setting and adjusting
A boy massages a girl's shoulders. They play with each other's hair, he puts his arm around her, she leans into him. They might sit on each other's laps and give each other complements, but they're just friends, in a few minutes they'll move on to another classmate and do the same things again.
As someone who usually cringed at hugs, it's taken me a while to get used to this level of intimacy. in my pre- Turkey days, my hair was strictly off limits to any, stroking, fingering, styling etc. By the end of my first day at school, I had become more or less resigned to the fact that my hair was public property. Eventually it became normal for the student sitting behind me to absent-mindedly start playing with it in class. I was still surprised, however, when the boy sitting next to me took my hair in his hands and started stroking it
"cok guzel" he said. I just looked at him, trying to force something like a smile
"He says your hair is very beautiful" Another boy translates. I had understood the first time, right now I needed a cultural translator, not a language translator
"tesekurederim" I managed. Soon he lost interest and I relaxed.
I would say I've come to a point where just about anything anyone does to me is normal. In my mind, I've replaced "this is awkward" with "I wonder if this is awkward" a reminder that my view of normal is a tool I use to navigate MY culture. I'm learning to use my friends reactions as a gague of what is OK in Turkey, and when I need to draw the line. ( I've had to do that a few times too)
I'll admit this system isn't perfect. One situation stands out particularly in my mind where the other people around weren't in a good condition to be judging what I should allow. Looking back, I think I handled it well, deciding for my self where my absolute boundaries lie. It was at that point when I realised there are some parts of my culture I will hold on to no matter where I go.
At school, I don't mind if someone is massaging my shoulders, or pinching my cheecks. I'm used to the greeting kiss, hand holding, head patting, and all of those little "touches" that are so normal when conversing with a Turkish person. I've even gotten to the point where I can awkwardly put my hand on someon's shoulder when speaking to them. I probably will become more comfortable with all of this as time goes on, but there are some boundaries that I'll keep with me.