How to tell if you're Turkestani

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Note: This is still something of a work-in-progress. Some parts may be added and changed as facets of the culture become clearer


If you're Turkestani...

  • You believe you live in the most beautiful country on the face of the earth. The mountains, the steppe, even the desert in its own way. You don't understand what all this fuss over coastlines is about.
  • You know how football, volleyball and battlegame are played, and if you have a taste for international sports, you might add rugby or basketball. Your greatest passion, however, is reserved for traditional Central Asian sports like kökbörü, horse racing, jırıt and wrestling (both horseback and unmounted forms). You can argue intricate points about their rules, and you know all about the best players of each. If you're female, you probably know and care more than you pretend to, except for Ring Game, which you follow as passionately as the men follow kökbörü.
  • You know how to play Timur Chess. You might not be very good at it (though you may be), but you at least know how all the pieces move.
  • You count yourself unfortunate if you get less than three weeks of vacation a year.
  • You go to church, mosque, temple or synagogue, depending on your religious community, most weeks, or at least once a month.
  • The "weekend" doesn't really exist as a common thing for everyone. Which days you get off from work depends on your religious community. Zoroastrians get Thursday and Friday, Muslims get Friday and Saturday, and Christians get Saturday and Sunday. Smaller religious communities generally fit in with one of these.
  • You are certainly not a vegetarian. Even the Manesian Elect (=priests) bend that rule.
  • It is not uncommon for your children to be given their names by their paternal grandparents.
  • You were probably delivered by a midwife. Your own children might be delivered by a midwife or by a *OB-GYN.

If you died tonight...

  • You believe in God and his angels. More, you believe in Satan and his countless servants, and in various kinds of local spirits that can be helpful, troublesome or both, depending on how you treat them.
  • You are used to having a number of different religions available to choose from. Most people stay with the faith they've been brought up with, but young people seem to increasingly want to shop around a little before settling back where they started, but as long as the status quo is preserved and the different religions don't start to butt heads, you're pretty tolerant. Except for Manesians, who no-one really likes much. But then, they don't really like anyone else either.
  • You have never heard of Creationism.
  • You would most likely be buried if you're Christian, Muslim or Judaist, cremated if Zoroastrian or Manesian. Who knows what the Buddhists do - they're such a tiny minority anyway. In any case, your family will set up some kind of monument, depending on their wealth ranging from simple cover-stone to ornate mini-mausoleum.
  • Your secret ambition is that people would visit your grave and leave little notes asking for things after you've died. That would mean you were in some way important, in the eyes of both God and men.
  • You think of street food like shashliq (kebabs), samsa (fried meat pastries), manti (boiled meat dumplings) and so on as cheap food. Your wife, and especially your mother, can cook the same stuff much better, though.
  • You probably own a telephone and a TV; if you are without one it will probably be the telephone. Your place is heated in the winter and has its own bathroom, though in some rural cases this may be in an outhouse in your yard. You do your laundry in a machine, unless you're a farmer which you're not but some of your relatives are. You don't kill your own food, except at Qorban Jaş (for Muslims) and certain other festive occasions. You don't have a dirt floor, even if you're a nomad – that's what the carpets are for. You eat at a low table, sitting cross-legged (if you're a man) or kneeling (if you're a woman) on a mattress or cushion.
  • You don't consider insects, dogs, cats, monkeys, or guinea pigs to be food. Those are the sorts of things that only a Chinese would eat, and it's well-known that they will eat anything. You claim never to have eaten pork, but you're probably lying. You consider horse and camel to be normal foodstuffs, but you're more than a little suspicious of fish (unless you actually live on the coast), and if you're an older Qazaq, Kyrgyz or Turkmen, you might refuse to eat too many vegetables ("This is grass. Sheep eat grass; people eat sheep. That's the natural order of things").
  • A bathroom has a bathtub or shower in it, usually both-in-one. Toilets are in the (separate) water closet, which might well be outside the house if you live in the country.
  • It seems natural to you that the telephone system, railroads, airlines, postal service and power companies are publically run. You are beginning to be comfortable with the idea of them being private, but you haven't made up your mind.
  • You expect, as a matter of course, that the phones will not work, and are always fairly surprised when they do (which is becoming more common these days). Getting a new phone is something of a big deal.
  • The train system is good, but very crowded. The national system works excellently and is about the most reliable state-run system in the country. The local lines are pretty good, on the whole, but they don't go nearly enough places. Most of the time you're better off taking a bus, or a tram if you're in one of the big cities.
  • You find a system with three dozen parties confusing. Familiar, but confusing nonetheless. You remember the days when there was only one, and it didn't really matter whether you voted or not. It's difficult to take some of them seriously; most of them are the same Government of National Unity lot that have been in power since 1948, anyway.
  • You are very patriotic. Of course you are! But that doesn't make you a nationalist. "Nationalism" is a bit of a dirty word these days, and carries the taint of Snorism and Russian supremacism.
  • "Black" and "white" are not really races to you. The former is something you've heard about rather than seen, while the latter means Russians. When you think of race, you think more along lines of nationality or ethnic group: Tajiks, Qazaqs, Kalmyks, Chinese and so on.
  • You think most problems could be solved if only people found the right leaders. Specifically, if you could figure out who the right leaders are. You're not terribly optimistic about that, though.
  • You take a strong court system for granted, even if you don't use it. You know that if you went into business and had trouble with a customer, partner, or supplier, you could take him or her to court. But you don't understand the courts and getting a result can take years of pain and trouble, so you'd try to find some other solution.
  • You respect someone who speaks Arabic, Brithenig, English or Tibetan- but you very likely don't speak them well enough yourself to communicate with a monolingual foreigner. You don't like Russian but you can make yourself understood in it. You can, however, speak all of the local Turkic dialects fluently (some of these amount to "speaking your own language with an accent", so it's no great talent), and even Tajik you can probably hold down your end of a conversation in, if it's not your first language.
  • You think a tax level of 50% is scandalously high, but on the other hand folks who pay that much still have more than you do.
  • School is free through 12th grade (at least, it's an option, even if you went to private school); they are often run by one of the different religious groups. Assyrian schools are the best if you want your kids to go into science or medicine; Muslim schools are more focused on literature and poetry; if you want your children to develop in the visual arts, you send them to a Zoroastrian-run school. All of these are obliged to teach about all of the main religions in the country, and in most cases this involves bringing in a priest, imam, elect, or shaman.
  • Universities are paid for by the state, of course. University study is (normally, and excluding post-graduate courses) three to five years long.

