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What’s your label?

By Sinem Bilen-Onabanjo
15 December 2018   |   4:15 am
For the first time since 2016 I’m spending Christmas home in Turkey; for the first time in forever I get to spend a whole month home. A whole month calls...

For the first time since 2016 I’m spending Christmas home in Turkey; for the first time in forever I get to spend a whole month home. A whole month calls for as many reunions with friends as one can fit in. As tricky as it might be logistically to get together a number of friends during the festive season, considering I haven’t seen some in almost 20 years and this is the first time I am home for an extended period of time it was a challenge I was willing to take on. Hence the tale of two reunions.

The first was a dinner date with three friends two of whom I hadn’t seen since our high school graduation – a whopping 23 years ago. The second a lunchtime birthday celebration with a group of friends from university some of whom I had seen since graduation or at least kept in touch with on social media. The two reunions couldn’t have been more different.

In hindsight, perhaps the first was no more than giving the past another shot, potentially an oversight. As my friends who’d since kept in touch and met each other regularly over the last two decades and some caught up with each other, deep in conversation, they also discussed mundane matters – the ever rising inflation and currency rates, different levels of credit cards, different levels of upper middle class folk we all went to school with… At one point, talking about a guy who was one of the jocks in high school, one of my friends mused, “We didn’t know he was that rich then, did we?” At which point, I was struggling to pick my jaw off the floor.

Granted we went to the top private school in Turkey and rubbed shoulders with some of the richest heirs in the country, those kids you knew were born with a silver spoon and raised to take over the golden key to Daddy’s empire. Regardless, I don’t think I ever contemplated ‘the rich list of Robert College’. To think that, 23 years on, some people were still hung up on high net worth, platinum cards and brand names, was baffling.

Incidentally, the jock in question years later married the sister of a friend I went to university with who happens to be the birthday girl of the second reunion. When I mentioned this conversation, she was equally baffled.

Then we thought of how our friendship circle was never defined by the money our parents made, the first car we had, the labels we wore or the holidays we took. As a friend pointed out, even in twenty years of friendship, none of us had ventured to ask another what their husband did for a living – not because we don’t care for those dear to our friends, but because it didn’t make a bit of difference whether their significant other was a prince or a pauper.

There were of course those who would boast about their latest designer buy or their last holiday skiing in Courchevel, but we quickly x’ed them out of our friendship circle. Labels didn’t define us but the bonds we had created over the years, built on love, trust, respect, nourished with shared experiences. Maybe it is for this reason when we meet, several months, years or even decades later, the conversation flows with ease, just like we’ve only see each other yesterday. Because what we see is what we get – the very same friend we’d made all those years ago, with no labels.

This is why when in the company of those who define themselves or others any other way, I struggle to see what the fuss is about. I am tempted to shake them up and ask: How do you define ourselves? What’s your label? What’s your price tag? Surely, it is more than our pay check, or the red sole of the shoe we wear, or our postcode. And if it is, perhaps it is time to rip these off and have a long hard look at your reflection in the mirror to find what really defines you.

Next time you’re tempted to keep up with the Joneses, or reach for the designer handbag, or obsess over the Os in someone’s pay check, Consider this, if you have a label, you have a price. What sets you apart from mere merchandise?