In Turkey, they don’t even know they’re lying

If someone "feels" that it should 
be a certain time, it is.

The writer Claire Berlinski, who lives in Turkey, shares her view of Turkish culture and foreign policy and its relationship with "truth":
...People here—and, I would guess, throughout the Middle East and Mediterranean, though Turkey is the only country I know well—see “truth” as something plastic, connected more to emotions than to facts or logic. If it feels true, it is true. What’s more, feelings here tend to change very quickly—and with them, the truth...

The Turkish diplomat Namik Tan put it to me this way, shortly before decamping for his new job as ambassador to the United States, then promptly being recalled to Turkey to express the nation’s diplomatic pique at an ostensible insult to Turkish honor, then returning to America again, presumably to drink tea and proclaim Turkey’s love: “The West must understand,” he said, “that in this region, two plus two doesn’t always equal four. Sometimes it equals six, sometimes ten. You cannot hope to understand this region unless you grasp this.” You might think he meant this metaphorically, but in my experience this is literal. If someone here feels very strongly that he wants two plus two to make ten (or two o’clock to be ten o’clock, in the case, say, of a promise to deliver goods or services on a deadline), then—voilà!—that’s what it means, and there is an emotional truth to it, in the mind of the speaker, that is morally more important than any literal truth.

They don’t even know they’re lying. In Turkey, it is normal and expected to say that you will do something, have done something, or agree with something when, in fact, you won’t, haven’t, or don’t. This is so common that no one thinks of it as lying, in the sense that it is not viewed as unethical. It is just being polite. They assume you know they’re not being truthful, and they expect you to be lying as well, so it all evens out. I remember precisely the moment it dawned on me that this is how things work here. I’d asked a Turkish friend to send me an e-mail before noon. I don’t remember what it was all about now, but it was business-related. Knowing that time here is also a highly plastic concept, I’d pressed the point quite firmly: Before noon. Before the big hand and the little hand are pointing straight up. I had elicited multiple, firm promises that the information would be sent before noon, and that he understood the importance of this. I communicated the reasons why, should he fail to do this, it would cause quite a number of serious problems, not just to me, but to him, because it concerned a joint business venture. (Terrible idea in the first place, but that’s another story.) He agreed at least three times that he would send it.

When he didn’t, I was vexed. “Why,” I asked, “did you say you would send it if you didn’t mean it? If I’d known you weren’t going to do it, I would have known to plan things differently.”

He took umbrage at my tone. “You should have known I didn’t mean it,” he said angrily.

“How should I have known?”

“Because,” he exploded, “I didn’t want to!” He was enraged, I think, that I could be so obtuse.
Read more of her observations: Smile and Smile: Turkey's Feel-Good Foreign Policy, World Affairs>>
- Claire Berlinski>>

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