Saturday, January 3, 2009

Pointing and Smiling

I'm surprised at how quickly I'm picking up on Turkish, but more surprised at how much milage I can get out of only a few words.

Today, Paul and I tried to take the bus from the Middle Eastern Technical University to Kızılay, the city center, but missed the stop entirely. The bus dumped us on the north-west edge of town.

I'm realizing that gesturing and using very few works effectively, right now, is a more important skill than learning proper Turkish. I hear that Turks are more likely to help confused foreigners than other Turks, so looking disoriented is a survival skill here. When we got on the bus this time to go to Kızılay, I asked the driver, "Kızılay?" to make sure we were going the right way, and he nodded. If I'd tried to phrasebook it and use something resembling proper grammer, or even if I'd tried to say, "Otobüs Kızılay'a gitir?" (The bus goes to Kizilay?) that probably would have been less effective. I don't know what I would have done if I had used a fancy phrase and he responded saying something I wouldn't understand.

When we got to Kızılay, we weren't sure we were there. (It turned out that we were a few blocks from the bus stop we'd used this morning.) I asked someone "Do you speak English?" instead of "Ingilizce konuşuyor musunuz?" and he shook his head.

(One time, I asked a waiter, in Turkish, if he spoke English, and he looked at me like he was very confused. I don't know if that's because my pronunciation was bad, or because it doesn't make much sense to ask someone if they speak English in Turkish; either I ought to know enough Turkish to order in Turkish, or too little Turkish to ask whether the waiter knows English. I've not used the phrase since. On the other hand, it seems polite to me, though, to try one's best as the language of the person one is speaking to, and not simply assume that they'll know one's language.)

So, I asked the stranger, "Kızılay?" and pointed down, and he nodded. We went back and forth on this until I was sure we were, in fact, in Kızılay. He and his girlfriend argued about which way was right or left; they knew these words in English.

Well, they knew right and left, but got them backwards, so I had to ask, "Metro nerede?" of some other strangers.

Our first day in Istanbul, I noticed that Matthew did a better job of ordering food than I did, because he is used to being in situations where he doesn't know the language. It's very awkward, and I feel rude, but Turks are generally accommodating when I point at things and use English words they might not understand. I don't think there's much proper etiquette for when two people don't know a common language. Smiling helps patch things up, though.

1 comment:

  1. I can't say how many times looking TOTALLY disoriented has saved my life in the last two days.