A Valentine’s Day in Turkey
BELGİN AKALTAN - firstname.lastname@example.org
AP photoIt does not mean a thing here. It’s not a Turkish tradition. Our parents did not know about it. We did not know about it when we were kids. It’s been here for about 15 to 20 years, mostly in big cities and coastal towns. It’s not called Valentine’s Day, it’s called “Lovers’ Day” here in Turkey. As if being lovers and celebrating a day of lovers were Turkish traditions. It’s all a huge mock up, pretension, in my opinion.
Well, how is it celebrated here? By force. This drive comes from the female side of the equation as well as all kinds of intense, clever, tempting marketing strategies.
In Turkey, “Lovers’ Day” is made visible in shopping malls, restaurants, big stores, streets, shop windows and entertainment venues with wonderful decorations. Hotels and travel companies offer special packages; airlines have special offers. Of course, cakes in pastry shops and cafes are everywhere. Florists reach their peak sales. Street vendors sell flowers, balloons, hairpins, all kinds of other heart shaped stuff. There are also many “singles parties” organized.
After I said “this was limited to major cities,” I asked my colleagues to be sure. They said it was everywhere, even in mid-size and smaller cities. Their observations: All the women’s hair was done up high and they were in full make-up during the evening hours of Feb. 14, while all the men had one red rose in their hands. Yes, this is the force I’m talking about.
I’m trying to see the whole picture, in this land of domestic violence and honor killings. We, Turks, being warriors and nomads in our ancient times, have difficulty coping with love. What are the Turkish traditions for love and lovers? I’m sorry but there are none. None that I have heard of. Turkish traditions are, I’m sorry again, vulgar. They are always against the woman. Our wedding traditions are also vulgar, despite all the attempts to make them look cute, harmless, traditional, expressions of ethnic pride, honoring the women, shit.
Our wedding traditions are all based on material gains, as if we are “selling” the woman. It is almost like making a business contract. So many golden bracelets, so many medallions, so much furniture, this and that for the mother in law; and they are written down as a list. I’m not talking about the Westernized urban folks like us. I’m talking about the mainstream rural, small town, lower income part of the city and conservative family practices, (the 51 percent).
And then there is this absurdity – which I loathe - called “engagement shopping” which is also practiced in the cities. The family of the groom, probably the mother-in-law takes the girl, the bride to be, on a wild shopping spree. The girl asks for everything. The family buys her stuff until the money runs out, or they are exhausted from shopping, or, I don’t know, the sister in law hits the bride to be on the face and they end up at the police station.
I just looked it up online. The normal shopping list for “nişan alışverişi” is a few pairs of shoes, more than one dress, the engagement party dress, underwear, perfume, hair straighteners, bathing robes, etc… I swear to God, if my son ever introduces a girl to me who accidentally mentions “engagement shopping,” I will break off with my son right at that moment.
Another “loveable” custom: When a woman gives birth, her husband is expected to buy her jewelry. It’s the same discourse that I’m talking about…
In a 2009 survey about love, the most distinguished feature of Turkish men was found to be that they have difficulty expressing their love. They seek help from their close friends to declare their love to their loved ones, seven times more than other nations. Turkish women, on the other hand, keep quiet about their love and expect to be noticed, the same survey said.
Me? My valentine is in Qatar... He sent me flowers and a card, which were extremely nice. I had tears in my eyes when I read the card. Well, sounding as romantic as it is, this whole thing did not happen overnight. It took quite many years for my husband to understand that I like flowers. No kidding. It was way past our 20th anniversary when he saw that I was so very happy after receiving flowers, he said, “I’ll send you flowers all the time if it makes you so happy.” Well, yeah, it does. Then I manipulated him so that he became aware of the fact that you can send flowers online, regardless of where you are in the world. When he discovered the practicality of online flower ordering, he started sending me flowers and/or chocolates on every occasion: Valentine’s Day, wedding anniversaries, birthdays, on the day of my first column… Well, I guess this will be the end of it, and after reading this he will stop sending me anything forever.
To my husband: Darling, this is just to make this piece funny and lighthearted. It is of course exaggerated. You are not the person I portrayed above. Of course, I’m caricaturizing the situation. (I’m not.)