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Published: October 13th 2009
“Why do Turkish people always say ‘yes, please?’” asked the two backpackers in my living room, after a few weeks of surveying the Turkish Mediterranean and Kapadokya. I felt myself going back in time a little bit, to my earliest experiences in this country. Curiosity brought them here, as it had me during my first visit. I wonder if they were as charmed and dazzled by it all as I was. Now they’re back home, processing the blur of new faces, foods, bus/boat/train rides, hikes, hotel rooms, salt water, breathtaking landscapes, and countless funny episodes that decorate such a visit.
I said that that’s probably what they (the hotel employees, etc.) think is the most appropriate and professional way to start conversation with a tourist - and I give them a lot of credit. Being on the other side of the language struggle, I can say with complete certainty that the differences between Turkish and English are vast. I fight tiny linguistic battles every day, and I still lose them on a regular basis (the man from Sinop who is redoing the heating system in my apartment, for example, has such a thick countryside accent that I can hardly understand
a word he says). I’ve also had the luxury of formal classroom instruction in the language, something that most employees in the tourist industry have not had.
Best of luck to all of us who are learning other languages.
It is no small task.
Turkish bewilders the second-language-learner with a blizzard of idioms, slang, and other subtle expressions that demand a broad understanding of the cultures of this land, modern and ancient. It would be silly to expect that the complexities of the English language would be any fewer. Last week, my girlfriend, trying to use a phrase she picked up from Mr. Purple, said “I am poop.”
“Pooped” I said, correcting her, “the way you said it doesn’t mean ‘I am tired…’”
“Oh, OK…” Then she went back to the lofty journal articles that she’s reading (in English) for grad school.
Damlaya damlaya göl olur… (Drop by drop, it becomes a lake…)
Examining language continues to be a main theme of daily life for me. In addition to trying to develop a commanding grasp of Turkish that will allow me to speak with some level of sophistication, I’m now working to help
others do the same with English. My personal efforts have at the very least allowed me to sympathize with my students. Learning another language goes well beyond learning new words and memorizing some grammar rules.
Check this sentence out: İşten evime gider gitmez duş yapıp yatacağım.
If I translate this as literally as I possibly can, it looks like this: Work from house my to goes doesn’t go shower make I will go to bed.
If I translate it for meaning, it looks like: As soon as I get home from work I’ll take a shower and go to bed.
It takes a fair bit of mental rearranging for such a jump to become intuitive. My students have to make the same leaps in the opposite direction while sorting through all the quirky irregularities that English has. My job is to guide them through this baffling process.
I’ve been thrown in the deep end.
Now I understand why the years of instruction that my mother received long ago at Geneseo’s fine Education Department were necessary. One does not become an excellent teacher overnight. All of the skills I’ve learned from past jobs are proving
helpful, though still rather incomplete, perhaps. Working as a musician, I learned how to improvise and appear comfortable while making a fool of myself onstage. Doing construction, I grew to know that new pains would eventually be replaced by calluses. Customer service jobs have taught me how to wield unconditional patience when faced with people who have no business being out in public.
Stand up straight. Deep breath.
The staff at my workplace has been incredibly supportive, offering all sorts of advice. A few favorites include: “Belittle them… belittle them, and then make them need you…” - this is perhaps a great philosophy for dealing with people in general. Perhaps. And “You have to be sort of a lovable Hitler…” is quickly becoming the backbone of my approach to classroom management. Well, something like that.
Mr. Purple is in the same boat with me.
This city is full of boats.
It’s interesting settling into a new job here. In some ways, it’s just like any other new job: new names, new faces, and new personalities to memorize. New challenges and frustrations, but also little victories that raise my confidence and make getting through tomorrow seem that much more feasible. I even think I’m starting to enjoy teaching, touch wood. And what better place could there be to teach?
My relationship with İstanbul has transformed over the years. I used to bounce from sofa to sofa around the city. Now, I’m stationary and others bounce off my extra sofas. “Today we did X, Y, and Z - it was incredible!” I hear at the end of the day. “Yeah, X is unbelievable, and so is Z… I still haven’t made it to Y…” I reply. I guess I’ll always be a tourist here, to some extent. Like New York, this city is simply inexhaustible. But these days I also get to be a tour guide, when I have the time.
I used to be overwhelmed by the city’s grandeur - honestly, that part hasn’t really changed much. Different things amaze me these days, though. I continue to discover that although İstanbul is a great place to visit, it can be an absolutely outstanding city to live in. And despite fierce competition, Kadıköy is rapidly becoming my favorite neighborhood in the whole city. New ways to walk to the park, new bakeries dangerously close to home, new dogs and cats to get to know, and so on. It takes time to develop intimacy with a place.
So, I’m living in (probably) my favorite neighborhood of (definitely) my favorite city on earth. Old friends and family drop by now and then (though, I’m still waiting for most of you to follow their lead…) and my new friends here show a lot of promise. Every day is a culinary celebration. Every day is an eyeful of charming sights. Most days, I get to where I need to go on foot. Winter is still a ways off. Life really doesn’t get much better than this…
…except for the lesson planning that I have to get back to now.
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