Everybody knows that...

  • Mustard comes in jars, when it comes in anything. It's a foreign substance and you're a bit suspicious of it. Shaving cream comes in jars. Milk comes in bottles and is labelled as to whether it's from a cow, horse or camel.
  • Dates are normally day/month/year (13/12/16), except that you'd normally write the month and year out in full (13 Jaltuqsan, Ulu Jılı 1916) - and you know what happened on that date.
  • The decimal point is a dot. Commas are used to separate thousands and millions.
  • A billion is a million times a million.
  • The Second Great War was a war fought by just about everyone else, at the end of which Russia invaded the country again pretending to liberate it.
  • You expect marriages to be arranged by the parents of both parties and see no conflict between this and them being made for love. Naturally, a good parent will take their son or daughter's feelings into close consideration, but one's parents are less likely to be swept away into some nightmare of an unsuitable match. You remember your (great-)grandfather talking about men kidnapping a girl into marriage (à la *here's Seven Brides for Seven Brothers), and you're thankful you live in today's more enlightened times. If you're a woman, make that really thankful. A man gets only one wife at a time, but you're aware that this wasn't always the case.
  • If a man has sex with another man, he is a homosexual and almost certainly foreign. He is quite possibly insane, certainly so if he admits to his actions. And if so, he's probably in jail, or will be soon.
  • Once you've been introduced to anyone, up to and including the Ilxan, you call them by their first name. It would be shockingly rude not to add any titles they have, though. Titles come after a person's name, of course; if you get this backwards, you will be understood and forgiven, but you will be immediately known as a foreigner. (For more on Turkestani personal names, see here. For more on other Turkestani etiquette, see here).
  • You call anyone older or higher-status than you siz, up to and including your parents. The informal sän is reserved for people of your own age or younger, and those of lower status. The idea of calling your parents by the informal pronoun is quite disrespectful.
  • If you're a woman, you NEVER go to the beach topless. It's entirely possible you've never seen the sea except on TV or film.
  • A hotel room has a private bath. If it is a good hotel.
  • You'd rather have a film be dubbed than subtitled, unless the dubbing is truly abysmal.
  • You've heard that in other countries you can transact business or deal with the government without paying bribes, and you're not really sure how that could possibly work. It's the grease that keeps the wheels turning, don't you know?
  • If a politician has been cheating on his wife, you would not question his ability to govern. If he were caught cheating on his wife, you might question his ability to govern.
  • Just about any large store will take your ATM card, if the clerk can figure out how to do it.
  • A company can fire just about anybody it wants, but normally has to provide evidence that the person was more than usually corrupt or lazy.
  • If Muslim or Manesian, you probably make a show of not drinking alcohol, especially around Ramazan (=Ramadan). The rest of the year you say you don't drink, but have had more than one hangover in your life.
  • Meat (especially lamb) and bread are something you eat every day. In good times, every meal.
  • Bread comes in large flat round loaves. Uzbeks and Tajiks make the best bread in those round ovens of theirs.
  • Persian, Russian and Turkish foods are foreign, but easy enough to find. Turkish food isn't even all that foreign. French, Italian or Arabic food is impossible to find outside of the major cities, but easy inside. You have heard of "sushi" but never tried it. You've heard rumours that some Chinese started a restaurant in Buxara once, and closed it again after six weeks without a single customer. Everyone knows the Chinese will cook up and serve everything that moves slow enough to be caught! Yeurrgh!
  • You've heard that Labour Day is on the First of May, but much more importantly, it's Qurultai Day, and Labour Day barely registers.

