Please don’t touch my baby
Let me preface by saying that Turkish people are great. Warm, loving, almost always friendly. But oh my goodness, they have no boundaries! None. On multiple occasions I have been approached with a “Merhaba” (hello) and then in rapid fire succession, “What is your name? Where are you from? How old are you? What is your job?” The incessant inquiry can be a bit exhausting at times, but that’s nothing compared to their reaction to the children. If you have ever been to Turkey you will know that they are crazy about young children and babies. They run after mine in malls and on the street, trying to take pictures and kiss and touch their faces. My daughter has even asked if her and her brothers were famous kids in Turkey.
I desperately want to tell them to get their cigarette laden fingers out of my child’s hair, but they look so excited that I can never seem to do it. One time a woman asked (in Turkish) if she could pick up my baby. I smiled, shook my said, and said “yok” (no). In return she smiled and picked up my son anyway. Really? Is this how it works I thought. I considered angrily snatching him back, but she was so happy doting on him that I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I cringed, and I pulled out the wipes, ready to wipe his face, his arms, and everywhere else I saw a kiss, rub, pinch, or squeeze. They LOVE the face squeeze, and I couldn’t hate it more.
See, my problem is that I have this weird and uncontrollable urge to represent all Americans regardless of where I am. In my head I’m an ambassador of the United States and I must present the best version of an American that I can. I have a tendency to be loud, but I try to pipe it down so that I‘m not seen as the “obnoxious American.” I used to work in the restaurant business so I tend to over tip anyway, but overseas I go out of my way to avoid being pegged as cheap. I have also mastered the art of filtering my responses. At home, when confronted with what I feel is a rude or personal question, I have no problem telling someone to mind their business. Here I smile and give as curt a response as I can. If they continue, I feign ignorance and blame it on the language barrier.
It’s a real conundrum because my children are my world and it’s my job to protect them. But when I’m faced with a different culture of people who are fascinated by me and my children, and they approach us with nothing but love and curiosity, it’s hard to put up walls. When they see my babies coming their way, they approach with massive smiles and a chorus of “Mashallah mashallah” a term meant to bless and protect the child. It melts my heart, if only for a second, before I see their puckered lips heading straight for my babies. Then I smile, pull out the wipes, and remember that I am an ambassador, if only in my mind.