I have been able to accept or become accustomed to many of their cultural and individual quirks over the years, but it has been a bumpy road. Every once in a while another incident will set us back, and this I feared was going to be one of those things.
Last week Can and I took our son, Eren, with us for a quick trip to Antalya. Can had work there, and Eren and I went with him to visit Can’s maternal aunt. Her daughter, Can’s cousin, was also there and everyone was anxious to spoil Eren. In general, I have gotten used to the way most Turkish people handle children, particularly those who are not their own. It took a while, but I no longer mind that random strangers pinch Eren’s cheeks, pat his head or even pick him up to shower his face with kisses. It used to bother me that no one even asked me for permission first. In my home country of the United States, this would never be tolerated. I have grown to like the fact that so many people take precious time out of their day to share a positive moment with my son. Eren feels like part of a community and has a sense of confidence when we are out in public that I have not seen in many American children back home. This part of Turkish culture I am happy to have overcome my fears about, even when my initial maternal instincts were screaming out against it.
Can’s cousin Gonca is in her early 20s. She is very sweet, but very naive in regards to many things. During our visit she took several pictures of Eren, and immediately posted them on her Facebook page. I didn’t mind, as I do the same so that family and friends back home can see what Eren is up to. While I love social media for many reasons, there are still some things about it that worry me. Because it is not totally foolproof, I set my security settings pretty high on my personal Facebook page, which doesn’t allow anyone to share photos that I post. I did this because I didn’t want anyone sharing Eren’s photos with people I don’t know. It might seem odd, or a little bit paranoid, but that’s how I feel. If we didn’t live so far away from so many of my friends and family, I probably wouldn’t post any pictures of him at all. Most of my friends on Facebook seem to understand this, and would never even consider copying and sharing a photo of someone else’s child.
However, Can’s cousin is another story. She started copying and sharing my photos of Eren in the past, which was what made me aware of my lax security settings to begin with. Since Gonca is from Can’s family, I brought my concerns to him. I know Gonca, but I don’t know her 522 friends. One of those friends, a middle-aged guy, also copied and shared Eren’s picture. That just didn’t sit right with me. Who was this guy? Why was he posting pictures of my son on his Facebook page? While I was able to quiet my instincts about strangers patting my son’s head, everything inside me screamed against a stranger posting Eren’s picture to their personal page. When I told Can, he told me that I was overreacting. This is usually his first response to any complaint I have against his family. I usually have to take things into my own hands, cause a big fuss and then force him to help clean it up. So, I talked to Can’s aunt, Gonca’s mother. She immediately seemed embarrassed, then a bit angry with Gonca. Her main concern was who this man was. Gonca will be getting engaged this summer, and this man is not her future fiancé. I tried not to get irritated that Can’s aunt seemed more worried about her daughter’s honor rather than the fact that a strange man had a picture of my son on his profile page. I instead played off her anger to get Gonca to erase the pictures.
This took almost a whole day of heated phone calls across the family. Gonca insisted that the man was a friend from work, that he didn’t have any bad intentions, and everyone at her office loved Eren. I bit my tongue. No one there has ever even met Eren. I know that Gonca is naive, and doesn’t know to question odd behavior. Maybe this man doesn’t have any bad intentions, but I needed to stand firm. I didn’t know him, and couldn’t vouch for him or his intentions personally. I also needed to let Gonca know that allowing people to share my son’s photos through her Facebook page was unacceptable. Last year the same thing had happened, and Can had talked me into not making a big deal about it. However, he hadn’t dealt with the situation at all, and I knew that joking, the way he talked to Gonca about it, did not get the point across. I hated to be right, but here we were a year later with the same situation. No, I wasn’t keeping quiet anymore.
Unfortunately, I may have hurt some feelings but I have learned not to put too much thought into it. I have learned the hard way that in Can’s family, setting boundaries can be tough. I can’t rely on Can to help me set or enforce them. I am used to the American way of dropping hints and people picking up on those hints and respecting my wishes. In Turkey, hinting doesn’t work. Since Eren was born I have learned to be direct, at times brutally so, in order to be heard. The nice thing about Turkish culture is that everything can be “forgotten” over a cup of tea later. So, while Gonca cried and the phone rang constantly with every teyze in our family calling to hear how Elle was overreacting again, I stood firm. Gonca fixed her security glitch, and made the guy take Eren’s picture off his site. The next day, we all drank tea together like nothing had happened. No need for closure. If Gonca were American and had talked to me like I had to her, our relationship probably would have been ruined. Thankfully, that is not the case here. Living in Turkey has taught me not only to change my language but to also change my voice. Sometimes being direct is the only way to go, especially when it is in regards to your child. This can be especially hard when dealing with family or in-laws. Trusting maternal instincts is key, as well as understanding the culture of where you are living. Understanding both will help you know when to put your foot down.
Elle Loftis is an American expat, writer and mother living in İstanbul. Reach her at email@example.com for comments or questions.