I started writing this article few weeks ago. Since then, the world witnessed tragic incidents: in Ankara, in Baghdad, in Beirut and Paris. First I want to express my condolences over the deadly terror attacks. Unfortunately the world is turning into a monster, bringing pain and hatred. I think; we are going through times that we need nothing but more understanding and empathy. That’s why I still wanted to publish this short article about my experiences about prejudice…
I have always felt lucky to be born in Istanbul, where one has the luxury to understand different cultures. Life becomes even more interesting when you are a tiny woman from Istanbul and working in the international wine business.
Travelling is an inseparable part of this wine journey and for this reason I’ve been trying to discover new countries, cultures and to learn new languages. Switzerland is the third country I’ve moved to in the last four years.
I’ve been going through a phase to adapt to this new culture and recently I’ve had some moments that I desperately needed to drink wine. Those moments reminded me of an episode of Seinfeld where George Costanza complains because Kramer fixes him up with a bald women. George doesn’t see the irony, as he is bald himself. (Watch it yourself :-))
I thought of this episode during some of the job interviews I’ve been to. Recently, following a very nice conversation, the last question that popped up during the interview was: ‘Are you a Christian or a Muslim?’ I could tell that the question was not asked with an offensive intention. However, the question was still out there: ‘Are you a Christian or a Muslim?’ I didn’t know what to say for a few seconds.
And I craved for a glass of Rioja, how the intense fruit aromas and the sweetness of an American oak would have smoothened the mood.
Was I a Muslim? Well, if I were, would that mean that I couldn’t drink wine? I’ve had already spoken about my education and experience for at least half an hour. Did he think that I spit it out each time? : ) It blocked out my mind for a while. I felt uncomfortable by the dogmatic question. Would a question like “Are all Catholics virgins until they are married?” make him understand the absurdity of the situation. No probably not I thought. So I just smiled instead of uttering it out loud. Though I do not practice Islam I didn’t tell him that as I thought the answer was irrelevant. Religion is not a static black and white concept which allows us to strictly define people.
As Meredith McGuire states: “Individual religious commitment is evidenced less by avowed commitment to and participation in the activities of religious organizations than by the way each person expresses and experiences his or her faith and practice in ordinary places and in everyday moments. To understand modern religious lives, we need to try to grasp the complexity, diversity, and fluidity of real individuals’ religion—as practiced, in the context of their everyday lives.”*
Another similar incident occurred during a wine tasting. I was going through the whites and trying to taste as much as I could before it got crowded. Suddenly, an old man came up to me and asked ‘Did you learn how to taste from a film? Is that the reason you are here?’
At this point, only a Barolo could save me. I needed those tannins to hit me.
I made him repeat the question to see if I heard him right. Did he ask this because I am a young lady? (I am rather petite so I encounter this a lot) It was obviously not because I was holding the glass or sniffing the wine wrong : ) Was it a question just to start a conversation? Even if it were, would he use such a sentence if he wanted to chat with a man who is in his 40’s?
After a while, I had a long and actually funny chat with this man. However, I still thought about how sardonic that question was. I was not brave enough to shout out like Elaine in Seinfeld: ‘You are the one who is bald George, you!’ : ) Instead, I thought how biased we all are. Stereotypes… We are ready to label people, categorize them according to their race and religion or just by looking at their appearance or asking a question like: ‘where do you come from?’ (Great talk about this issue!)
Sometimes, we insist on our prejudices, even when people want to explain themselves. It is not easy to modify our thoughts when it doesn’t fit our mindset. These are my own personal experiences as a woman who grew up in Turkey but who now lives in Switzerland. This is not a issue about the West or the East as this also categorizes and simplifies a complex topic. What I want to point out is that no matter where we are from, what religions we believe in we all have our prejudices. However in today’s world, this can lead to violence and hatred easier than we think. Therefore, I think it is more and more important to elude ourselves from our prejudices. In fact, we are in such a period that we need nothing but more understanding, empathy and maybe more wine
*McGuire, M. (2008). Lived religion: faith and practice in everyday life. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p.213.