Saturday 13 December 2008

Illegal Alien

It was nearly all over. I was nearly destined to spend the foreseeable future stuck on a Greek island with only the clothes on my back. So what happened?

Well, quite simply, my visa expired and I became an illegal immigrant. It was pointed out rather politely at the police station while I was applying for my residence visa. I was told "you should leave Turkey immediately". I left the next day for Sakiz (the closest Greek island to Izmir).

It wasn't entirely my fault. Through a series of bad communication, I had made assumptions about the state of my visa application that turned out to be completely false. I paid the price.

The price was 162YTL and the knowledge that had I left it just 5 more days, I wouldn't have been able to return to Turkey for a good few months. Here's a picture of me 'eating the fine' (as they say here).

Sakiz isn't that different than Samos. Better shopping perhaps. I was only there for 5 hours so I can't give a detailed description. It pissed down, I looked at Christmas decorations, I bought Ouzo and came back.

Thank Christ they let me back in. Another 3 months at least.

Monday 8 December 2008

I Kiss You!

Today is the first day of Bayram. There are many Bayram holidays in the Muslim calendar but the most important two are Seker Bayrami ('sugar' or 'sweet' festival) and the one we are currently celebrating; the rather sinisterly named Kurban Bayrami ('victim' or 'sacrifice' festival).

For a vegetarian, this Bayram isn't much to celebrate. It's the time when families sacrifice a sheep in the name of religion. The idea is to do a good deed and share the meat with the poor.

Unfortunately it means I get to see sheep being carted around in trailers attached to the backs of cars, their destiny certain. They'll be tied with one leg loose and their throats will be cut by the head of the household. As with most religious festivals around the world, the true point has been a little lost and watered down over the years.

You may be surprised to learn that I actually completely support the original idea. I feel that people should come face to face with what they're going to eat. I think it's honest and noble to hunt (as long as you eat what you kill). It's far more honest, in my opinion, to take a knife to the throat of a sheep than to go simply go and buy your lamb chops from the supermarket.

My father asked if I wanted to go with him today to choose a sheep. I thought long and hard about it. Perhaps getting involved in the process would reconfirm my views and make me even more determined to avoid meat. Ultimately, I don't need that. I don't want to see that.

Anyway, he's gone now to a village to choose a sheep and do the honest thing. Well, kind of. Apparently these days, the head of the household gives his permission to the butcher to slaughter the sheep on his behalf. Erm, am I missing something? I fear it's turned into something of a farce.

Anyway, that's not why I broke my silence. I came here to write about a more pleasant aspect of Turkish culture... the kiss.

It's something I've been wanting to write about for a while but it came to mind because Bayrams mean a lot more kissing than usual.

Let's start with the basics. The greeting kiss.

The cold kiss

I'm finding it a little hard to write because I'm not completely sure of the rules myself. I'm going to explain it as I've experienced it and if anyone spots anything wrong, please let me know.

Complete strangers are greeted with a simple hello or a handshake. However, if the complete stranger is someone very close to the friend introducing you, one party may lean in for a kiss. A kiss in this sense is a simple kiss to each cheek. Lips and cheek rarely meet however and it's more of a touching of the cheeks. This is done whilst still shaking hands.

The scene of Borat kissing the entire male rowing team and then refusing to kiss the female cox isn't so far from the truth. As a man, it's more likely you're going to kiss another man than another woman. It would be deemed completely inappropriate for male and female strangers to kiss.

The tepid kiss

If you've met before, you'll probably kiss upon meeting again. Two kissing men will probably still be shaking hands but may now put their left hands on each others shoulders as a sign of proximity. Again, the sound of the kiss is rarely heard. The lips are actually redundant.

The warm kiss

Amongst close friends and family the kiss becomes more sincere. You may here the lips smack onto the cheek. People may even move to the next phase of the kiss and include a double hug.

In the warm kiss, hands may not be shaken. One party may outstretch a hand in anticipation but it's likely that it'll end in a hugging kiss


The political kiss

For supporters of the Turkish Nationalist Party, the greeting kiss has taken on a modern twist. Where western influence implies a certain infemininity to two men kissing, men lock hands by grabbing each others wrists and instead of kissing at the cheeks, they may opt to softly yet firmly butt heads at the temple. Think of it similar to two very close rams meeting after a long absence.

