Tag Archives: Turkish

Rude Turkish Hand Gesture

Main Piece

The following is transcribed from a conversation with myself, GK, and the informant we will call, AT. 

AT: A gesture we have in Turkey that has a different meaning than in America is the “okay hand gesture”. This is when your index finger and thumb create a circle between them and your other three fingers are pointed straight into the sky. In Turkey, this gesture has a very negative meaning.

GK: What’s its Turkish meaning?

AT: In Turkish culture, it means “a**hole”. You usually give someone that gesture when you are in an argument with them. It is the equivalent of giving someone the middle finger in American culture.  

Background: The informant is originally from Istanbul and lived there for 13 years before moving to Zurich. He knows of this hand gesture through living in Turkish culture and says to have learned it from a friend at school. And the way he handles the gesture really depends on where he is. When he is at school in the U.S., he knows the gesture has a different meaning so he does not take it poorly. However, when he is back in Turkey for the summer, he has a much more negative reaction when someone gives him this gesture. 

Context: The informant and I discussed this over Face Time. 

My Thoughts: It is interesting to see a hand gesture take on different meanings depending on the country. The okay hand gesture in American culture has a positive annotation to it, and has even evolved into the “Circle Game” where you get punched if you see someone holding that gesture up. However, you’d get a much different response in Turkey, and also a number of other countries. This includes: Brazil, Mexico, and Russia. This shows you have to be very careful when going into other countries because something that seems normal to your culture can be very poorly received in another country. 

The Commemoration of Atatürkü

Main Piece

The following comes from dialogue between myself, GK, and the informant, AT. 

AT: One of my favorite Turkish holidays is called “Atatürk’ü Anma, Gençlik ve Spor Bayramî”, which translates to “Youth and Sports Day”. I like it because it is one of the most relaxing days of the year. Work is cancelled, school is cancelled, and everyone just goes outside and enjoys life. 

GK: What day does it fall on?

AT: It is celebrated on May 19. 

GK: How do you and your family usually celebrate the holiday?

AT: My brother and I usually go play soccer with our friends in the morning. Then we’ll usually go on a hike with our parents. And cook some dinner out side after. It’s a really great day to unwind and enjoy with friends and family. 

Background: The informant knows of this holiday by living in Istanbul for 13 years. His family would always celebrate it as it was a national holiday. And although he doesn’t live there anymore, he still chooses to celebrate it because he loves the holiday so much.

Context: The informant and I discussed this holiday over Face Time

My Thoughts: In my opinion, this holiday serves a great purpose in Turkish culture because it gives people the day to relax and spend time with their families. After doing some reserch, it looks like this holiday originated in 1938. It celebrates the founder of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, and his arrival in Samsun on May 19, 1919.  It celebrates youth and sports due to the wish of Atatürk, who loved sports growing up. 

Turkish Proverb – “Havlayan Köpek Isirmaz”.

Main Piece

The following is transcribed from a proverb given from the informant, AT. 

AT: A Turkish proverb that I know of is “Havlayan Köpek Isirmaz”. This translates to “the dog that barks does not bite”. This proverb describes the type of person who does a lot of talking but never backs it up. And it also serves as a lesson to never say you’re going to do something and not end up doing it. 

Background: The informant knows this proverb through his time spent living in Turkey. He says it is pretty commonly taught, and is usually done so at a younger age. It was taught to him by his father, and is something he says he tries to live by. 

Context: The informant and I discussed this proverb of Face Time. 

My Thoughts: I am a fan of this proverb because it perfectly connects the lesson to the inaction of the barking dog. It is very important to do what you say you will, because if you don’t you will lose credibility. People will believe you less if you are all bark and no bite. Another takeaway I have from this proverb is that the American version seems to be more dictated towards fights. A person who is labeled as “all bark and no bite” is usually someone who talks as if he wants to fight someone but when presented the opportunity declines to do so. It is interesting to see how proverbs are interpreted in different cultures. 

Cin – Turkish Demons

Piece: We have these things Cin, pronounced jin, uhm and like plural you would say cinler, because there are plenty, and they’re like these little demons, uhm I’m like hella fucking scared of these, these little shits, parents and grandparents can use these to scare little kids out of doing literally anything, and the biggest one being staying out until dark. Uhm the main one was my grandmother would say that after the sunset prayer, because in Turkey a mosque prays 5 times a day, and so like the equivalent of a preacher, at the top of the mosque sings a prayer 5 times a day, the one that represents sunset, if you stay past that prayer, these things would come out and eat you or haunt you.  You can actually release these on people, like a curse, we had a few like old women in my village who had a very powerful third eye and if they said a bad prayer towards you, they could curse you with these like “I release the cins on you” or something like that. So some people if they were cursed I remember hearing, uhm they could not sleep for days, they would wake up from their sleep because they see these in their dreams. But it seems like a dream even though it’s actually real, they are there, its just once they disappear, like the people who are cursed they think they are sleeping, but they are actually awake when they see theses creatures, it’s just that when they’re terrorized enough, they think they have woken  up from a dream, or a nightmare.

