The Turks know how to treat a guest. I am sitting here with Orhan, his brother, and his mother. We are eating dried garbanzo beans (not much better than they sound and causing some FEROCIOUS heartburn) and pistachios and watching The Assassination of Jesse James because it’s the only English-speaking movie they own. The Southern accents are tough, even for my American ears, and I’m pretty sure I’m the only one who has a clue what’s going on. As I result, I keep sharing these elaborate explanations about the “wild west” (and just making the bulk of it up as I go along) in order to keep them involved. Did you know Jesse James invented moonshine? Yeah, well, as far as my new Turkish friends go, that’s a fact. Don’t go blowing my rep…
Meanwhile, Orhan himself has admitted to me he can’t understand what any American says, let alone the men in this film. His impersonation of an American talking is, ‘Dontcha think, Dontcha think, Dontcha think, ummmm, ummmm, ummmm, You know, you know, you know” (which ain’t half bad. You could take that act on the road.) He has commented that I don’t talk like an American (add that to “don’t look like an American” and I hope they let me back into the country next week!), but that is a deliberate act. When in the presence of someone whose English is intensely difficult for me to understand, I slow way down, simplify my vocabulary, and annunciate with a slight British accent. Basically I try to sound like the tapes they learned English from. I figure it’s the least I can do since my Turkish is so rusty.
Case in point, while being driven to the Turkish baths tonight, we stopped to pick up Orhan’s relatives. His aunt and uncle and their young children piled in, and after a moment of discussion, everyone was enthusiastically saying ‘VaNESSa.” I turned around to smile and wave, and the aunt told me, “My name is Sophia,” the same way I must sound when I say “Je m’appelle Vanessa” to the French. Then the kids were instructed to say, “How are you?” To which I responded, “Fine, thank you. How are you?” and we all happily took turns like this for five minutes.
In the same vein, my vulgar Turkish is rapidly improving. Orhan has printed out a list for me, and I can now hold my own in what could only be described as a very alarming conversation while in Istanbul. I can’t say ‘good morning’ or ‘how much does this cost?’, but I have learned that the number 81 is pronounced “sex and beer.” I have my fingers crossed that I’ll end up in room 81 in Istanbul. For tonight, I’m bunking in lucky #13, and that number didn’t make it onto my vocabulary sheet.
Otherwise, in addition to being the lavished-upon American guest, I suspect that tonight I am the only guest. I arrived here around dinner time, and was asked if I was hungry. Unable to face the buffet this last day, I ate pretty sparingly and had to admit that I was. Before I knew it, I had a hot bowl of what I would describe as mint and garbanzo bean soup in front of me. Then my dinner of barbecued chicken wings, rice, and a heaping helping of yogurt arrived.
After two weeks with the Greeks, I thought I wouldn’t be able to look at yogurt again for months, but it was a surprisingly pleasant combination. The Turkish – people after my own heart – are big eaters. While snacking on a substantial amount of garbanzo beans and assorted nuts, we’re drinking tea that is being kept warm on an elaborate kettle set up. Although I don’t know this for certain, in most countries it’s quite rude to reject any hospitality, so I am – despite being very tired and not really hungry for a third tangerine – going with the flow.
For example, i was poured a couple glasses of raki (Turkish ouzo). I was also told that I had to toss it back. It was ‘the way.’ After chugging my second gasoline-strong glass, I was informed through peels of laughter that raki is drunk like ouzo – slowly and mixed with water. Great. Now that I’ll burst into flames if anyone lights a match within ten feet of my breath…
However, despite treating me a little bit like a trained chimp, I would still rate this family highly in terms of hospitality and warmth. It’s not every day I find people that are wiling to spend two hours of their life watching a movie they don’t understand, while continually urging me to eat and drink more because, ‘This is your home.”