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Posts Tagged ‘communication’

In an attempt to meet people (and do something fun), I’ve been searching online for information about the Latin dance scene in Ankara.  I was put in contact with a young woman who used to salsa and is now into tango.  After exchanging a couple messages on Facebook, she invited me to come to her tango practice in downtown Ankara, and even offered to pick me up at the bus stop.  We both faced traffic problems getting there, so she called and asked me to meet her in front of a bank on a parallel street.  I knew how to get to the street she was talking about, but wasn’t sure which way to walk to find our bank meeting point.  Time to use my limited Turkish to accost a stranger.

I’ve learned to be strategic in choosing who to approach.  I decided on a man who looked to be in his 20s (reasoning he might speak some English) who was walking with a woman who appeared to be his mom (making it much more acceptable for me to approach them – wouldn’t want to play into the stereotype that we Western women are loose, which is, unfortunately, something I have to seriously consider in Turkey).

Me:  Afedersiniz.  Ish Banka nerede?  (Excuse me, where is Ish Bank?)

Mom & Son: [discussion in Turkish, then a bunch of stuff I didn’t understand, coupled with hand motions that the bank was really far down the street to our left]

Me: [pantomiming if Ish Bank is in the other direction?]

Mom & Son: [more Turkish discussion, which I gathered meant that there may be another Ish Bank in the other direction but they didn’t know for sure]

Just then the girl I was meeting called, so I asked her to talk to the mother/son pair.  I figured she could explain to them where I was trying to go, and the mother/son would be able to figure out where that was from where we were standing.  It worked!

So the mom and son walked me to the meeting point and then WAITED with me until my ride drove up.  I would have told them they didn’t need to wait with me, but I had no idea how to say that in Turkish.  Instead we chatted within the very small limits of the Turkish I do know:

Son:  I don’t speak English. [he actually said this in English though]

Me: Türkçem çok iyi değil.  (My Turkish is not very good.) [I say this phrase A LOT!]

Son: Where are you from?  (in English again)

Me: Amerikaliyim.  Ya siz?  (I’m American.  How about you?)

Them: Türk.  (Turkish!)

Me: Ama Ankarali?  (But from Ankara?)

Them: Hayir, Amasra.  (No, Amasra.)

And that pretty much exhausted our conversational abilities with one another, so we stood and smiled at each other and waited.  Then I thanked them profusely when my ride pulled up.  And my dance contact was super friendly, introduced me to a bunch of Turks at her dance studio, and put me in contact with some more Americans in town.  She also likes to cook and takes pictures of food.  I really hope we can hang out more.

Being a newcomer in a country where I don’t really speak the language and don’t know many people forces me to sometimes rely on help from strangers.  This can be awkward, but also incredibly rewarding.  None of these people knew me, but they all went out of their way to help me, making me hopeful that I will be able to make more connections in my new environment.

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I need to adjust to Turkish body language because it’s different from what North Americans do.  Signaling “yes” is pretty much the same: nodding your head up and down.  Turks tend to just nod the head down once rather than bobbing up and down a few times, but close enough.

That’s where the similarities end though.  We North Americans signal “no” by shaking our head from side to side.  In Turkish, however, that means “I don’t know.”  I asked my students about this today and they told me that shaking your head can mean either “no” or “I don’t know.”  That’s what they SAY, but it’s not what they DO.

How do Turks usually show “no” if it’s not by shaking their heads?  They lift their chin and/or eyebrows up.  It’s sort of like the action that American guys do to acknowledge one another, kind of like a “what’s up?” head tilt.  But get this – it’s also really common for Turks to make a tsk-ing noise while they do this.  Which changes the whole tone in my North American mind.  When I see a Turk lift their eyebrows and tsk at me, I feel like they might as well be rolling their eyes and calling me an idiot.

For example, I have asked a student “Do you have the article I asked you to bring to class?”  He replied by lifting his eyebrows/chin and tsking.  My gut reaction was to smack him.  But I have to continually remind myself that he’s just answering my question and I’M the one interpreting it as something rude or insulting.  He’s just telling me “no.”

A few other differences: our “okay” hand signal is an insulting reference to homosexuality.  So is putting your thumb between your 2nd and 3rd fingers (like if you play “I’ve got your nose” with a little kid).  And the middle finger means “this food is delicious.”  Okay, I made that last one up just to make sure you were paying attention.  But all the rest are true!  After all, would I lie to you?  Tsk.

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