The respectful kiss

This is very common during Bayram hollidays. This kiss is performed by the younger participant on the elder.

The elder will offer a hand like an Elizabethan lady. The kisser will then take the hand, kiss it and then touch the hand with his/her forehead.

I seem to have achieved the age where I'm starting to receive this kiss. The first time was by two juvenile gravediggers at my aunt's funeral. But, since becoming a teacher, the children have started kissing my hand during religious festivals (albeit that they want cash or good marks in return).

This kiss has a few subcategories:

a) You think I'm how old? - A hand offered to shake may be misconstrued as being offered to kiss. Upon leaning down to kiss the hand, the elder may force the hand down to show that he/she wants no part of the ritual. This may be done because the person doesn't feel old enough to have their hand kiss or simply that they don't like this type of kiss. You either insist or accept. Roll the dice.

b) Gawd bless ya! - The majority fall into this category. The elder graciously accepts the kiss as a form of respect but will then invite you in for a cheek to cheek.

c) Kiss it bitch! - This is the respectful version of the cold kiss. The elder offers the hand to be kissed but then does not follow it up with a cheek. It means "kiss my hand and that's all you're worthy of". I don't like this one. This particular kiss can commonly be seen at weddings. Lots of old strangers and lots of young victims. The problem is, in crowded areas, this can become extremely tiresome as one must kiss all the hands in the room.

The biggest complaint I hear about the respectful kiss is that people don't want to kiss a strangers hand. So you often see a 'no lips' policy being adopted. This works by touching the hand with your chin instead of actually kissing it.

The receiver of the respectful kiss may return the gesture with a kiss on the forehead. This indicates they accept the respect and return it with affection.

The hot kiss

This kiss is reserved for lovers and prostitutes. When I was just 14, I had my first real kiss. She was a 19 year old model from Istanbul and I was a barely pubescent bundle of hormones and bad hair.

My brother was dating her best friend at the time and the four of us sat on the beach and watch the afternoon waves. We walked them back to their hotel and I had no idea what was about to happen.

We exchanged some 'tepids' amongst friends as a TTFN and then she went in for the 'hot'. My memory was being swept off my feet and being knocked for six by an almighty smacker. When I came to, the girls had already left. My brother laughed at me as I struggled to understand what had just happened. I was giggling mess. He took my hand and lead me like a chimp back to our summer house.

Perhaps it was the fact that I had just kissed a 19 year old model from Istanbul. Or perhaps it was partly due to the fact that Turks kiss incredibly aggressively. There was a chance I had suffered a mild concussion.

Europeans tend to kiss slowly and ever so gently begin to introduce a tongue that'll flicker like a candle flame almost unnoticeable. However, if you're lucky enough to kiss a Turk, your experience will be quite different. As soon as the tongue is involved it gets very scary indeed. It's forced directly into your mouth as far as it'll go. Faces twist. Teeth clatter. I've bled before.

The subtleties of the eurosnog are lost in the translation. One girlfriend claimed (6 months into our relationship) that I'd never kissed her. I had of course, she'd just never felt it.

I'm not sure which I prefer. I guess it's a matter of context. Euro style is perfect for a candle lit dinner and retiring to the sofa. The Turkish 'oral rape' style is more appropriate in a 'get your drawers off and brace yourself' moment of passion.

Please also note that all of these kisses can be given over the phone, text message, email, letters and MSN Messenger. The famous Mahir, who put Turkish internet offerings on the map has the catchphrase 'I kiss you'. This is a common sign off for telephone conversations. There are variations. I just sent a text wishing someone a Happy Bayram and they replied "you too, I kiss your eyes".

Turkey's answer to George Michael, Tarkan, had a smash hit with this catchy little number...

...but you may be more familiar with this Australian knock-off...

I'm sure I'll think of other kisses I've missed and update this post but, for the time being, I have to go and see whether the butcher has finished my dad's dirty work. I wish you all a very happy Bayram and, needless to say, I kiss your eyes.