On Cultural Differences: Washing Hands

The longer I’m in Turkey, the more I realize how hopelessly culturally inappropriate I am. I like to think I’ve come a long way- at least far enough to realize that so many of my initial presumptions were mistaken.  It’s not so much the big things, but the thousands of little things. A great example is how we wash our hands.

Young Turkish men spend a lot of time in the restroom.  They carefully groom their hair, eyebrows, and wash out their nose (blowing your nose is considered bad form- for a while I thought everyone in Istanbul did cocaine.) Even washing your hands involves lathering up to the elbows and repeatedly rinsing your entire face and neck.  Although I’m sure Turkish girls are thankful for the extra attention, from a American stand point it’s decidedly not masculine (however unfortunate it may be that poor hygiene is considered manly in the states).  In other words, I’ve never heard Turkish men complain about girls taking too long in the bathroom.

For more than a year the way Turks washed hands was merely a cultural oddity I sometimes chuckled about until I had a sudden realization: everyone must be disgusted by me only washing to my wrists!  Now I’ve started feeling self-conscious in public restrooms, washing to my elbows or rinsing my face simply to conform to social conventions.

All that’s to say, something as mundane as washing hands shows us not only all of the cultural differences different worldviews have at a pre-cognitive level, but that foreigners living in a cross-cultural context should be quick to learn and slow to judge.

Don’t forget the soap.

Advertisements

About mjbutterworth

I love drinking/making coffee, making/listening to music, riding bicycles, and reading about theology. I also like blogs that talk about those things. Most of all, I love Jesus because his gospel has changed my life.
This entry was posted in Istanbul, Turkey and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to On Cultural Differences: Washing Hands

  1. turkish men hygiene is limited with hands and never comes around feet. it seems you haven’t visited any mosque yet =)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s