I’m just back from another fairly breathless trip to E’s hometown for Bayram (Eid ul-Fitr). Like the last time we went, the week was filled with visiting and being visited, elaborate breakfasts, incredible picnics, going to weddings and henna nights, and (this time at least) a startling amount of dancing (more on this later).
Also like the last time we were there, everywhere I went, I was greeted by E’s approximately 493 relatives with cries of “Ah, bizim gelin geldi!” and “maşallah” (which roughly translates as “our new bride has arrived” and “god has willed it”).
The Turkish concept of being a gelin or bride was a bit of a shock to me, coming from the UK where we don’t really have an equivalent. The word itself stems from ‘gelmek’, which means “to come”. This reflects the idea that, when a woman gets married, she leaves her own family and becomes a part of her husband’s family. Gelinler (brides) are expected to serve their husband’s family and take orders from their kaynana, or mother in law. They’re the ones who are meant to clear the table, make the tea, do the washing up and generally make themselves useful.
Being a card carrying feminist the whole idea of leaving your own family only to go and serve your husband’s gets my hackles up. But out of respect to E’s family and culture, I was willing to give it a go. I went to Kemalpaşa prepared to muck in and play my role, but I was apprehensive nevertheless…
After a week of being E’s gelin, what’s my verdict?
Of course, it’s early days still and things might change. But so far, it’s not half bad.
All that stuff about needing to serve the tea and wash the floors? It never got further than the joke stage. Every time I tried to lift a finger around E’s mother or sister, I was shouted at and, in some cases, forcibly pushed back into my chair.
Despite this, I realised that I am more than happy to get involved in the dish washing or the floor cleaning or whatever it may be, as I would be as pretty much anyone’s guest (and in fact, having something practical to do was often a pleasantly silent respite from all the Turkish-speaking that threatened to make my head explode by around 4pm every single day).
Although I initially bridled at the very word gelin, after being greeted as with such joy as “bizim gelin!” (our bride!). I now feel firmly like it is, at least in E’s family, a term of endearment. Being called that was like a big warm hug of acceptance.