Friday, July 29, 2011

Culture Clash, Trouble in Paradise.

Up to now I have refrained from writing about the site ( pronounced sit-ai - meaning housing complex) where our house is located. But the events of this week have changed my mind.
There is a varied cast of characters, the site manager is Turkish, married to an American Jewish ex-spy- at least this is what he tells everyone, he worked on nuclear submarines.
Also there is the spurned wife, the hotel owner who with her children owns four of the nine houses,  the extended family from the capital, the bereaved Englishman, the uppity gardener and of course  don't forget me. I have been cast in the role of "Lady Chatterly" because of my friendship with the gardener. There is the makings of a wonderful soap opera here if only I had the courage to write it.

If you are in the upper strata here, you spend your day in the house along with your extended family only to emerge in the cool of the evening to head out en famille, dressed to kill. The second option is you head off early in the day for your chosen beach club where you watch and are watched, your every need catered for.

In the middle strata are the "foreigners" who are welcomed and accepted but they don't really know the rules well enough to join the upper echelons.

In the bottom strata are the cleaners and the caretaker who provide a valuable service but are not seen by many.

On arrival back in the late afternoon, some of the well-to-do, at best beep the car horn to summon the caretaker or a worst they bellow his name "Ali" so that he must drop everything to come and carry their one little bag of shopping.

"Ali" has no work contract. his job is to be there 24/7 to cater to the whims of the residents. His day begins at 6 in the morning and ends usually around 11 at night when the watering of the gardens is finished.
He goes to the shop and buys the bread and newspapers for those who want them and delivers them before eight in the morning. He walks the managers dog twice a day in summer and three times a week in winter.

In addition, he waters the gardens, cuts the grass and fixes the small things that go wrong in every ones house.  For this he earns the princely sum of €360 per month. He is also provided with a roof over his head and he does not pay electricity or water charges. More importantly his social insurance is paid.

We got to know "Ali" well when he was doing some work in the house for us. He ate his meals with us, as would be the norm at home if someone was doing a job for us and was in the house at mealtimes. His eyes lit up when he saw our table tennis table and he learned to play.  When I had an "encounter" with a male Turk who I thought was a friend he appointed himself my protector.

The Englishman has also become a friend of Alis. Often in the wintertime if there are only two of them here, they eat and chat together. Sometimes they work in the garden together and there is a lot of good-natured bantering.

This week there was a major row on site. It should have been a storm in a tea cup. A barbecue was organised for last Saturday night. Everyone on the site was invited. The meat was purchased from our maintenance payments and everyone was asked to bring something. I had a disagreement with the site manager in April so I was told through "Ali" that I was to make desserts for 30 people. It was to be a punishment. Little did she know I'm the dessert queen! I produced the goods and am still receiving compliments. She is not a happy camper. It was not the revenge she planned.

Anyway, the hotel owner was not told or invited to the party. Ali  says he was told she was not to be informed. A great night was had by all, but surprise, surprise it turned into a birthday party for the ex-nuclear submarine spy, the site managers husband.

The hotel owner found out about the party. She rang Ali and asked why he did not ring her. He said he had been told not to. As you can imagine an immediate row broke out between the site manager and the hotel owner.

This led to row number 3, as the site manager took a lump out of Ali for saying what he did. The next day he overhears the site manager talking to the hotel owner and giving him "down the banks." So he explodes and there is row number 4. The upshot is that "Ali" hands in his notice.

The hotel owner rings the lovely lady from the capital and explains how upset she is. She has cancer, her mother is very ill. She was so upset she says she didn't sleep all night. The capital lady smooths ruffled feathers and then organises a meeting with four of us, the manager and the caretaker to see what can be done to rectify the situation.

 Ali is trustworthy and reliable. No-one wants him to leave. The site manager arrived to find the English gent and I also present. She immediately began a bravura performance, stating she would not stay and would not discuss the topic. The other two Turkish ladies managed to persuade her to stay by saying Ali would not be present and we would talk to him later.

She immediately began a rant, he was a peasant, ignorant, uneducated etc.... needless to say I was shocked. English Gent who up to now had lot of respect for her, began to roar at her and tell her to "shut up," a phrase I absolutely abhor.

 Instead of endlessly going over the "I said, he said ....."  I suggested we move on to look for a solution. If we drew up a list of work conditions and hours there would be no misunderstandings. This was not acceptable to the manager but accepted immediately by the rest of the group. Then the s*** hit the fan. According to the manager it was all my fault. I should not have been friendly with him. We should not have brought him to Ireland. He no longer knows his place. He uses the familiar form of address to the manager. Turkish like French has the tu and vous verbs forms, sen and siz in Turkish. He will never amount to anything because of this. This is about a guy who walks their dog daily for no extra pay.

My smile has encouraged Ali to insurrection. In my opinion all I have done is treat him as a fellow human being, as I would anyone else. I think everyone, regardless of their job or income is entitled to respect. The manager emphatically stated she does not have to show him respect, she is his employer.

