A few days after my first Turkish Christmas party, my friends began greeting me with New Year’s presents.  This was enough to surprise me; I had given gifts because it’s what one does at Christmastime, not because I wanted them to follow suit.  They’re good enough to put up with my halting Turkish and attend my strange American rituals, and after the horrors I had put them through at Halloween and Thanksgiving, it seemed the least I could do was give them something to show my appreciation.  But it seems to be a point of honor for Turks to reciprocate anytime they’re given something.  Recently, when meeting my boyfriend’s mother she gave me a scarf.  Laughing at the coincidence, I handed her the scarf I had brought for her, only to have her return the next day with a t-shirt.  A hot pink t-shirt.

That first Christmas, even the maid responded to the trinket I had given her with a little one-up-manship.  Friend after friend brought brightly colored accessories; a chunky turquoise plastic necklace, a red and orange scarf, earrings the size of my fist.  I thanked them profusely,  but inwardly wondered if any of them had looked at me.  It wasn’t so long ago that I prided myself on being the most interesting looking person on the street, but the in last few years brown and gray have seemed increasingly attractive.  Finally, someone offered the explanation I was too polite to ask for.

“You are in Turkey now,” said one of my roommates, draping the flame-colored scarf around my shoulders.  “We are colorful people, you need to wear something a little brighter.”

This fit with a stereotype in my mind, but it didn’t seem substantiated when I walked around the city.  I began to look more carefully at people, noting what colors they were wearing.  The girls on campus looked pretty much interchangeable to me in mildly toned sweaters and jeans.

From my perch at the back of the public bus, I tried to examine the color schemes of other Istanbulites.  The middle aged women might be covered from head to toe in long coats and head scarves (or just as likely not, depending on the neighborhood), but they seem to be dressing from the same palette as my mother; a lot of blue and many, many shades of tan.  Now and then I encounter a teenage  completely draped in kelly green, but it’s a rarity.  Attending holidays and weddings, I realized a significant portion of the population considers it chic to wear only black and white, even if they’re not Besiktas football fans.  The younger women might mix it up with a jewel colored top in purple or turquoise, but that’s about as colorful as it gets.

It never occurred to me to look at the men.  They may make up half the population, but you rarely catch them doing runway shows.  So it was very startling to notice, all at once on the subway one day that while half the men were in dull suits, the others were in delicately shaded shirts with carefully coordinated ties.  Lavender and peach shirts with darker hued ties are common place, and while I hear the metrosexual movement is taking off in America, I doubt I’ll ever see so many straight men in pink shirts with yellow striped ties or turquoise polos.

As for me, I’m now decked out in a hot pink, skin tight t-shirt that I can match with chunky turquoise jewelry and a scarf that looks like glowing embers.  My boyfriend looks at me as we go out and shakes his head.  “You look like such an American.”

posts by Suzanne