The way in which Turks deliver compliments has always made me giggle…at least after I get over the initial shock.
The chilly winter is making way for warmer spring days and so, the layers of winter clothing are starting to peel off – uncovering the extra love handles beneath.
In the west, a couple of kilos will go unnoticed. But not here in Turkey.
In the west, people would say, “Hello? How are you? You’re looking good.” If the person looked like they had put on weight we would never mention it. We have grown to dislike weight gain in the west – it’s evil and we beat ourselves up for gaining a little here and there. To acknowledge a friend’s extra weight (especially unprovoked) would be considered insulting.
But in Turkey, acknowledging weight seems to be a compliment and “Hello? Have you put on some weight?” is akin to saying, “You look great!” or, “You look healthy!”
Three years ago I was introduce to a Turkish man at bar. Within 10 minutes of exchanging pleasantries he said, “You look like…balik etli.”
Stunned, I translated the words in my head to – fish meat.
Fish meat! What!? I shifted uncomfortably in anger and looked for an exit from the conversation. What a rude man. I did not know what to do. Perhaps I did not hear right? Or perhaps my Turkish is more average then I thought so I said, “Pardon? Did you just say I look like fish meat?”
I gasped when he answered, “Yes.”
Sensing my disgust he was quick to explain that to be balik etli in Turkey is to be voluptuous – to have curves and the Turks do love curves. His confident explanation soon had me believing that he did just indeed compliment me on my body shape.
I have been labelled balik etli three times since and I am always met with the same complimentary explanation.
So fast forward to yesterday when I bump into a young turkish friend. Pointing to his belly he politely said, “Sister, have you put on extra here?” I giggled.
I smiled and said, “Yes I have. Thank you for noticing. Thank you for the compliment. You’re right – I do feel great!”