Oct 29, 2009

Leave the Gun, Bring the Baklava

After ten minutes of diagrams, pictionary, and a full baptism performed in mime, my students were still confused. Through all these efforts, they still didn't believe that "godfather" is not another word for "mafioso."

"It's common in Canada!" 

Twenty four sets of eyes bug out in surprise. 

"Miss Anne!" said the joker of the class, a grin on his face, "do you have a godfather?"

"Of course I do."

Alarmed, he hollered something to the rest of the class in rapid Turkish. More than a few mouths dropped. One student raised a timid hand. "Miss Anne," he said quietly, "you know Marlon Brando?"

Kids, right? But the truth is that this cute misunderstanding has occurred each time I taught a "members of the family" lesson in Turkey. The Godfather, you see, is huge here. Car horns, cellphones, doorbells all get  programmed to play The Godfather's immortal music. 

The films' themes of family loyalty, honour, and unbridled machismo seem to resonate with Turkish people. Just as a lovesick lad would be labeled a "Romeo," or a batty old spinster as a "Miss Havisham," a "godfather" in Turkey is the label for a man with swagger and power.  

Once, I chided a teenaged student who had unbuttoned his shirt in class, showing off his chest hair. "Save it for the weekend, Al Pacino!" The next week, when I saw him at a cafe, he introduced me to his friends with a proud smile. "Miss Anne says I look like Al Pacino," he told them. Errm, not quite my intention. But here, The Godfather and its characters are prized and praised. To be mentioned in the same sentence as one of its hallowed stars, especially when you're only half-listening to your teacher, is a high form of flattery. 

Later, I asked a fellow teacher if there was anything in Turkish culture similar to the western godfather. She thought about it for a minute. 

"When a man's son gets circumcised, he chooses a friend to help him plan the event," she told me. Not at all the same, really. 

"Were the students scared when you told them you have a godfather?" She laughed, "if I were you, I wouldn't explain the meaning just yet."

And you know, those students have been a heck of a lot more polite lately. 

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