Friday, May 17, 2013

Learning Turkish

Before my husband, the alien, and I travel, we briefly study the language of the country we’ll visit.  By briefly, I mean we take the 16 lesson Pimsleur course.  I prefer Pimsleur because it is geared to tourist needs. Directions. Culture. Money. Time.

In Greece, for example, we learned how to ask “where is the toilet?” and we were told that in the country people might not know what we mean, so we should ask for “the place.”  Since we were driving ourselves around, we NEEDED to know this.

We’ve studied quite a few languages with the Pimsleur system. Turkish was the first set of CDs that I thought had useless information.  For example, when it taught how to ask for coffee or Ayran (a yogurt drink) at a restaurant, it explained that we would get one of two answers.  Coffee exists, or Coffee does not exist.  Why would a restaurant be out of coffee?  But frequently when my husband asked for coffee, he received Coffee yok (does not exist.) And my requests for Ayran also met with Ayran yok.

If the lessons had only included “Where is the toilet,” I’d have been totally pleased with them.  We also bought “Teach Yourself Turkish” which had the toilet question and phrases that came in handy like “Shame on you” which we used when people butt in line in front of us.

The phrase in the Pimsleur lessons that I thought was the most useless was “I am a Turk.”   I could not imagine any situation when I would want to say that.  We took a few days off from our tour group to explore on our own.  Aggressive salespeople approach tourists to offer directions and then try to steer them into their shops en route. 

Our tour guide told us never to follow anyone into a building. One of our group members told us he had no idea how he suddenly found himself on the 4th floor of a shop trying on a leather motorcycle jacket.  Since he didn’t own a motorbike, he wasn’t tempted.

When we were walking towards the underground cistern in Istanbul, salesperson came up to us and said, “You look like tourists.”  I started laughing, but my husband remembered the lesson.  He answered, “Turkum.”  (I am a Turk.)  The man left us alone.

Next time I start to think a phrase in a lesson will be unnecessary, I’ll be open to the possibilities.


  1. I never experienced hard selling like I did in Turkey. I didn't dare look at an item because suddenly someone would be offering me a bargain price on it. They do not let you just browse, or look. Also, I cannot imagine "no coffee" -- in Turkey?! Finally, I once went to a Turkish music/dervish event here in the US and there was no standing in line, just large numbers of people milling about and randomly getting tickets. I'm not sure "shame on you" would have worked!

    1. To be fair -- my husband is the coffee drinker in our home, and heh wanted Turkish coffee. Shops were frequently out and tried to sell him regular coffee, instead. At one hotel that served buffet breakfast to all, included in the price of the room, a number of orthodox dresssd women butt in line and heaped up their plates, as if we tourists were just in their way. "Shame on you" only seemed to work on the younger ones.

  2. I love that! I am a Turk. Can you combine that with "shame one you" into a full sentence?

    1. Alison, I'm not sure how it would work in Turkish culture to say something like, I am a Turk and your behavior shames us. The culture there is different in many intangible ways. They even believe that smoking is good for your health.