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I made a very impolite joke tonight – a Turkish lady explained to another student that the dish he was about to consume was called “Sarma“. I immediately interjected with what poor knowledge I had of Turkey and Greece that it depends where you’re from; if your Greek, you would probably call it “Dolmades“.*

A VERY bad joke. Especially if you’re speaking to someone from Greece or Turkey that you’ve just met. **

Nevertheless, I was redeemed by the good grace of the two Turks present. In fact, my potentially explosive joke was turned into a discussion on culture and international relations between the two lands in question (and of course, their cuisine). At some stage, if I had to label the discussion, my conversational partner stated that food should rather be classified as “regional” rather than belonging to a specific country’s culture. I was stunned; to me, cultural property (so to speak) was very black and white; it is what defines you as a culture! Almost instantly, I was answered: the fact that one thing exists in one culture does not exclude it from existing in another; it is something which defines both.

I felt rather silly, since that is quite obvious. But is it, after all, that obvious? These are two culture who … well, don’t always see eye to eye. (Of course, my conversational partners were quite enlightened in this regard, so no blame to them!) The point is – one can still celebrate one’s uniqueness and one’s cultural property without comprising another culture or having to claim something. There is room for co-existence in this world!!

*I learned, too, that although Sarma and Dolmades*** look the same from the outside, they differ in what is inside. As far as I know, both dishes are delicious.

** It’s a history thing. Should you want to investigate, there is a Greek movie called (in English) A Touch of Spice. Try and find this movie anyway, I heartily recommend it.

*** The Turks have a dish called “Dolma”. In Turkish, Sarma is related to the verb for folding and Dolma to the verb for stuffing. I believe the same type of dish, though no doubt with it’s own twist, one can find in Iraq. Dolma is basically stuffed peppers; Sarma is a dish with wrapped grape leaves:

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