Ethnicising Practices: Going to Salzburg II

Whereas in the first part of the analysis of the Salzburg trip masculinities and femininities were at the centre of attention, the following section focuses on ethnicising practices during the trip. It pays special attention to the ironic reproduction of ethnic cliches. It was again Ayhan, who was trying to ‘teach’ me something about ‘the Turks’:

Metin, Birol and Ayhan talk about the matches against Austrian teams that they have attended. After a match against Rapid Wien, Ayhan tells, he saw a Fenerbahpe fan that was provoked by Rapid fans and although he was on his own and the police were standing right next to the scene, this Fenerbahpe fan simply ran hell for leather into the group of Rapid fans. Ayhan further tells that people just do not understand that a Turk always does everything “entirely”. If you are a friend you can live at his place, if you are an enemy he goes all out, he would die for the cause, he is not afraid to get hurt. He continues that people just do not understand that. I am asking myself why he is telling me this story.8

Ayhan continues to underline the difference between Turks and the very abstract ‘people’ which he does not further specify. He creates a picture of a ‘wild animal’ that is at the mercy of its anger and commitment to a cause. This fits well to the controlling image of the ‘Turkish male macho fan’ and its orientalised reference to ‘barbarism’. In this case Ayhan does not simply refer to the controlling image ‘Turkish macho man’ but he admires, advertises and defends it. Indeed, he celebrates the staging of the ‘Turkish male macho fan’. In his description, it is given a positive connotation. This is because a ‘Turkish man’, if he was your friend, would do anything for you. He uses the controlling image as an offering that he likes to identify with. Ayhan is very keen to other himself from the three other men in our little group as much as possible. He presents himself to me not only as a man, but constructs himself explicitly as a religious man, a Turkish man and in the following as a conservative man:

Later we get on to the topic of the political situation in Turkey. It started with Birol offering Ayhan mini croissants and Ayhan then checking very closely whether they contain pork gelatin. Everybody starts discussing how many products contain alcohol although it is not indicated on the packaging and whether it is now obligatory to indicate such things. There is also pork gelatin in Haribo [jelly sweets], Demir adds, but now there is also a version without pork gelatin for Muslims. Demir contributes a word of wisdom from a [female] friend [Freundin]: that if the pig has been processed so much that it is gelatin then it does not count as pig anymore. Ayhan does not really agree with that but starts smiling. This is how we somehow start talking about politics and about Erdogan. Ayhan is of the opinion that Erdogan reacted just right when he organised counter-protests against the Gezi movement. He was elected with 56 per cent after all and there are so many people who are pro Erdogan, Ayhan continues, if Erdogan had stepped back, the country would have fallen into chaos and, he continues, what are these few protestors compared to the number of inhabitants of the whole of Turkey. And then there are all these protests against the headscarf. Some people in Austria, he further tells me, say to him that they are thinking that the situation in Turkey is the same as in Iran. It makes him angry that most people do not know that Turkey is a secular state, like France, and that women with headscarves used to not be allowed to go to university. He vehemently asks whether I know that. I affirm. He adds that Erdogan has changed some things about that now.9

Ayhan was the first person in my research field who talked entirely positively about Turkey’s President Erdogan. On the one hand, he was again ‘testing’ my knowledge about Turkey and Turkish politics. On the other hand, he was also eager to find out about my reactions to the rather conservative comments he made, particularly with regard to the (politically exhausted) topic about headscarves. Here, he referred to the discriminating practice against women in Turkey who used to be not allowed to study at a university while wearing a headscarf (cf. Vakulenko 2007). He presented himself as a man who follows religious rituals and rules, a Turkish man who takes Turkish and Muslim holidays seriously.

