fall into that fourth category too. Although being in the States does not make me uncomfortable, I did somewhat grow up in a mixed culture. I had a black-American father and a German/Swiss mother. I was “lucky” enough to be exposed to both cultures at an early age. I say lucky, although, going to Germany as a kid was also very hard. I was uncomfortable with the food, the television, and the seemingly uninterrupted hours of German conversation that I didn’t understand. What it did do was to instill a constant yearning for something else, something different, something “exotic”!
I don’t know in which category I fall. I have adapted well, know Turkish enough to move around, watch tv shows, hold conversations and so on and plan on studying here for the next two years,also i have plenty of Turkish friends and I am ok with Turkish cuisine, although I rarely cook it myself.
Nevertheless, if I get a chance, I’m going to be going somewhere else as I don’t feel particularly welcome. I had a great idea of Turkey before coming, but now it’s not so.
Hi Terry! You have mentioned so many potentially interesting points that it is difficult to focus on just one! What I think is that at the end of the day, it is natural that you prefer to be with people with the same values and principles as yourself. These are acquired between the ages of say anything up to age 18 and the amazing thing is that they really do make up your character. This explains why major cities have Chinatowns, Little Italies etc. I have wonderful Turkish friends but there are certain things that we will never be able to share eg sense of humour!
And as for Ankara: are you really surprised that people decide so quickly that it is not for them? Having lived there for 7 yrs, I can only admire people who realise earlier on that it is not the place for them. I know you live there and if you are happy, that’s great. I love Istanbul and this is the only city in Turkey where I could live. I also think that in order to ‘know’ a place, one has to not only live there, but work there and bring up children in that place. Only after that does one earn the right to make a judgment.
Ah Claudia, all good points indeed. I totally agree that traits acquired up to age 18 shape and mold us. But luckily, many of us are able to crawl out of that mold. Just the thought of being that same person, or living life with those with the same like-valued and and like-principled would make my life a very boring place. Chinatown and Little Italy are great places to visit, but for those who live there they can often be slums. Just like any other neighborhood, you learn what your parents know, and sometimes that’s just not enough. Racisim and the like is bred in those first 18 years.
Yes, I know, Ankara is no Istanbul. I would love to live in Istanbul. But I didnt come looking for the most fun city. I came for my husband’s job and I make the best of it. I don’t mean to be judgmental of those that bitch and moan and groan after a few weeks weeks here. I am just questioning what they have done for themselves. I’m curious. And I whole-heartedly disagree with the raising of children theory. If that is the case, then I will never get to know any place, because I don’t have children. Boy, if I could only count the times I was told that I don’t know anything about children because I don’t have any . . . but I digress.