Any attempt made by a foreigner to speak will be greeted with delight by Turkish people. Try to learn at least survival Turkish if you are visiting for a short time.
Here are a few key words to help you:
Vocabulary is key. You will need to know a lot of words if you want to communicate. Language specialists recommend you learn about 3,000 words. Every day you should try to learn about 10 new words, and by the end of the year you’ll be at that goal of 3,000 plus. In the process, be ready to make mistakes and learn from them. You will eventually begin to understand the proper usage of the words you are learning. It all comes together with time and practice.
The other day I was sitting by the Marmara Sea, enjoying the sounds of the waves and view of the sea with an old friend. We began to reminisce about our early days in Turkey. We started to share mistakes we made when trying to learn to speak Turkish. I had to laugh when she told me about her experience with her neighbor, who had just bought new furniture. My friend said she had noticed her neighbor moving the new furniture into her apartment. My friend said in her simple Turkish that she asked her neighbor what she did with the old furniture. She understood her neighbor to say that her old furniture was in Bodrum (Bodrum’da). My friend then asked, do you have poor relatives in Bodrum? The neighbor first looked puzzled by the question and then realized her foreign neighbor knew the word Bodrum (a lively, popular holiday resort on the Aegean Sea) but not bodrum (basement), so she pointed downstairs and repeated the word, bodrum. Then they had a laugh together! As the Turks say, “Jeton duştu!” (the coin dropped), and my friend understood the old furniture was being stored in the basement.
Speaking about basements, nearly every apartment block in Turkey has a man who is called a kapıcı (caretaker or doorman). When I first moved to Turkey, one of his main responsibilities was, you could say, to keep us warm. His job was to take care of the communal central heating boiler. Before moving to Turkey, I had always lived in apartments and homes that had central heating and you controlled the temperature yourself, in your home; I was not familiar with the central coal heating system.
The kapıcı and his family live in the basement in one or two tiny rooms. They have usually come from villages in Anatolia and are less educated and of low income. They are relied upon by the tenants in the building but never really accepted. Living in an apartment block, you begin to gain insights into the social structure (i.e., kapıcı, renter, owner, lower floor tenants and those with a view on higher floors, etc.).
One of my earliest impressions of Turkey is that of being woken up in the early morning hours by the sound of the coal delivery. It was delivered by a large truck while it was still pitch black outside. I heard the metal scrape of a shovel on the pavement. The kapıcı, with his pickaxe, also had to break the coal into smaller pieces before he could begin shoveling it down the coal hatch into the basement area where the furnace was located. It made a crashing sound as it hit the basement floor. This process was hardwork and took at least two to three hours each time there was a delivery. Nowadays, many homes have changed to natural gas. Changing over to natural gas has helped some with the pollution problem. I’ll never forget the black plumes of smoke in the early 1980s: Ankara was by far the smoggiest place I had ever lived. It was because of the use of low-grade coal for household heating. When I lived in Ankara, the mixture of smoke and sulfur dioxide created a sort of foggy street like effect similar to those you see in Sherlock Holmes films of Victorian London. I almost imagined Sherlock Holmes would appear.
If you have ever felt like you have a complete lack of words to express your ideas or felt you were unsuccessful in something just due to a lack of vocabulary, don’t give up. Keep memorizing words and keep it simple!
“For I am a bear of very little brain and long words bother me.” -- Winnie the Pooh (A.A. Milne)
Note: Charlotte McPherson is the author of “Culture Smart: Turkey” 2005. Please keep your questions and observations coming: I want to ensure this column is a help to you, Today’s Zaman’s readers. Email: email@example.com