Netflix recently broadcast two seasons of the Turkish series "Kördügüm," or Intersection. Plenty of cheesy dialogue, globs of melodrama and unlikely plot twists, but nevertheless, Intersection was a life-changing experience.
My interaction with Turkish people has been limited to standing in line at the grocery store on the Pacificatiestraat or ordering a pita late night on the Waterpoort in Antwerp. With the exception of the lone Turkish student in my university department, I haven't met any Turkish people, been invited to a Turkish person's home, or visited Turkey.
So what did TV show me? Other than Turkish family drama is basically the same as American or European drama (girl likes boy/ boy's family doesn't like girl or hot guy has commitment issues), Turks drink lots of tea, the highly regulated social norms of kissing create steamier romances (compare that with our Tinder hookup culture), and cucumbers and tomatoes seem to be the standard breakfast ingredients. Seems like irrelevant detail, but Intersection gave me a sense of living in Istanbul. The way they throw their hands, exasperated by the younger daughter's bad boyfriend and exclaim, "Allahalla," is me saying "Good Lord!" for the same reason. The variety of characters from a hijab-wearing grandmother to a modern female doctor with a high ponytail showcases the diversity of women. Not much unlike the range I see in Texas, from Bible-thumping, Jesus-obsessed beauty pageant types (my in-laws) to the oh-so-secular-we-are-proud-atheists intellects (in the same family). Intersection gave me the chance to live among Muslims, and no matter how liberal and non-judgmental I've believed myself to be, there's a difference pre- and post-viewing. I'm significantly–and shockingly so–more comfortable.
In Flanders, we rarely see people of color or with different accents on screen (If we do, they are tokens). It's not different from the American HBO series Girls or Danish series Borgen, but the lack of variety stunts the imagination and is out of step with the real world. Accented Dutch is an uncommon event, so it adds an extra barrier. When I speak the first few seconds are spent figuring out "Who is this lady? Where's she from" instead of ordinary communication. It's a natural response; people are genetically primed to fear what they are unaccustomed to. Accented Dutch is unfamiliar because it's largely absent from view.
If we want to be global-minded, we have to be exposed to other points of views, rituals, and accents. Learning to be comfortable with being uncomfortable not only makes us better thinkers and leaders, it makes us better people. So bring on the foreign Netflix series, and VRT, please some more foreign Dutch speakers. Fans of Flanders is not sufficient.
Oh, and one more thing about Intersection. If the lead actor, Ibrahim Çelikkol, ever finds himself single and needing an English coach, I can help. -- JHdeT