Background information: The informant is a USC student. Originally from a small village in Turkey, she relocated at the age of 10 to the United States.

Context: Apparently these demons were introduced to kids at a very young age. They are used to keep kids in line whenever they want to act rebellious. The informant remembers these so vividly because they used to scare the living daylight out of her as a kid.

Personal Analysis: A trend that I have noticed among interviewees is that most of their parents use some sort of story to control their kids. It’s almost as if “fear” is the only way parents can assert dominance over their children. This collection is another example of just that: Parents using fear tactics to control their kids.

For another version of this myth, see Ilargia.franceserv.eu. (2019). OLD FEARS IN TURKISH CULTURE. [online] Available at: http://ilargia.franceserv.eu/index.php/articles-posts/etudes-studies/42-old-fears-in-turkish-culture [Accessed 26 Apr. 2019].

Turkish Barking Dog Proverb

Informant:

D, a 23-year-old, Turkish male who grew up in Turkey until he turned 8 before moving to the United States. He now lives in Boise, Idaho, but spent a lot of time with his mother, who only spoke Turkish until D was 16.

Background info:

D’s first language was Turkish. He and his mother would converse this way, despite him being fluent in English. His mother would tell him stories and folklore from Turkey, as she was very proud of her heritage. This is one of the Turkish proverbs in their household. D’s mother would use this phrase with her children to console them if they were fighting online or getting cyber-bullied.

Context:

This is a Turkish phrase that D’s parents would say to their children when they would get into arguments or fights with their peers. D quoted this phrase to me when I came to him for advice. The following is the context for which it was said.

Me: “I want to be the bigger man and just brush it off, but there has just been so much piling on top of me lately. They just keep going on and on, even after I took a break from social media. I hate that I am even angry about this, it’s so petty.”

D: “My mother used to tell me ‘havlayan köpek ısırmaz’, which means that people will talk and talk but nothing ever comes from it. People just like to think they are on top, even if that means making a fool of themselves by talking a big game and not acting on it.”

Main piece:

Turkish: “havlayan köpek ısırmaz”

English Translation: “A barking dog does not bite”

Thoughts:

When I initially asked D what this meant, he related it to the common phrase, “You’re all bark and no bite!” When asked how it relates, his reply was that when people use this phrase, it generally implies that the other person will only talk about action, not pursue it. He says the Turkish phrase also represents that. Practically, the saying does not make the most sense. Barking in dogs is effectively a warning, like growling, before they bite. However, in humans, I think it makes more sense. People who do a lot of talking typically only do that – talk. It also ties into the popular saying of “You can talk the talk, but do you walk the walk?” People question the seriousness of people who talk a lot instead of acting on their words.

Turkish Maturity/Repetition Proverb

Informant:

D, a 23-year-old, Turkish male who grew up in Turkey until he turned 8 before moving to the United States. He now lives in Boise, Idaho, but spent a lot of time with his mother, who only spoke Turkish until Devran was 16.

Background info:

D’s first language was Turkish. He and his mother would converse this way, despite him being fluent in English. His mother would tell him stories and folklore from Turkey, as she was very proud of her heritage. This is one of the Turkish proverbs in their household.

Context:

This is a Turkish phrase that D’s parents would say around the house when he was younger. He would also repeat this to his younger siblings when they would act up to try to show them that they are misbehaving. The following is the context for which it was said.

Me: “Are there any other phrases or sayings that your parents would say to you? Or Turkish phrases you would hear them say to themselves?”

D: “Um… Well, my brother, sister, and I were always misbehaving. When we would act out, my mother would not punish us with the traditional spanking… Instead, she would try to show us what we were doing wrong and ask us whether or not we would want to be doing this when we were old and gray. One of the phrases in Turkish that she would use was ‘İnsan yedisinde ne ise yetmişinde de odur’, which means that people who repeat bad actions at a young age, without realizing that they are bad, will continue them for the rest of their life.

