mahalle

Interpersonal trust – Q & A

Since my article about interpersonal trust turned out to be both popular and controversial, I decided to give my answers to some common questions in this blog post.

Lets start with the most burning one of them all:

Turkey heart flag

You are a foreigner, so why do you write shit about Turks? (“Fuck off!”)

Well, this was happily only the response by a small minority of the commentators, but still, the question deserves an answer.

Firstly, the numbers representing trust in the Turkish society, were not made up by me. These were based on real answers from real people, consisting of a representative random selection of the different countries’ population. In that sense I was merely stating a fact. The numbers was not some “mumbo jumbo”, as one of the commenters said.

Secondly, I am an enormously big fan of Turkey, and love the people, the society and its culture. I love more or less everything about the country, except… well this trust issue. I experienced it very clearly while residing in the country, and saw first hand how it damaged peoples lives. But by pointing out this problem, and its negative consequences there was no ill-intention. The opposite. As I wrote in the previous blogpost on the issue, lack of trust easily becomes a vicious circle that is hard to break. But the first step if you want to break it, is to clearly identify it. Was it then wrong of me to write about it? Maybe it was a bit provocative, but once again, I had no ill-intention in doing so. I love Turkey! Why else would I write this blog to begin with?

I don’t agree that Turks trust no one!

This was one of the most common misconception in the critique against the article: That the low interpersonal trust-score for Turkey, meant that Turkish people trust no one. This not at all how the score should be interpreted.

Interpersonal trust is measured by asking a statistically representative selection of a population the following question: “Generally speaking, would you say that most people can be trusted or that you need to be very careful in dealing with people?”. The main indicator is then the percentage of people who reply “most people can be trusted”.

So, in case of Turkey, the result does not mean that Turkish people do not trust anyone. It just means that Turks are more reserved to people in general. How much they trust their family and friends are not specifically the subject of this question.

Bakkal defter note book

A Bakkal Defteri is a notebook in which debt to the shop owner is written down.

In Turkey we have something called Bakkal Defteri, isn’t that a sign of trust?

I think that the Bakkal Defteri-system, where credit is given to locals of a Mahalle by the owner of a local store, is especially interesting to discuss in the context of interpersonal trust. At first I admit that it might look like it is a system based on trust between individuals. But if you scrutinise it, I would rather argue that it is built on a strong social control. Why?

  • Credit is only given to people that the shop owner knows well and lives in the area
  • In a traditional Mahalle, everyone knows each and most people live in the same area for all their life = it is impossible to run away from your debt
  • If you still avoid paying, everyone will know about it = trouble ahead

There is also a very good reason why this system, is a necessity in Turkey to begin with: Salaries and payments are more erratic since unions are weak, and there is a need for a system that still puts food on the table for hardworking people (read about the workers on the third bridge here). The reason why some Bakkals give credit to begin with, is probably also because there are often many in one area, and competition between forces them to provide extra services to keep their customers.

So, even though there is some amount of trust involved in this system, I would rather argue that it is mainly built upon social control and necessity.

This is also my general impression of how it works in Turkey: Trust always seems to be accompanied by some sort of social control. This constitute a big difference towards the Northern European countries.

In Turkey people are more likely to talk to strangers than in Europe, isn’t that a sign that they trust people more?

Yes, Turkey has a very strong social culture. But is that really because people trust each other more to begin with? I would rather argue the social culture in Turkey, comes from the fact that the country lacks strong formal institutions, which means that everything from finding a job to getting justice in court or help if you get unemployed, all goes through your social network. The more friends you have, the more likely you are to live a secure and happy life.

This constitute again a big difference towards the Northern European countries, where formal institutions instead are strong.

The social culture can also be directly deduced from the lack of trust: If you don’t trust “people in general”, it means that you have strong incentives to turn “people in general” into friends. And how do you do that? Well, you start talking to them…

So, from my point of view, the act of talking and trying to make friends, isn’t necessarily a sign of trust to begin with.  It can rather be interpreted as a sign of the opposite.

Do you agree or disagree? Use the comment field below!

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Part 1: The Taxi Drivers

Taxi in Istanbul

The taxi drivers

A couple of nights before the local election I was out walking. Outside one of the night clubs in the central historical part of Istanbul, where you will find many of the liberal Gezi youngsters partying and drinking, stood a group of taxi drivers, with their yellow cars, waiting for the night club guests to be in need of their services. I could tell, somehow, from the way they looked towards the entrance, that they weren’t happy with what they saw.

“How is business going?” I asked them.

Surprised that I spoke to them in Turkish, they asked where I came from, and after I answered we continued to talk about other things. I suggested that spring had come to Istanbul, they said it had been a warm winter.

After a while I cleared my throat.

“What are you going to vote for in the elections?”

A slightly noticeable discomfort spread among them, they started to look at each other, some turned aside and laughed nervously.

“I am going to vote for AKP” one of the short men, said, “I am voting for Tayyip!”, he continued in a louder voice, looking to the other men for assurance.

“Have you always?”

“Of course!” he exclaimed, like it was the most ignorant question on earth. “There is no one else than Tayyip Erdogan!”

The other men repeated “Tayyip Erdogan” in some sort of mumbly choir and laughed.

“So, You also vote for the AKP?”

“Of course” they all said.

A short moment of silence occurred.

“So, what do you think about the corruption allegations? Are they real?”

The men’s discomfort now became more evident than before, and one of them was just about to open his mouth, when a tall and rather well dressed man suddenly came in front of me.

“We don’t talk about this! AKP is going to win, we gonna vote for them, and Fetullah Gülen will be gone. Thats it!” he said in an aggressive manner.

I took a step back, and if the man had had a more rough look, I would have escaped the scene. But instead I stood silent observing how he seemed to spread fear among the men. He was clearly above them in the pecking order.

“We gonna win on sunday!” he continued now facing the men. “AKP will win! We going to vote! And after that Turkey will continue as usual!”

Then he hastily went away after someone had called on him from another group of taxis a bit away. All of us watched his back in silence as it faded into the night.

“Who was that?” I asked after a while.

“It is our boss!” the short man said. He organizes our taxis, gives us work…”
“From the municipality?” I said.

The short man smiled insecurely.

“Maybe!”

To me, this was a perfect illustration of how freedom of thought and expression in Turkey is a luxury that only can be afforded by the very few who are economically independent. One of the main reasons for AKP’s success is that they have managed to activate the grass roots of the society and make politics out of almost everything in their everyday life. In a society that is almost to an absolute extent already built upon friends, family, and social network, this has become a very efficient way to maintain support and silent opposition among the poor conservative, working people, who is in an overwhelming majority in the country. Especially occupations that in some way is under the government and municipalities control, have quickly turned into professions where only people who agree with the AKP is allowed to enter. This is valid for the professions high up in the hierarchy down to the very bottom, where even workers, are expected to agree with everything the AKP stands for. If you do not agree, you will face problems, likely get fired.

I said goodbye, and the group of men was dispersed. The short man jumped in to his taxi, started the engine and drove slowly towards a waving group of youngsters at the night club’s entrance.