But this is only one side of the conversation. When he complained about the ignorant behaviour of many people in Austria who do not know much about Turkey but reproduce discriminating prejudices, he made clear that he wanted to know how I position myself regarding these discourses. This furthermore explained his eagerness to emphasise his religious and national belonging. But, this is also where Ayhan is in conflict with himself: on the one hand, he underlines that he appreciates President Erdogans conservative-religious agenda but on the other hand, when he feels offended when people compare Turkey to Iran, his argument is that nobody knows that Turkey is a secular state. Here, only his intonation suggests that he on the one hand wants to emphasise that Turkey is definitely not like Iran because it is a secular state but at the same time he agrees with Erdogan’s religious-conservative politics. Two controlling images interact in this conversation. In the first section,

Ayhan referred positively to the ‘Turkish male macho fan’ or very generally to the ‘Turkish macho man’. By doing so he was testing how I related to this or these images and how I positioned myself to the controlling image ‘ignorant German/Austrian’. I tried to distance myself as much as possible from the latter and as a result I simply nodded at everything Ayhan said even though I often disagreed with him.

After talking about serious matters such as Turkish politics and ignorance about Turkey in Austria, the group dynamic changed to something more joyful. The four men, Metin, Ayhan, Birol, Demir — and I did not have much in common except for a great interest in Turkish football. And we also did not actually have that in common because we were following Turkish football for totally different reasons. Moreover, we were different ages, genders and nationalities, and we also did not share a similar social class, political or subcultural background. This is why the following comical situations were so important to create a community feeling in our small group. An initially serious discussion about Turkish politics and prejudices about Turks turned finally into a play with prejudices that was informed by heavy irony. Thereby, we were constantly referring to cliches about Turks, about Austrians and about Germans. In this way, we were able to underline our possible differences and also a potential sameness to strengthen the community feeling (cf. Klingenberg 2013).

On the autobahn Metin, Birol, Ayhan and Demir are puzzling about whether the bus driver is a Turk. They agree that we will find out about that if he starts overtaking a regular car in the left lane. When this actually happens, we all start laughing. (Only much later would we find out that the bus driver was actually not Turkish.) A similar situation occurs right afterwards when we open Google maps on our mobile phones. We want to check how much longer the trip will take. Birol’s mobile phone repeatedly says that it will take another one and a half hours. This is impossible because we are still not very close to Salzburg. He jokes that his mobile phone is probably adjusted to the fact that the bus driver is Turkish. All of us start laughing again. When my mobile phone then says that we will need another two hours, the joking continues at my expense because now, they say, it is very clear that I am a German, a Piefke [mocking Austrian term for Germans]. We again laugh from our bellies.

Ironising the allegedly Turkish bus driver and his possible violations of traffic regulations and the allegedly German compliance with traffic regulations can be understood as a negotiation of cliches and stereotypes and their adaption and new interpretation. The humorous negotiation of attributions and prejudices is often a helpful strategy to subvert experiences of disrespect but also to produce community. Darja Klingenberg (2013) summarises the role of humour in contexts of migration and also beyond:

The comical discourse creates an interspace that reveals fractions and contradictions of hegemonic discourses, enables (re)interpretations of experiences ofdepreciation and impotence as well as the expression ofambivalences, contradictions and (im)possibilities. (Klingenberg 2013, p. 210 [author’s translation][1])

Partly, the topics that are discussed in the fieldnote sections must be understood as a direct reaction to my presence in the bus. But, they can also be understood as a response to a Turkish team playing an Austrian team which enforces selfing and othering practices to construct oneself as ‘Turkish’. Nevertheless, by joking about stereotypes we were on the one hand subverting their power but on the other hand we were also reproducing them. Additionally, the conversation made clear that all of us were indeed strongly perceiving these differences and also that we were all aware of these exact prejudices. Consequently, the need to joke about them was also a sign of how powerful these stereotypes are.

Ironising and likewise ethnicising practices of cliches and stereotypes of ‘being Turkish’ and ‘being German’ were recurring during the trip. After Ayhan’s frequent tests about whether I was familiar with Turkey and with religious holidays and so on, the both of us and also the whole group found a common ground by mocking each other in a friendly way.

  • [1] Original: ,Der komische Diskurs schafft einen Zwischenraum, der Bruche und Widerspruchehegemonialer Diskurse offenlegt, (Um-)Deutungen von erfahrenen Abwertungen undOhnmachtserfahrungen ermoglicht und Ambivalenzen, Unvereinbarkeiten und (Un-)Moglichkeitenartikulierbar macht.‘
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