Turkestan? Never heard of it...

  • You've probably seen War in the Heavens, Casablanca and Snow White (and others by Ditzenø). If you're under forty, add Amalia of Castreleon, Gigantic! and Kawars. Apart from the really big Western cinematic productions, though, most of the films you've seen have been either locally produced or old Snorist-period Russian films. You are proud of Turkestan's local film industry, even though most of its productions are unknown outside Central Asia.
  • If male, young and not particularly religious, you're a fan of Näzgül Rahman-qızı. If you're younger and female, you think that the way her father treated her is disgraceful. If you're older or particularly religious, especially Muslim, you think she's the disgrace.
  • As far as television goes, you watched the Altun Adam animated series (especially if you're male). You're also familiar with at least the 1990s Arslan Bahadır animation, and probably the new series, too. You might also have read the books. If you're old enough, you might remember the original 1970s live-action series.
  • You probably know the music of ABBA, EastWest and their successors, and of course your traditional folk music.
  • "NoMoreEagleZ? Wow!! This stuff was made in the 60s? Why didn't anyone tell us?"
  • In addition to musicians, several professional dancers such as Torğaı are also household names.
  • You count on adequate medical treatment, but expect to wait a long time unless it is an emergency. You know you're not going to die of cholera or other tropical diseases. You expect very strong measures to be taken to save very ill babies. You think dying at 55 would be a tragedy, but living past your eighties is something you hope for without much expectation.
  • You went over Central Asian history in school, as well as some Russian, Persian and Middle Eastern. Not much European, Far Eastern or South Asian history, though, and no African or American history at all, unless you specialised in the subject at an advanced level.
  • You expect the military to defend the country, and to support the government but not to get too directly involved in politics. You probably can name the head of at least one of the Armed Forces, of which there are three: Army, Air Force and Guards (which oversees the tiny Caspian and Aral Sea flotillas and provides the main regular border security force). If you can, it's probably the Army.
  • Your country has been conquered by everyone: Chinese, Arabs, Persians, Chinese again, and Russians (twice). Keeping that from happening again is fairly high on your priorities for the nation. Of course, you've done your share of conquering, too, and you are proud of the part your forebears played in the great empires of Khwarazm, Genghis Khan (at least half of his troops were Turkestanis, you know), and especially Timur. You'll wax lyrical about this great history to any foreigner who will listen, too.
  • You're used to a variety of choices for most things you buy.
  • You measure things in Central Asian measurements and have vaguely heard that some countries in the West have some crazy system or other involving legs or feet or whatever it is. You've never heard of the metric system.
  • Comics basically come in two varieties: magazines (mostly featuring superheroes, mostly foreign) and books (original stories or adaptations of classics; also foreign imports for the most part). Altun Adam was about the only home-grown superhero comic, and they cancelled that after the fall of the SNOR. The various Tiger Comics titles don't really appear on your radar unless you're into the superhero genre.
  • The people who appear on popular television programmes are mostly entertainers, politicians or rather strange individuals. Sometimes that's redundant.
  • You drive on the left side of the road. You stop at red lights if someone is around. If you're a pedestrian and cars are stopped at a red light, you will fearlessly cross the street in front of them, avoiding eye contact with the drivers if at all possible. Some people think that if you've seen them, that gives them permission to drive on.
  • You lightheartedly poke fun at almost everyone, especially politicians. You make jokes about the Chinese for the strange things they eat, about the Tajiks for their seperatist tendencies and strange language (unless you are a Tajik, of course), and about the Russians for everything. One of the main sources of humour is the sart/nomad division.
  • The police are armed, sometimes with submachine guns. Except for the ceremonial guards, who carry bows and swords or spears. Most of them are pretty good at using them, too.
  • If a woman is plumper than the average, it doesn't improve her looks but it doesn't take a lot away, especially if she's older.
  • The biggest meal of the day is in the evening, except on weekends when it is in the late morning.
  • There are parts of the large cities you definitely want to avoid at night. Or during the day, for that matter (like jail). Some parts of the mountains too (see Satan above). There are bears, wolves and the occasional snow leopard, too, of course, but it's the spirits that are really scary.

