Courting overseas: International dating review

The rules of attraction differ

from region to region. Varying

methods of capture and subsequent

peculiar dating habits exist all

over the world. While I was

studying abroad in St. Petersburg,

Russia, for instance, I went on a

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date with a young, attractive and

impressively wealthy real estate

agent. Conversation was a bit of

a challenge, as his English was

just a little less shoddy than my


I learned that Sasha’s big

passion was soccer. He would fl y

all over the country to watch the

games. Just the week prior to our

date, there had been a big match

between Russia and England.

After the game, riotous Russian

soccer fans killed 26 Brits.

At the restaurant where we

dined on our fi rst date, I asked

Sasha why there was so much

violence at soccer games. Why did

people feel inclined to fi ght when

they should be cheering?

“When a man feels passionate,

he hits,” Sasha explained very


“So hypothetically,” I said,

leaning over the table, using my

hands to emphasize my point.

“We’re going out – we’re in

a relationship, and we have a

passionate fi ght. Do you hit me?”

“Of course,” he said

nonchalantly. “But next day I

bring you fl owers. It is good.”

That ended my fi rst and only

date with Sasha.

I went to Istanbul, Turkey

over the past winter break and

found the matchmaking/dating

phenomenon to be different but no

less perplexing. One night, I went

out with my friends to a traditional

Turkish restaurant. There were

many plates of food and bottles of

alcohol consumed at our table. A

5-piece folk band was playing, and

people were singing and dancing.

At one point an older gentleman

with gray woven into his hair and

etched lines across his face asked

me to dance with him. So I danced.

His name was Tatsika. We danced

until we were exhausted, and

afterward he joined us at our table.

He spoke very little English.

“I love you,” he said to me

before any dialogue commenced.

“Ah,” I said. There wasn’t much

more I could say.

“I am poet,” he said proudly,

tapping his chest. Evidently, that is

a line that works for many Turkish

women. For some it means he is

romantic with words. To me it just

meant he was poor.

“I will marry you,” Tatsika


I told him I was leaving in just

a few days, hoping that would

disenchant him.

“We will eat kabob and drink

rakuh every day until you leave,”

he said. “And then I will marry

you.” Kabob is a mystery-meat,

comprised of several different

types of animal. It is slow cooked

all day long on a spit until it is

either entirely consumed, or for

several days longer until it turns

green. Rakuh is an anise-based

liquor, which consuming too much

of will turn you green.

Tatsika saw that he wasn’t

making much progress with his

marriage proposal, so he handed

me his business card and on it I

found he was much more than

a poet. He was the producer of

the new Kurdish television news

station. It had been outlawed in

Turkey up until a few months

prior. In order to work there

though, every employee had to go

by a fake name. So Tatsika wasn’t

poor; he was just in danger of

being killed.

A dead husband didn’t sound

much more appealing that a poet.

I thwarted several marriage

proposals during my vacation, but

the fi nal one was a doozy. On my

last night in Istanbul, just hours

before I hailed a cab to the airport,

I went out to hear the very popular

clarinetist Salim Sesler play with

his band.

The dark club was hopping

with young people on the prowl.

Bodies danced and grooved to the

complicated rhythms.

Salim’s extraordinarily goodlooking

son, Bulent, accompanied

him. He played the kanun, a

stringed wooden box with a

piano-like sound. While I sat at

a table near the stage, I noticed

that the tall, dark and handsome

Bulent was making eyes at me.

I was not the only one to notice.

During the show, he had several

rounds of rakuh served to me, each

time accompanied by a chorus of

whistles and hoots from people in

the club.

After the show Bulent invited

Lars, one of my Turkish-speaking

friends, and me to join him and

one of his band members at his


“You are beautiful,” he said

through my translator. He put his

arm over my shoulder and nuzzled

my ear. I edged an inch away from

him and had Lars explain to him

that I was leaving for Alaska in

just a few short hours.

He said I should stay and marry

him.As Bulent and my translator

negotiated my dowry, Bulent’s

friend, who was sitting on the

other side of him, discreetly

reached over and stroked my back.

I looked over and gave him the

most disapproving look I could


My suitor excused himself for

a moment, and while he was gone

his friend leaned over and said, “I

make you good husband. You be

good wife.”

It is interesting the words

we choose to learn when we

dabble in another language. I

understand the words “marriage,”

“love” and “fl owers,” but in some

circumstances, the true meaning

seems lost in translation.

Bulent returned to the

table with a CD of his and he

scribbled his e-mail address on it.

“When you return to Alaska,

e-mail me. I come marry you.”

I have been back in Alaska for

a month, but have not yet e-mailed

Bulent. I probably never will. I

have, however, recently gone on

a date with William, an American


He speaks the same language as

I, which made our fi rst encounter

a tad less awkward.

On the night of our date, he

arrived at my home with a bag

full of note cards. I was instructed

to pick a few, and from there

our date would commence. So I

picked. The cards read: “Pirates,”

“Dessert First,” “Karaoke,” and

“First Kiss.” (The latter made me


So for our date, William and I

dressed up as pirates and we went

to three different restaurants. We

ate dessert fi rst, then appetizers,

and fi nally dinner – all at different

establishments. We “argh’ed” and

drank pirate libations everywhere

we went.

Afterward, William and I

went to a bar to sing karaoke. The

karaoke session had just fi nished

and the bar had cleared out, so I

sang “Summertime” to him and

him alone – a fi ne song for a

pirate stuck in a permanent state

of winter to sing. We then drank

cognac, the fi nest of pirate drinks

and ended the night with our fi rst

kiss – for which we fi nally took off

our pirate hats.

For some, such a date is foreign

and possibly uncomfortable, but

for me, it was blissful to spend an

evening with someone who spoke

the same peculiar language as I.