Boys to men

Two young boys, maybe 11 or 12 years old greeted each other on the dolmuş the way men do: they shook hands and leaned their cheeks in bumping first right-to-right then left-to-left. They sat there across from one another, when one reached his hand behind the other boy’s head, holding the back of his neck as the dolmuş engine revved, drowning out their intimate conversation. It’s something that strikes me; the transition from youth to semi-adulthood here is something I still haven’t been able to understand.

Working in a university, I have been witness to an appalling lack of maturity displayed by a number of my students. They show up ten minutes late, without pens, paper or books. They interrupt grammar lessons with questions like, “Teacher, how old are you?” “Teacher, are you married?” or perhaps some less grammatically correct version of these. They scribble on desks, use cell phones to text friends, talk over both their fellow students and me.

This is perhaps why I am always struck by the formality of greetings, by the mature displays of affection that young boys display for each other. They seem out of synch with other displays of immaturity. And, even as boys mature into men, these physical interactions continue. On the servis last week, the bus was particularly packed. One man stood in the aisle and another in the stairwell by the sliding door. The man in the stairwell made some comment about the other’s suit jacket.

His jacket was a bluish gray corduroy blazer. His friend in the stairwell grabbed both lapels of the jacket, stroking the fabric between his fingers. And, while I couldn’t hear the conversation, not that I would necessarily understood even if I had, I imagine the discussion was about this choice of jacket. And, while this seemingly mundane interaction continued, it’s familiarity struck me. These men, in close proximity to one another had no physical boundaries.

Another common scene I’ve encountered is that of two men strolling together, arm in arm. Something solely reserved for sweethearts or a combination of the elderly and the young, typically of opposite sex in the west, the physicality of it all was something that I couldn’t let go of. It’s something that I have still not acclimated to either. I think about the conversation that leads up to that interaction, “Mehmet, would you like to go for a stroll with me down on the waterfront, its such a lovely day.” “Sure Ali, I’d love to. Meet you in five by the Liman Çay Bahçesi.”

As I’ve mentioned before, not being a man limits my ability to understand these interactions, but I can’t imagine most men of my acquaintance having such a conversation. In my experience, male interaction in the west is circled around some activity: fishing, camping, food or beverage consumption, sports spectation to name a few. Here, there is a significantly calmer attitude toward activities, there is a lot of strolling, a lot of tea consumption. A lot of lounging. A lot of touching.

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