Güven and a Pocket Watch



During my first year in Turkey, my French grandma passed away, and in cleaning out her things, my parents found a pocket watch that they'd never seen before. It was antique and gold-plated and when wound, ticked its little heart out. They gave it to me and I have worn it regularly since on a long chain around my neck. Earlier this fall, having walked halfway home after a yoga class, I noticed that the small pin used to wind it had fallen out. I walked back to the studio and scanned the changing room floor and the rest of the studio for it, but it was nowhere to be found. I scoured the sidewalk on my way home for any glint of metal and searched my house high and low, to no avail.

Losing the pin really upset me. The first semester back in Istanbul after a summer away had been pretty hectic and stressful, what with full time work and MS coursework, and losing the pin represented my carelessness in rushing from one thing to the next. I had lost something I really cared about and I kicked myself for it. While talking about it with colleagues at lunch one day, one of them mentioned a saatçi, or watch guy, who had a nice shop in her neighborhood of Ortakoy, where she'd gotten several watches fixed.

I stopped through Ortakoy one Thursday after school and looked for the saatçi in the place where she'd described- one street away from the main street and at the end of a small pedestrian street. I knew the area fairly well from having lived there in my first year in Istanbul. As it turned out, there were in fact two watch shops kiddy corner from each other on the same street. I walked into the first one and tried to communicate that the watch worked, but that the pin was missing and needed replacing. The man opened it to look at its fragile insides and poked around a bit, careful as a surgeon, looked through his drawers, somehow wound it a bit to make it work, but told me he couldn't help me find a replacement pin. I thanked him and walked out to the next shop, which looked more promising.

It was a small nook of a shop, with space enough for three to squeeze in tightly and old watches on the shelves. The watch man sat behind a small counter with his jeweler's bench to his right and drawers stacked with watch parts and tools. I loved the space for its workshop instantly. Again, I explained my predicament and he, like the first watch man carefully split my watch open with a thin blade to bare its ticking organs. He spoke a little English and I caught a sly look in his eye as he asked me a few questions and sized me up. Finally, he said he could help me, but that it would cost me 150 TL (about 75 USD), saying that he'd have to do a lot of digging through old watch parts to find one that matched such an old watch. Instinctively, I bargained him down to 120 TL, but felt uneasy about the price. He could sense that I cared a lot about it and really wanted it fixed. He slipped my grandma's watch off its chain and wrote up a small slip that he pinned to its small hoop. As soon as I handed him the watch, I began to feel uneasy and tried to understand why, even as he wrote up a small slip for a receipt with a description of my watch.

I walked out a few paces and felt a feeling of unease that I couldn't quite explain grow and linger. I decided to trust my gut and turned back to go to the watch shop. Two customers were inside and there was no room for another, so I waited outside until they were done, wondering if I was being ridiculous. The watch man scrunched his eyes at me when he recognized me and I mumbled something about returning another time. I gave him the receipt and he gave me my watch and I stepped back out into the chilly night, feeling instantly relieved. I realized after thinking about it for a while that I'd felt uneasy because I didn't trust the man.

Weeks later, the missing pin stayed on my mind. I looked for a new one at the flea market, but the watches there were nice and pricy on their own. I had envisioned digging through small boxes of watch parts until I found the matching piece, but as is always the case at the flea market, the one thing that you are looking for will be the one you are least likely to find. It's the flea market law of inverse correlation.

Still, I continued to wear the watch without the pin and happened to have it in my bag last Friday when I hopped off the bus early to go meet Gabby in Balat for a sketching date. As the bus pulled up to the curb, I noticed a tiny watch shop that I'd caught glimpses of almost daily as the bus raced along the Golden Horn towards Sishane. I'd always loved the shop's aesthetic display of rows of old alarm clocks in its window and had tucked it away in my memory. In deciding my next move, I weighed out the trouble of explaining myself in Turkish and the possible haggling with the possibility of finding the piece I needed. Since I had the watch with me, I finally decided it would be silly not to go, walked to the shop, just as tiny as the first two, and stepped inside.

An older man with a white mustache and thin rimmed glasses worked at his jeweler's bench and looked up. He had a kind face and after the usual exchanges of greeting and "Kolay gelsin", I showed him the watch. Like the previous two watch guys, he also immediately checked its insides to see if it was working. I explained again that it worked, but just needed the pin. He asked me where the pin was and I shrugged my shoulders, pointing to the street. "Is it gold?" he asked. I didn't know how to say it was gold plated, so I said 'yes' and showed him the inscription on the inside, which stated as much. He agreed to keep the watch and look for the part.

As he shoved it in his jeweler's bench drawer, and I started to feel a bit anxiety creeping up inside me at the thought of leaving it there, although it wasn't as strong as for the vendor in Ortakoy. This man inspired trust- "güven". Still, stuck in the tracks of my Western ways, I decided to ask for a receipt, a request which inspired an incredulous look and dismissive hand gestures. "I'll be here!" he said, punctuating his sentence with a "ha", emphasizing how ridiculous he thought I was being. I laughed at the difference in expectations. It is true that growing up in the US' litigious society, you learn to be more on your guard and less likely to trust. "It's not even real gold!" he added, showing again how absurd he thought my need for a receipt was. I should have left it at that, but felt like I wanted to at least clear up some things like price, especially since the man in Ortakoy had quoted such a high one. So, I called my friend Ozgur and had him talk to the man. What came out next was a flurry of Turkish. "Don't you trust me?" he said. "It isn't even real gold!" he repeated, accentuating his message with a hearty "Allah, allah, allah!", showing his exasperation with me. At that point, I did feel a bit ridiculous and, when I stopped to listen to the ticking of my insides, I realized that I did trust him. I felt sheepish that I couldn't just let go of my Western suspicions and just fully trust. What was I so afraid of? He begrudgingly wrote and handed me a signed slip with a description of the watch. I left the shop feeling a bit foolish, thanking the man, and bidding him a good evening.

Three days later, I stopped back by the shop to see if the watch man had had any success in finding a matching pin. I startled him from a nap and he jumped up, recognized me, and pulled the watch from his drawer. At the watch's top sat a new pin. It matched my watch in color, but was a little bigger and clumsier than the original, which had been delicate and fit seamlessly into the watch's groove. "Biraz buyuk, degil mi?" I blurted, although I was happy he had found a part. This launched him into a new whirlwind of "Allah"s, signaling perhaps how ungrateful he thought I was. In his storm of Turkish words, I could detect him saying that the part had been very hard to find and that it worked, so I basically should be happy. And, I was happy to hear my grandma's watch ticking busily again. When I asked the price, he quoted me 30 TL, saying that it should have been 100 TL. It was definitely an honest price. I paid and left the shop wearing the watch, feeling satisfied and only wishing that I'd been able to trust more from the beginning.

Living abroad has been a constant navigation through foreign cultural norms. We come armed with what we think are the correct or polite ways to act in various situations and, overtime, new and unexpected interactions force us to include new ways into our repertoire of acceptable norms. The realm of possible ways to do things and our understanding of other people's motivations expands along with our hearts and the love we have for the place we find ourselves. Our expectations of situations and of each other are so deeply rooted in our upbringing and culture that it is easy to categorize them as right or wrong, when really, in a different context the same rules may not apply. Coming to these realizations has been fascinating.

Experiences like this one have also allowed me to see the value in trusting my gut. Most of the time, the invisible sensors in our body will alarm us to what we can't perceive and if we listen to them, we can begin to trust- trust our innate intuition, trust situations, and trust other people. It's an amazing internal mechanism that is built into us and just needs a good wind and a listen.

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