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Turkish Doors

April 24, 2011

The Front Door (notice how the 'handle' doesn´t turn)

Allow me to get straight to the point.  Turkish front doors don´t have handles.  That´s right, there is no handle on my front door.  I mean, there is a handle, but not the type that you turn to open the door.  The handle that is on the door is just there so you can close the door while leaving.  It may as well be a string duct taped to the door; although that wouldn´t look as pretty, it would serve the same purpose. 

I guess I probably saw that the door was different the first time I looked at it.  In fact I know I saw the difference.  I though, ‘Wow.  How do you even open this thing?’  But I was with my host family every time I left the house, so I never actually had to open the door.  In fact, I didn´t even get a key for the house until about 5 or 6 weeks after I arrived.  Therefore, I guess the fact that the door didn´t have a handle slipped my mind.  My host family never hard any problems opening the door, why would I?

Another lesson I have learned since coming to Turkey: don´t assume anything.  The assumption will probably be wrong and may or may not (usually ‘may’) cause problems.  This assumption (that I wouldn´t have a problem opening the door) was incorrect. 

I don´t remember the full story of how I learned I didn´t know how to open the door, but it went something like the following.  I came home at a time no one else was at home.  In other words, no one could open the door for me.  The door from the outside to the building was already open, so I went up to my floor and rang the doorbell.  No answer.  I rang it again with the same response.  Then I proceeded to stand in front of the door for at least 5 full minutes wondering what I should do.  I decided I should go down stairs, back outside at sit at the cafe owned by the neighbors. 

Well, I get down there and I don´t even start to explain that I don´t have a key.  Turns out that my family left a key with our neighbor to give to me.  So I cheerily take the key and ride the elevator back up to my floor.  I put the key into the door and turn it.  Looking back now, I don´t know what I exactly did, but I do know that the door did not open.  So what did I do?  I stood for another few minutes wondering how big of an idiot I will look like when I go back downstairs and tell the neighbor I couldn´t open the door.

Keep in mind this is the beginning of October when I really couldn´t say, well, anything.

But I did go down and they got the point I didn´t know how to use the key.  So this guy comes up with me and, just like a magician, opens the door right before my very eyeballs.  I am still in shock how he did it.  Rather, how I didn´t do it.

That night I had my 10 year old host sister teach me how to open the door using a key.  I can now say I have never had a problem since that day.  Except the time I used the wrong key, but that is an exception. 🙂

So what is the point of me telling all of you unknown readers this story?  (Yes, here comes a very deep thought.)  Let´s take it step by step…like when proving a geometry theorem. 

  1. There are doors and keys both in America and in Turkey.
  2. Keys are used to open doors.
  3. The system of using keys is different in America and Turkey.
  4. Before I learned the new system, I couldn´t open the door.
  5. Therefore, without learning the new system (a.k.a. changing the way I live and think), I can´t live very successfully in this country.

I hope you got the point there.

I am successfully thriving in this country.  Yes, there are still rough days, but those happen where ever you are living.  When you are a teenager abroad, those moments just come from different sources.  However, I can confidently say there are a lot fewer of those moments than there used to be.  Mostly because I have learned so much about how life ‘works’ here and how to ‘open doors’. (Please don´t read that as I am here just to open doors for myself…it just tied in very well with the above story.)

I have told a lot of people in America after ‘I got over myself’, life improved tremendously.  In more eloquent phrasing, once I learned to accept this culture and that I don´t have to accept everything about the culture, I was able to more openly learn and discover new things.  Life became colorful.  And a lot more fun.

A big part of being an exchange student is learning to live like the people of your host country.  Learning to relate with them and showing them differences between the two cultures.  You come to teach.  You are breaking down many barrier and stereotypes.  It is hard to do, especially while trying to respect their culture.  You are also here to learn.  There is a big chance that many aspects of your host country are better than your home country.  I will bet that there is no return exchange student who could not tell you about a situation in better standing in his host country than in his home country.  Once you return, you teach again.  What was good, what was not, and how can we make this world a overall more pleasant place to exist (sorry for the slight cheesy-ness). 

This has been my current thoughts in a nutshell.  There is a lot to learn in the world.  But we can´t learn about other cultures without understanding their ‘doors and keys’.  Rather, you can read a book.  Learn the facts and statistics.  Know all the numbers.  But that will not help you when it comes down to relating to people.  I cn´understand Turkish culture, or explain what I have experienced by saying:

  • Turkey has a total area of 780,580 sq km
  • The population is approximately 71,892,808 people
  • 98.8% of the population is Muslim
  • The official language is Turkish
  • Turkey is located in both Asia and Europe and is considered a crossroads of culture

It can´t explain what life is like and how people see the world.  And that, my friends, is what exchange students try to do.  See the world through someone else´s eyes. 

Happy Easter to everyone back home.  Miss you and think of you all often.  Just nine weeks left.  I hope you are all ready for me to be back on the same side of the pond.  Love you.


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