Cultural Immersion Confusion

This weekend, we didn’t swim or tread water very elegantly, but we didn’t sink, either!  And we are ready for more.

We have been lamenting our lack of basic Turkish conversational ability after 12 intense weeks of studying Turkish.  We have been so dedicated and focused, that when our friends get here next week and later in May, I can’t wait to become a tourist in Istanbul.  We have studied at Tömer, a branch of Ankara University.  We’ve been well versed in grammar, in such detail that we have learned esoteric ways of writing Turkish for newspapers, but we haven’t gotten to future tense yet.

In our last two classes, we will be tested, and we know we will fail.  We contemplated bailing on the test, but have decided it won’t hurt us to cram for it, just for fun.

We must be forced to speak the language to Türks, without the option to speak English.  Our Turkish friends converse with us in English.  This weekend, however, we had to do our best to speak Turkish.  It began with our arrival home on Thursday evening.  Our landlady was in her car in the front of the building and in Turkish invited us for kahve or çay.  She said she would contact her daughter, who was the prior occupant of our apartment, as well.  I wasn’t clear where we would meet.  I asked nerede? (where) a couple of times (nerede?, and nereye?, and neresi all mean where, and I honestly don’t know how to use them), and was still not sure, so I said “Bizim Ev?”  (our home).  She said “evet” (yes).  Fine, we set it for Pazar (Sunday) at birde (1 pm).  I wasn’t clear if it was in our apartment or hers, and I wasn’t exactly sure which apartment in the building she lives in.

Friday night we had expat friends to dinner. They have lived in Turkey for many years and speak Turkish.  I asked them what sort of plans they thought I had made with Neriman.  My understanding was our landlady had invited herself to our home, but I didn’t believe it, thinking it odd.  Linda confirmed that Neriman meant it to be at her own apartment, and that we should take a small sweet.  We could ask the kapıcı (doorman) which was Neriman’s unit.

For Saturday night we were invited to the home of a class friend’s Turkish mother-in-law for dinner.  Arne, who’s German from Munich, and his Turkish wife speak German and English.  Arne is struggling with Turkish as we are, and Semin (his wife) and her mother Hikmet agreed that what we have learned isn’t what we need first.  Hikmet speaks very good English, way much better than our Turkish, but we still need a decent level of Turkish to be able to converse well with her.  So, our language chops, such as they are(not), were exercised last night.

Hikmet is a very interesting woman, who has traveled.  She is outgoing, with a career and life full of stories.  We got the gist, but would have loved to understand better.  One unfortunate tale, she was in New York City last year with a Turkish friend,  at a subway stop near Wall Street waiting with heavy luggage to go to the airport.  The train was delayed and by the time it finally came, the station was full.  When the doors opened, her friend boarded ahead of her and a young African American woman behind started screaming at Hikmet that she was rich and shouldn’t be using the subway.  She was pushing Hikmet’s big suitcase and yelling in her face.  No one in the car reacted.  Eventually Hikmet entered the car, and the train moved to the next station, the woman yelling at Hikmet until she exited there.  After that, the predominately white passengers were solicitous and helpful to Hikmet, but no one intervened during the incident.  Hikmet tested an interpretation on us…”have black people in the US now become aggressive because they have been emboldened by a black president?”  Given the profile of passengers and the stop where she was waiting, we felt Hikmet was the victim of a crazy woman, and we hated to hear the story.

This morning, we had a couple of hours before we had to head upstairs for kahve/çay. I prevailed upon Jim to go out in the rain and find a small box of candy.  It being Sunday, I wasn’t sure what he’d find, but our favorite little gift place, Ҫikolata Dükkan (Chocolate Shop) a couple of blocks away was open, and so we felt properly prepared to visit our landlady.

The little shop is as cute as the package.

The little shop is as cute as the package.

We have an L-shaped salon, with an area for TV viewing, the dining table, and then another sitting alcove.   For entertaining we use the alcove area which has a great sea view.  I wanted to test if switching the furniture between the seating areas would serve our usage better, so we moved it all around, distressing Lucy and Rita in the process.  (Since  the chaos of moving out of our California home, the necessary vet visits, the plane flight and the month in Cihangir before settling here, they get nervous at the slightest hint of change.)

The Marmara Sea at night. The big sehpa (coffee table) holds a lot of meze for appetizers.

The Marmara Sea at night. The big sehpa (coffee table) holds a lot of meze for appetizers.

