What is Wrong with Pide and Saz?

April 1996

Copyright © 1996 Pierre Flener. All rights reserved.
Do not duplicate or redistribute in any form without written permission.

I've been in Turkey for almost three years now, and every minute has been worth it: I am slowly stepping out of the overly tight Germanic straight-jacket of "must"s and "don't"s, while integrating into a society that is so very different from the one back home in Western Europe. I often get involved in discussions, or just monologues, about these differences and about the dynamics of change. Those who know me will confirm that I can get quite critical and provocative, including about my own people. I have learned a lot from these discussions, but I have also firmly entrenched a few opinions in the meantime. One of my pet topics is announced in the title: Why do ordinary Turks sometimes pretend to reject parts of their own culture? Space is too limited here for an in-depth analysis, so here is just some food for thought.

That McDonald's and Pizza Hut may open branches in Turkey is proof of a functioning free-market economy, but that they stay in business for more than three days is a complete mystery to me! How come that such companies, and their Turkish imitators, in a country justly renowned for its superior cuisine, can succeed in selling their excessively overpriced and outrageously inferior "food"? (It is more expensive here than in the USA, although income there is much higher than here.) Turkey has always had a competitive and good fast-food (kebapCI) industry, so why do these junk-food colonisers succeed in cornering a niche here, and even in selling less for more? Think about it! In other words: When will I be able to eat savory pide on this campus instead of the paper-tasting North-American insult at the concept of pizza?

Similarly, am I the only one who would like, every now and then, to hear saz music somewhere on this campus? Do I have to be a communist for liking traditional Turkish music? I, for one, do listen to such music, but this is a personal, not a political preference. Until recently, my only "refuge" from blatantly Westernised Turkish pop, if not outright imported music, was on our buses, but a scandalous decision now prevents our bus drivers from listening to their music (sorry, but I do worry about the rights of bus drivers, who, to me as a professor, should however be non-personae, according to the established ways of thinking in Turkey). Maybe this is why we get such lousy bus service: You reap what you have sown!

As the French saying "les gouts et les couleurs, cela ne se discute pas" (do not discuss tastes and colours) suggests, I'm on slippery terrain here, but I nevertheless believe I have some points worth a discussion.

Mind you, I am not asking "what is wrong with horse-drawn carts?": I am not trying to argue against Turkey's progress on the road of "development and civilisation" (whatever that means), but I am only worried about this imitation and rejection attitude. Nor am I saying that I want pide and saz all the time. Even though I wrote these last disclaimers, some readers might misunderstand me, but I am taking this risk. Many Turks seek to emulate the "West" at a time when the "West" seems unworthy of emulation. The unavailability on this campus of certain (elsewhere pervasive) elements of Turkish culture frightens me. Pide and saz are certainly not inferior, and the imports are certainly not superior, so where is the free market of tastes on this campus?

Once you scratch off the Westernised surface, you always get Turks who eat pide and sing folk songs, so why not also on this campus?

Pierre Flener