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.