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.
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.
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.
Turkish: “Ağaç yaş iken eğilir”
English Translation: “The tree branch should be bent when it is young”
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.