It is a question that has sometimes crossed our minds, is treating him by our standards creating an unreal expectation of how others will treat him? Are we responsible for creating dissatisfaction with his lot? Yet as opposed to this Capital Lady has always treated him with respect and has always received it in return, yet he does not expect to be her friend.  He knows the boundaries. What is your opinion? Should we have gone against our natures and cultures and been more reserved, should we have kept a distance? Should I not have given him English lessons to try and help him to improve himself?  Or is it a good thing to show others a different way of doing things, to challenge the class system and snobbery that exists among many though certainly not  all well-to-do Turks. I am really interested in your imput. I would love to hear your opinion on this topic.

As to the outcome of our "situation" there will be a meeting on Sunday evening with all the house owners to discuss the problem and hopefully draw up  a proper work contract for the caretaker, whoever it may be.


  1. I think you treated him appropriately. This is a case of 'to think own self be true' rather than 'when in Rome, do as the Romans do.' You could always ask him if you are causing/have caused problems for him.

  2. Thanks Thom. I already mentioned it to him about a month ago. I felt guilty in that bringing him to Ireland, being his Irish Mammy who constantly gives him "life" lessons in addition to English lessons has somewhat changed his outlook and thus makes him different to his friends. He reply was that self improvement is always worth the cost.

  3. I really think you could write some very interesting posts.....soap opera indeed.
    I think you have treated him as any one of us would like to be treated with dignity, respect, and care.
    Unfortunately with cultural differences there are problems that arise, but I still believe you have done the right thing.
    You cannot be responsible for the reactions of others. It always resides within them.

  4. You definitely did the right thing. You should never have to compromise your ethics and values just because someone doesn't agree. Even though they are his employer there is still the requirement to treat Ali with dignity and respect.
    I think you should continue treating him the way you do, who knows you may continue to influence others to do the same and force the manager to change.
    Great post.

  5. Loved reading about this culture clash. You wrote about it in vivid detail, and with great humor and empathy.

    I think you did the right thing, standing up for Ali. It couldn't have been easy, but stick to your values and beliefs. However, I do not know Turkish society or their mores. I have had experiences in Mexico where there are still big class distinctions, similar to the ones you write about in Turkey, whereby caretakers are on call 24/7 in the months/weeks/weekends when owners are around. However, most of the time, their duties are relatively light, some gardening, maintenance, etc. and many have second jobs. I have made wonderful friends among the so-called lower classes. Some, like Ali (Mehmet?) are intelligent and want to learn, to make something more of their lives, and go beyond the class barriers imposed on them. A former chauffeur/driver, son of my mother's maid, after some encouragement, got his law degree. I made friends for life with my two cooks who helped me in my business, as with the former office boy who was an invaluable help. And others like them who, whenever I go to Mexico, I see because I truly value their friendship and vice-versa.

  6. I find it amazing to see how some Westerners behave in a foreign country. It is as if slavery had not been abolished.
    I think that you treated Ali as a human being and that is what they are worried about: he was supposed to cater their every whim!

  7. Hey Mary,

    I am so happy that you treated Ali just as any other individual irrespective of all. The world's problem is that we don't value people as equal and then we talk about equality and being human. People are all one and the same and they deserve the respect everyone does.

  8. I think you did the right thing. It is a testament to your character and genuine, caring nature. All people are special, no matter their class, education, etc.

  9. I absolutely think you did the right thing. I hope there will be a way to talk "Ali" into staying because he seems like an asset to the area. But I wouldn't blame him for not staying if he is to be treated like he exists merely to please the more privileged. Everyone deserves respect.

  10. Hi everyone. Thank you for your comments. I appreciate them. It is been a difficult and upsetting week as Spy has been going from house to house and giving out about me. I don't want to fall out with my neighbours, however I refuse to blank someone because of their job and their income. Capital Lady has been wonderful, in spite of her position she too sees everyone, regardless of station, as family. She has invited me to yoga with her.In many ways, I have found that those who have nothing or little are the more decent people and the ones whom I would choose as friends. Fingers crossed that tomorrow things will work out to everyone's satisfaction. I know I have made a difference because Spurned no longer shouts for him from the balcony, she telephones him, Yippee. She understood my Turkish when I said mutual respect!

  11. If you write the novel, I shall happily buy it and help to promote it!

    Meanwhile, you would have to have gone against your nature to do otherwise. No one should have to turn themselves inside out to fit into another culture; if being civil and polite is not enough, then perhaps one ought to move. Seems to me all you've done is give Ali respect, kindness, and hope for a better life. That hope need not be realistic - just knowing there are people who do not see him as a lowly servant, unworthy of the smallest courtesy, may keep him from hating people in the future. It may be that you've planted a small seed in a larger garden of peace.

  12. Simply put: I believe you were in the right how could you not be. People deserve to be given respect and trust....until they don't.

  13. WOW, Mary! I'm so sorry that you have to deal with all this drama. Though possibly an exaggeration, this sounds to me like the rationalizations they used to treat African Americans as slaves. How can anyone say that another person doesn't deserve respect?

    I would have done the exact same in your situation and I'm glad you did! =) As you say, the best part of it all is that you've been able to clearly identify who are true friends. =)

  14. Drama makes us appreciate the quiet times. I agree with Holly, and I would be the first to buy this as a book and promote it. You also prove that treating people with humanity knows no cultural bounds. It comes from who you are and how you see yourself as a human being. And you my friend are a wonderful human being. xoxo

  15. This was one of my favorite of your posts. Such a lively difference of opinion and drama.


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