Main piece:

Turkish: “İnsan yedisinde ne ise yetmişinde de odur”

English Translation: “What a man is at seven, he is at seventy”

Thoughts:

I later asked him if he could relate this phrase to any other common phrases he knew. He could not think of any, but it got me thinking about why this phrase existed. It speaks of childish behavior in a negative light, and almost ties it directly to immaturity, which I understand for the most part, but feel it is a bit overextending. Not all childish behavior is bad, and I think that is why his parents would use this phrase sparingly, to not discourage the good behavior. I think that this phrase is important in their family dynamic and in Turkish culture because they seem to value self-improvement over discipline. Showing someone their actions are wrong seems more important than punishing them for it. I have heard the American phrase “remaining childish is a tremendous state of innocence,” and I think it follows their family values as well.

 

Turkish Tree Branch Proverb

Informant:

D, a 23-year-old, Turkish male who grew up in Turkey until he turned 8 before moving to the United States. He now lives in Boise, Idaho, but spent a lot of time with his mother, who only spoke Turkish until D was 16.

Background info:

D’s first language was Turkish. He and his mother would converse this way, despite him being fluent in English. His mother would tell him stories and folklore from Turkey, as she was very proud of her heritage. This is one of the Turkish proverbs in their household.

Context:

This is a Turkish phrase that D’s parents would say around the house when he was younger. He would also repeat this to his younger siblings when they would act up to try to show them that they are misbehaving. The following is the context for which it was said.

Me: “Are there any other phrases or sayings that your parents would say to you? Or Turkish phrases you would hear them say to themselves?”

D: “Um… Well, my brother, sister, and I were always misbehaving. When we would act out, my mother would not punish us with the traditional spanking… Instead, she would try to show us what we were doing wrong and ask us whether or not we would want to be doing this when we were old and gray. One of the phrases in Turkish that she would use was ‘Ağaç yaş iken eğilir’, which means that people should learn the best way to behave as soon as possible because older people tend to be stuck in their ways.

Main piece:

Turkish: “Ağaç yaş iken eğilir”

English Translation: “The tree branch should be bent when it is young”

Thoughts:

I asked him if he could relate this phrase to any other Turkish phrases, as this is a fairly common saying. He could not think of any. Though not exactly this phrase, there are variants in all cultures. For example, in English, we say “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” which essentially has the same meaning. Things should be taught young, otherwise people will struggle to learn it. This is a common theme in a lot of proverbs and folk stories. This phrase can be applied in American culture, but it is also important to D’s family dynamic. The Turkish culture stresses teaching manners and polite etiquette early in life, and despite growing up in the United States, it’s interesting that the values carried over from his mother. Manners are something that was lacking in the American culture I saw growing up. Families focused more on punishing bad behavior to prevent it rather than show the children what is right.

 

 

Turkish Proverb about Hurtful Sayings

Informant:

The informant (D), a 23-year-old, Turkish male who grew up in Turkey until he turned 8 before moving to the United States. He now lives in Boise, Idaho, but spent a lot of time with his mother, who only spoke Turkish until D was 16.

Background info:

D’s first language was Turkish. He and his mother would converse this way, despite him being fluent in English. His mother would tell him stories and folklore from Turkey, as she was very proud of her heritage. This is one of the Turkish proverbs in their household.

Context:

This is a Turkish phrase that D’s parents would say around the house when he was younger. He would also repeat this to his younger siblings when they would act up to try to show them that they are misbehaving. The following is the context for which it was said.

Me: “Are there any other phrases or sayings that your parents would say to you? Or Turkish phrases you would hear them say to themselves?”

D: “Because we were young and fought a lot, my mom would often repeat wisdom to us… One of the phrases in Turkish that she would use was ‘Bıçak yarası geçer, dil yarası geçmez’, which means that people could hurt you like… physically, but you will heal from those. But when people try to hurt one another with like words or insults, it will stick with them. People will feel the pain for a very long time, and they will think a lot about it. My mom would tell us she would rather pick us up from school for fighting than to hear that we were calling someone names or trying to insult someone like… personally.”

Main piece:

Turkish: “Bıçak yarası geçer, dil yarası geçmez”

English Translation: “A knife wound will heal, but a tongue wound festers”

Thoughts:

As D explained what this Turkish saying was, I kept thinking back to an English phrase that I heard a lot as a child. I would always be told that “sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will/should never hurt you.” I find the difference in cultures very interesting, as his parents would almost encourage physical violence over emotional or verbal insults – almost saying that an attack on one’s character is one of the worst things. It makes sense that this would be taught young, as children are the most impressionable both in terms of learning right from wrong and being negatively affected by insults. Growing up in American schools, I witnessed teachers trying to prevent physical fighting more aggressively than verbal or emotional insults, but D’s family would rather let the kids fight physically (reasonably, of course) than have them call each other names or insult them. The Turkish culture stresses teaching manners and polite etiquette early in life, and despite growing up in the United States, it’s interesting that these values carried over from his mother.

