A friend visits from the States and integrates quickly into Turkish culture with the help of a few key phrases. She has her fortune read, and her baby is the center of attention for most everyone, everywhere she goes in Turkey!
Madeline, my good friend from college recently decided to set out on an adventure and come visit me in Turkey. Her son is ten months old, and she decided to bring him along. She had never been to Turkey before, and wanted to experience another culture. I met her at the airport after she had traveled many hours. It takes about ten hours to fly to from New York City to Istanbul. She is from Saint Louis, Missouri, and I live near Adana, so she had to take three flights altogether to meet me. I had several Turkish friends along with me to welcome her, and right away introductions were made—in Turkish! My friend had checked out some language CDs from the library and had her Turkish phrasebook in hand. She had been practicing beforehand, and now here she was!
It is a much different experience studying some words and phrases in the comfort of your own environment, where you can generally understand everything that is going on around you. Once one arrives in a foreign land, though, the depth of the language barrier becomes very real very quickly: The lack of common language between you and the other person can make communicating really hard! In Turkey, as in the United States, many people speak only one language. Here the language is Turkish, which is a rather difficult language. Even though students study some English in school, it is hard for them to understand how important it is, and focus on studying it. Instead, many students end up memorizing some vocabulary words and grammatical rules, and that’s the end of it.
Therefore, it is important for anyone spending time here to learn as much as they can to be able to communicate at least basic needs in Turkish. Thankfully, Turkish people appreciate any effort non-Turkish speakers put into their language, and even if certain things cannot be communicated properly, added hand and facial gestures generally help get the point across.
When communicating with people who do not speak your language very well, it is important to speak slowly. Pronunciation is the key. Maybe they know many of the words you are saying, but if you speak too quickly, it is hard to hear all the sounds and understand the words. Keep this in mind anytime you encounter someone whose English is not as good as yours! You don’t have to speak loud, just slowly and clearly! It will help both people in the conversation.
My friend, Madeline, is excited to learn about Turkish culture and experience it firsthand. We drank Turkish coffee as soon as we could. It is said that if you drink a cup of Turkish coffee with someone, you will be friends for forty years! If this is the case, I will have many friends for many years! And now, she will too. A uniqueness of Turkish coffee is the grinds that remain at the bottom of the cup after all the liquid is consumed. Turkish coffee is served in small espresso-sized cups. It is strong coffee and the grounds settle at the bottom as one sips. I think it’s quite delicious.
When the coffee is finished, the drinker can place the saucer on top of the cup and flip it upside down. One must wait for it to cool, but when it does, the grinds are ready to be read. People in Turkey believe that the shape of the coffee grinds on the saucer predicts one’s future. Many Turkish people know what kind of shapes to look for in the coffee grinds. One can also make a wish, and if the coffee drips in a certain manner, the wish should come true.
Having one’s fortune read often requires more than the most basic vocabulary. It is helpful to have someone there, who can help translate. After all, everyone want to understand what the future holds! Madeline and I both had our fortunes read, and the future should be bright! Thank goodness.
Turkish people absolutely love small children. It is quite amazing. We cannot go anywhere without having strangers approach us on the street to pinch her child’s cheeks, ruffle his hair or mutter well wishes. Madeline learned words such as “cute (tatlı),” “sweet (şekerli),” “baby (bebek)” and maşallah, which can be translated as “it is God’s will,” but is said to prevent any evil eyes or jealousies.
Learning another language helps increase one’s mental capacity, and also helps one to adapt more fully into another culture. It also helps one to understand others, who might not speak English very well. It teaches patience, because you will realize how difficult it is and therefore come to appreciate others’ efforts. There is so much we can all learn from other cultures, and there is tremendous value to experiencing a place completely foreign from what you are used to. I encourage everyone to put at least some effort into learning basic phrases and some vocabulary in another language. After all, you never know when it will come in handy!
Madeline will only spend two weeks in Turkey, but even learning phrases such as “good evening (iyi akşamlar)” and “thank you (teşekkür ederim)” have gotten her very far. Even if the locals can speak English, people in any country greatly appreciate a foreigner putting effort into learning a few words.