I had just gone to change clothes to walk upstairs, when the doorbell rang at 12:50.  Oops.  I opened the door and there stood our landlords all dressed up with a gift in hand.  I clearly didn’t look ready, and I said “Merhaba. On dakika.”  (Hi, ten minutes).  They gave us 20 minutes which was enough time to change clothes, set up the samovar for çay and arrange the cake we had bought for Friday night dinner when I didn’t remember if I’d asked our friends to bring dessert, which they did.

This servant offers hot çay all afternoon

This servant offers hot çay all afternoon

Neriman and her husband Selatin don’t speak much English. Their English proficiency might be less than our Turkish.  So we bumbled along, and here is what we learned, accuracy unknown:  Lucy barks all the time if we are not home, and it’s been worse in March and April than January and February.  So we determined that we must leave all of the windows closed when we leave her in the house.  We don’t want to get evicted from this place we love.  (Lucy probably is making sure we go back to California).

We learned that their granddaughter, Lara, who goes to school at University of Virginia is graduating this summer and she and her mother Figen, are going to tour America.  Then the whole family is going to Bodrum on the Mediterranean coast for a wedding of a family member here in the building.  I found the words to ask if Neriman has a new dress.  Yes.  Later in June they will go to their summer home down the coast where they will garden and fish.  I asked if the building would be boş (empty).  No, just a few folks leave.  We’ll be here holding the fort too.

Lucy and Jim now share the little sofa in front of the TV.

Lucy and Jim now share the little sofa in front of the TV.

Having to fly solo, without any translator, is the best practice we can have.  We don’t think we got an “A” in hospitality.  For one thing, there was that awkwardness at the door.  Then they wanted filtre kahve ,which they called American coffee.   I didn’t ask how they preferred it, although I did understand that she wanted süt (milk) and şekirsiz (no sugar). I did consider what to brew, and since Türk kahvesi is strong, I decided that’s how they would want it.   In hindsight, I remembered that our tutor orders filtre kahve weak, and, I think, with milk.  I learned how to ask what I would like, but not what she orders for herself.  What I offered Neriman was what I like: kahve sert olsun çok az süt olsun (Dark coffee with a little milk). They did not want tea, and I’d made enough for the four of us for a couple of hours of non-stop drinking – which the samovar facilitates (tea IS what we do in Turkey after all!).  Neriman commented on the strength of the tea I was drinking, calling it kırmızı (red). In the ensuing conversation I ascertained that she likes weak coffee and tea.

We learned that there are Americans living on the top floor.  The wife is Mexican (which is the Americas) and doesn’t speak English.  We aren’t certain if the man does – but we decided to leave a note in their box.  We are here a lot, and we’ve never seen them.

I also learned that I need to ask many more questions about tea and coffee preferences.  The samovar takes care of that if people pour their own – the pot on top is very strong, and one adds water to the glass to taste, sometimes 10:1 water:tea, I read somewhere.  On Saturday night we learned that dropping by unannounced is very Turkish.  When we were meeting to rent our apartment, Neriman would offer us çay or Türk kahvesi. She’d phone her maid who would bring down fresh beverages and wonderful little nibbles. Clearly she had them on hand.  I know her standards.  We didn’t meet them.

I hope we get another chance with Neriman and Selatin.  Maybe we won’t because we are just tenants; or because we are such horrible hosts, clearly not worth wasting time on.  The cake was not fresh, it didn’t taste good. The coffee was too strong…

Having to swim under our own power in the language arena was great practice, and I hope we can do it with them again.  They brought us a lovely housewarming gift, and we have a box of chocolates to eat. Also, we tested the new furniture arrangement much sooner than we expected to…it works well. Afiyet Olsun.

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2 thoughts on “Cultural Immersion Confusion

  1. It wouldn’t have been fun for you if there were no challenge. I’m so proud of you for trying so hard, working so hard to learn the language and admitting mistakes. It’s the only way we can learn. I’m teaching a new course this semester and am making lots of big mistakes…. wow, will that course be better next year. Take a look at my new website, dearcharlie.org.

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  2. Hi, I have been using a device that Ryan loaned me that makes a high pitched sound when dogs bark.  Humans can’t hear it but dogs quickly learn that their barking causes the annoying sound.  There are two dogs at the end of the driveway that run to the fence and bark at me around the perimeter of their property.  When I’m carrying what looks like a little birdhouse but is a battery operated, shrill sound emitter, they stop and just watch me.  The dog can’t be hard of hearing and Bob and Diana’s Lucy is so it doesn’t work on her but it also works on Rob and LuAnne’s dogs.  I actually like those dogs now.   The family is here now and I’ll sign off and write more tomorrow.   xxx   Joan

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