I’m used to getting those looks. The: Ooh, look at her, she’s foreign isn’t she. I’m ethnically British and Danish. So sue me. I haven’t gotten to the bottom of it, but I feel its fair to say that the “Staring is rude” adage I was brought up on simply never worked its way into Turkish culture. I’ve had grannies gape open mouth at me while their children grab at my blonde hair. No shooing, no “that’s rude”, no look but don’t touch. After living in France I got used to the zero personal space thing, but something about people grabbing my hair or immediately trying to speak to me in German or Russian… well… its annoying.
Now, I can happily feel bad for myself, but I had nothing compared to my equally “bizarrely” colored colleagues in other parts of the country. One friend on the Black Sea was so frequently pursued by men thinking she was a Natasha that it became a running joke. Another (also on the Black Sea) had her number somehow taken and became the subject of lewd and incessant phone calls that only ended when she pressed charges and put the man behind bars. Another friend sported an afro when her braids grew out and was the subject of similar unwanted touching. There was one story that stood above and beyond all of this.
While celebrating in May down in Antalya with the 50-some odd other Fulbright teachers, we swapped horror stories. One theme came up several times: waxing. Turks hate hair. Which sucks because as a people they’re fairly hairy. In a culture that typically faces sex and body issues with shaming, I was shocked to find that getting waxed… down there… was a common activity for women unmarried or not.
I went with a trusted friend who speaks beautiful English to the hairdresser (where they also will remove your hair). While waiting for her to finish, I watched as hoards of women had their eyebrows threaded. Another, who wore a headscarf, had her scarf decorated with flowers and sparkley things before a fancy event. When it was my turn in the waxer’s lair, I asked my friend to explain that I just wanted a bit of a trimming of the hedges. You know… just for a bikini. She looked at me with clear confusion. I forgoed further innuendo and flat out said, no brazilian.
She explained this to the waxer who looked at me fascinated. But why wouldn’t you take it all.
This story was met with laughter by my other American friends who had not gone with a friend who could advocate for them. While we all spoke decent Turkish by May, there is still vocabulary that would flummox me, and this was absolutely one of those situations. One friend explained how the woman flipped her over and had her doing something resembling yoga poses, then climbed up on the platform with her brandishing tweezers to ensure every last bit was gone.
Then came the winner: Our red-headed friend explained how, when she arrived in the room and took her place on the little platform, the waxer had stared, gaping open-mouthed. “Yes,” she wanted to say, “yes the carpet does match the drapes.”