Things Could Be Worse

  • You feel that your kind of people isn't being listened to enough in Buxara. You've listened in a kind of bemused awe to your (grand)father's tales of the first Qurultaı government, and think it sounds a lot more fun than politics is nowadays, but you think the likelihood of reinstating it is probably nil, the Democratic Qurultaı party notwithstanding.
  • You hope not see both inflation and unemployment to be very high (say, over 25%) at the same time.
  • You care very much what family someone comes from, especially if they want to date someone in your family. Whether they come from a traditionally nomadic or traditionally settled people matters as well. You can name your own ancestors on both sides back at least seven generations, and your father's probably at least twice that many. (See also Personal names in Turkestan).
  • The normal thing, when a couple dies, is for their estate to be divided equally between their children, with the youngest-born getting the house as a matter of tradition. He (or she) is the one who has had to care for them in their old age, so it's only fair.
  • You think of opera and ballet as somewhat elite entertainments. But it's likely you go to see five to ten plays a year. Maybe more.
  • Tea houses, qımızhanas and cafes are a favorite place to relax with friends. Bars are only in cities and for pretentious young people or foreigners.
  • Christmas is in the winter. If you're Christian (almost certainly Assyrian), you spend it with your family and friends, build a big bonfire, have at least one large feast, and give presents. You've heard of Christmas trees and think it looks pagan and probably dangerous; trees just might be host to some kind of spirit that's liable to make your life a misery for chopping down its home. If you're Zoroastrian, the festival of Jeshan-e-Sadeh is on the same day, so you spend the day with your friends and family, buld a big bonfire, have at least one large feast, and give presents. Even if you're Muslim, Manesian or Tengriist, you might well do the same.
  • You couldn't name either the capitals or the leaders of all the nations of Europe. Asia you might manage the capitals of at least the large and medium-sized countries; the former Riga Pact countries and the nations immediately bordering your own you could probably name both capitals and leaders of.
  • You've never left a message at the beep. You consider answering machines to be unnerving, and possibly slightly rude. You'd much rather just not get through.
  • Official taxis are generally operated by immigrants or students. The former are better drivers. However, in most of the country you can just flag down a passing car and negotiate a price with the driver. In most cases, though, it's substantially cheaper and almost as fast to take a marshruta, a bus or a trolley (See Public Transport in Turkestan).
  • You are in favor of welfare and unemployment payments. These have increased lately, and overall you think that is a Good Thing. You would hope never to need either one yourself, because it would be humiliating.
  • If you want to be a doctor, you need to get a master's first.
  • There sure are a lot of idiots. The problem is, they're all in politics...

Space and time

  • If you have an appointment, you'll treat it as normal if you're up to fifteen minutes late. Up to 30 minutes and you'll make excuses (usually about either a family crisis or a guest dropping in unexpectedly). This will be accepted, but over that and people begin to get antsy.
  • If you're talking to someone you don't know well, you get uncomfortable if he or she gets within two feet of you. Handshakes are performed at arm's length, usually with your other hand over the other person's so that one of their hands is clasped between yours. You treat it as normal if a same-sex friend holds your hand or embraces you in public.
  • Aboard public transport, you expect to be crowded. These are all strangers, so it's in a different category to someone you're talking to.
  • Showing up precisely on time for something is either insulting or ignorant. You should know they won't be ready.
  • Of course you haggle when buying goods, or nearly anything that isn't a large department store. It is only polite, after all. Going through a few motions is all that is required however. Genuine haggling is an art.
  • You are allowed to simply show up at someone's place when it's a friendly acquaintance. They will insist on offering you refreshment, which it is polite to refuse twice before accepting. People do not have to invite each other over - except if a principal meal is involved. If you invite others to visit you, then you are expected to offer food, and certainly meat (unless you have invited a Manesian Elect, and sometimes even then). It is polite if they bring something (flowers in odd-numbered groups are usual; even numbers of flowers imply that someone has died).
  • When you negotiate, you probably play a part because that helps grease the social machinery. Increasingly some people just get straight to the point and that is quite rude. It's something of a game to see if you can force the other person to get to the point (or ask you what you want) first; but it's one you don't mind overly when you lose.
  • If you have a business appointment or interview with someone, you expect to have that person to yourself for as long as it takes to conduct your business. Plan on at least an hour, the first fifteen to twenty minutes of which will be social interaction unrelated to the matter at hand. If you have a Turkestani coming to you for a business appointment, you should be aware that coming right to the point or talking business from the start is considered rude, stupid and/or impatient.
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