Stranger in a stranger land
Writing about Remembrance Day last week, made me think about all the little British quirk I have come to love but still can’t help shake my head at over the last two decades in this rain-drenched part of the world. You see, the thing with Britain is, you may have spent decades in this country rubbing shoulders with the Brits, you may speak the Queen’s English, you may even have the burgundy passport to prove you too are a Brit, but there are those pesky little idiosyncrasies that will creep up on you and remind you that, no matter how many years you’ve spent with them, or how well you speak their language, you are still a stranger in a strange land.
I am under no illusion. While over the years I have become attuned to the snarky British humour, irony and self-depreciation, I have developed a taste for milky tea after dinner, cheese on toast as a snack and fish and chips as an occasional Friday night treat and I have even perfected the art of ever trans-seasonal layering one needs through the year (because only in Britain can you run through the whole gamut of four seasons in the course of a day), I am still very much a Turk married to a Nigerian who happens to enjoy life in the UK.
At home I eat jollof rice and plantain or the Turkish staple rice and white bean stew. On my phone, I have Naija and Turkish playlists. I enjoy catching up on Lagos life via Nigerian blogs and watch Turkish series on TV. Circumstances may have led me to the UK, but I am forever destined to be the ‘other’, especially from a Brit’s perspective. I feel this all the more when – almost daily – someone comments on my looks, my name or my accent.
One such encounter was two weeks ago on a Sunday walk, when my dog decided to get friendly with two poodles which meant I had to make small talk with the owner, a British lady in her sixties. Fascinated, like many of her kind, she queried about my accent and its origins.
“I love Istanbul,” she said, “It must so difficult for you here, so different…”
What do you say to that as a foreigner who’s been in a foreign land almost as long as she had spent at home.
“Not really,” I dismissed, “I have been here for 20 years.”
“That is a long time. Have you experienced any racism?”
“I am experiencing it right about now,” I felt the urge to say, wondering how this lady whose name I didn’t know would find it so easy to ask such personal questions, when we had no other link to each other than the mere misfortune that my dog had chosen to fraternise with hers.
As far as uneducated conversations about my birthplace goes, this probably wasn’t half as bad as one I had just two weeks before that, when a British woman in her 40s, upon finding out I was Turkish, casually commented on how it must be so cold here considering how hot it is in Turkey.
“In Istanbul and many parts of Turkey, we put the heating on in October,” I wanted to scream. “Our winter is much colder than yours, and if you must know, while you’re taking bets on a white Christmas and failing miserably every year, even in the southernmost parts of Turkey that you only recognise as summer holiday resorts, we get snow twice a year!”
Instead, as British-polite as I can muster, I shake my head and say, “Well, we do actually have four seasons and our winters are generally colder, so no, I do not feel any colder than I would feel at home.”
When you are a stranger in a strange land, you live on this alternative plane, neither here nor there, a bit local, a whole lot more ‘other’, often reminded of this otherness and interrogated about your homeland by the curious and the clueless. If the strange land happens to be British, the chances are this is a daily occurrence.
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