Saturday, July 21, 2007

Once upon a time in München

Five years ago, when I moved to Turkey, I became International Communication and Relations manager of a Turkish company which wanted to expand their business services to West-Europe.

After 5 months of preparations, we planned a one week visit to the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. The first 4 days were fun in the Netherlands and we, the President of the company, the business developer and I, were treated well. All the companies and NGO's we visited, were really pleased with the thought of a possible cooperation in the near future.

On Saturday we left our base (Maastricht) for a tour to Dusseldorf, Eindhoven, Brussels and back to Maastricht, down in the south of the Netherlands. On Sunday we drove to München where meetings were planned for Monday. The first meeting was the most important one, with a German state-owned investment company. We, three men, in a meeting room with five German women. Wow! We handed over our business cards, and the game could begin. They looked surprised that three Turkish men from Istanbul, well-dressed, fluent in English, came over to Germany for investments. In particular, they looked at me (I am almost 2 meters tall, blond hair, blue eyes etc.) with curiosity: is he a Turk or not. Obviously, they were confused. While the meeting went on, sometimes they consulted each other in German, a language which I understand. So, one time I interrupted, and told them that I was Dutch and understand the German language (...). Anyway, during the break my two Turkish friends left the meeting room. Immediately the nice women (or girls, not one of them was older than 35) asked me: 'Are you Dutch, why are you living in Turkey?'. I replied to them: 'Why are you living in München?'. Now they were really astonished. They told me: 'But Turkey is a backwards country', 'Why on earth a person with your background would like to live there?'. I replied: 'Yesterday, we drove all the way from the Netherlands to München'.
'We arrived at 6 pm and after checking in, we want to have a nice dinner in your city, but everything was closed'. 'How come?', I asked them?. They were looking for an answer but could not find one. I told them that Turkey, and especially Istanbul was and is a developing country, and not that backwards as they thought. And that bars and nightclubs were open until pre-dawn. That there are a lot of interesting things going on in Turkey etc.
Then, I got a reply: 'These fine well-dressed colleagues of yours, are they representative for Turkey?'. I said: 'Yes, but the five of you are not representative for Germany'. They were shocked now. I told them an anecdote: the evening before, while looking for a decent restaurant, we finally ended up in some kind of 'GastHaus'.
Overcrowded restaurant with tons of beer and a lot of pork meat. Since I don't eat pork, from a hygienic point of view, I ordered a steak while my two Turkish colleagues wanted to eat pork. In the end, they switched it somehow, and I was eating pork, and one of my two colleagues was eating my steak.

During that meeting on Monday morning with this German investment company, my stomach became disturbed. The German pork in my stomach made me aware of how often people don't want to understand other cultures. And Love goes through the stomach, or not?


Emre Kizilkaya said...

Great article.

hans said...

One day I shall you about a meeting with one Americand and one German, in Turkey.
You can critize but not insult a country.

Anonymous said...

Tell on, Hans. I'd love to hear more culture-clash tales!


hans said...

coming soon..))))