 

Nasreddin Hoca: Turkish Legend

Who is Nasreddin Hoca?

P.N. – “He’s a man we get all of our idioms and fables from essentially.  I don’t know if this guy is real; I’ve been told that he was real, but I don’t know to what extent that’s the case; it’s super old.”

You’ve been told by whom?

P.N. – “Family members, teachers, Turkish people, we would watch movies and make animations of this guy.  He’s been portrayed by everyone, but I can’t say if he’s actually real.”

“‘Hoca’ means teacher; and he is a short, chubby man, with a really really big turban.  A comically large turban.  He has a white beard, and he rides around on his donkey.  He always has a little pack on him. He is the source of most fables, all folklore comes back to him essentially.”

“I remember one story – he comes into the village, and there’s a blind man begging on the street.  He comes over and offers him money, but the blind man refuses.  He leaves the next day.  Comes back, tries to offer him money again, but again the blind man refuses.  And then, the third day he comes back and he offers him a job, and the blind man agrees.  And it kinda teaches you – give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day, but teach a man to fish, he’ll eat forever.”

“To me, Nasreddin Hoca symbolizes the fact that there are so many ways to help people.  A lot of it is: live your life with simplicity, be independent, grow your own food, very much just help people and accept help as well.”

Would you say that you’ve taken this mystery man’s advice into account throughout your own life?

“Without noticing, definitely.  It’s been ingrained in my head.  Not necessarily because ‘oh, Nasreddin Hoca said this,’ but more just like ‘oh, my mother said this, and she got it from this guy, who got it from Nasreddin Hoca!'”

The tale that this person told me, with the blind beggar, reminds me of how many tales are told.  Immediately, I thought of the rules of a folk tale, and how – seemingly – every rule was checked off, making it a perfect story.  This Nasreddin Hoca character was someone I’d never heard of, but he also made me think about my own interpretations of folk tales.  Do I consider all tales told to me from the perspective of one man, going through life, learning lessons?  I just might; and that thought is jarring for me.   In the same way that I may or may not think everything with one voice, I may or may not relate all folklore to one character.

Turkish Superstition: the Evil Eye

evil eye

What is the Evil Eye?

P.N. – “So, the evil eye protects you, your family, your household, from evil.  And this is a myth, and also a glass object.  Every [Turkish] family has an evil eye in their house . . . My family thinks that if you tell somebody something good that’s happened to you, there’s gonna be envy there.  And they’re gonna somehow will nature to get rid of that opportunity for you.  The evil eye is meant to protect you from that.  So we have evil eye’s in different parts; like, for instance, we have one in our car to prevent a car crash.”

“We have an evil eye in front of our house.  You’re supposed to have an evil eye on top of the doorway to prevent bad things from entering.  One day, during the time when I was applying for colleges, it BROKE.  I remember, because my mom thought that that was a good thing.  “It’s done it’s job,” she said.  And so she put a new one up, and I got accepted into USC!”

“Another example was this: I was wearing my first ‘sexy dress’ in high school to this New Years ball.  I had a hair piece, everything. I looked good.  I was showing some cleavage.  My aunt put an evil eye in my jacket, and said it would protect me from the boys.  I still have it there in my pocket.”

What does the Evil Eye mean to you?

“The Evil Eye reminds me of my parents, because I have always considered them to be the most superstitious people.  And I guess when I think about other types of ‘evil eyes’ in other cultures, it feels like it brings me closer to those people as well.  There’s definitely a sense of identity with everything I’ve said here.”

Immediately, this made me think of the Jewish Mezuzah, which is a similar concept to the Turkish Evil Eye.  The Mezuzah, a small piece of parchment scribbled with specific verses from the Torah, is put on a family’s doorway to prevent any bad luck from entering the home.  When I brought up the Mezuzah to this person, she smiled, and informed me that she knew of the Mezuzah already.  The evil eye is definitely something that reflects one’s culture, one’s traditions, and one’s superstitions.  It’s for this reason that I am such a fan of the Mezuzah, as well as the evil eye now; it’s because I, as well as countless other people from a number of different cultures, can relate very strongly to it.  How different can two peoples really be, when they’re unified by so many aspects of life?