Monday, May 2, 2011

How about learning Turkish?

I have some friends in Russia who speak little to no English and I always laughed it off when they said they can’t imagine touring a foreign country on their own not knowing its language. I always said that hey, I only speak English and German, and I’ve been to many countries where none of the two is the official language. But only now I begin to understand that things aren’t that easy somewhere where people don’t speak English.

Now I have grown to know most districts of Istanbul (and more importantly, how their names sound, because at first it seemed to me that spelling and pronunciation in the Turkish language are two non-related things) and I can say I’m okay with public transportation, but the first couple of weeks I was pretty dependent on my flatmates and couldn’t step away from the path I’d been advised. Since only a rare bus driver speaks English, it was virtually impossible for me to go somewhere unless I’d asked somebody at home.

Also, at the local Thursday market, you don’t have to be genius to say you need 1 or 2 kilos of this or that and yet still it would help if was able to speak Turkish.

I never realized before how far my English took me in places where it’s more widespread. I tend to only ask people in the street the way if I really can’t figure out the map or am just plain lost, otherwise I prefer to navigate on my own and feel almost shy to ask the directions. In an insanely chaotic city like Istanbul, I required guidance several times and I sorta wished my Turkish was a bit more advanced. It is better now when I know left, right and of course the hand gestures help tremendously.

It seems in Istanbul and perhaps Turkey in general it is not uncommon to stare at people. I get different kinds of stares. First of all, it’s the men of course; sometimes if you pass them by, they will follow you with their eyes for a while. As long as don’t say anything or start getting any ideas, it’s fine with me. But then it’s the women, mostly in conservative neighborhoods, who give me this weird look as if I was personally after their men. Yeah, right, that’s exactly why I am here. Most frequently it happens with the cashiers and women on the bus.

Observations from the past days:

  • Food ordering from home is widely practiced here. In most cases, there’s no delivery fee. Also, you can call a grocery store if you’re too lazy to walk 20-30 meters and they will bring your bread and ice cream to your doorstep. I might become a sloth here. (As if I already wasn’t one!) 
  • Or better yet, some people who live high up in a building have a basket with money they lift down from the window, the delivery guy puts the groceries there, takes the money and the basket goes up. Charming! I simply must own a picture of this.
  • Another comparison between Berlin and Istanbul. In the German capital literally no one has curtains. So, at night you can comfortably sit back in your unlit kitchen and observe what kind of activities the neighbors directly across from you are undertaking. In Istanbul, everyone has curtains and when twilight sets in and people switch the light on, there are thicker curtains to be drawn so that nobody can catch a glimpse of what you’re doing.


Ümit Orhan said...

Its not common to stare at people. You can even get some trouble if you stare at the wrong person. Hmm but yes, this changes if you are a woman(especially a good looking one) or someone looking different.
To understand this you just need to wear a helmet and cycle in Istanbul! :)

True story said...

Since I'm a blond woman, I don't really a helmet and a bike for the men and women to stare. ;) It puzzles me that they keep staring even once you notice it, not really looking away.

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