It’s been 4 years since I moved to Turkey.
I’m not speaking Turkish as well as I would have hoped. However, because I have followed the basics of how to learn a foreign language, I can get by in a conversation.
This week I’ve had some welcome and unexpected feedback.
First, on the way home from work on the service bus on Tuesday I had to reserve a squash court on the telephone. I did so as usual.
As soon as I hung up, another language teacher (a Turkish woman) who knew I knew a bit of Turkish, stood up and gave me a congratulatory, exaggerated military style salute.
She was surprised at the extent of my Turkish.
Second, today I had a meeting with one of my teaching partners and she spoke in Turkish for about 15 minutes at full speed. I didn’t have to ask her to repeat at all.
There were some words I know I missed but I knew what she was talking about, in general, no problem.
Third, on the way home from work on the service bus today I was the last passenger. As my boss was getting off the bus, the new driver asked, “How do I get to Urla (where I live)?”
Referring to me, my boss said, “He can tell you in Turkish.”
The driver gave a tentative, almost imperciptible nod.
He was skeptical.
After I gave the first direction and he didn’t say anything.
When he was about to take an early turn-off without me having said anything, I said, “It’s not here, it’s the next one.”
He didn’t say anything but motioned that he knew where he was going. After I repeated it was the wrong turn-off, he repeated the motion.
“Okay…” I said.
Maybe there was a secret way I didn’t know.
But very shortly I realized I had been right.
“Why did we come this way?”
“This is the shortest way to Urla.”
“No, it’s not. We’re going in a big circle.”
He asked me, “Which way do you normally go?”
He tried to make up some shite that this way was more relaxed.
“No, it’s the wrong way. We should have stayed on the main road.”
Then I repeated the sequence of events about him asking my boss the way and my boss telling him that I can explain in Turkish.
His demeanor changed after realizing I had understood everything.
“You’re not trusting me. I don’t know why. Every week I catch this service bus. Apart from that, I personally drive this route quite often.”
“I am trusting you. Maybe you can catch a different service bus tomorrow.”
After I explained I only caught this late service bus on certain days, we spent the next 10 minutes in silence as we continued along the wrong, scenic route.
When we got to a T-intersection I was waiting to see if he knew which way to go.
“We turn left here.” And I showed where we would have come from the quicker, normal way.
Going the wrong/right way is not the point of this story. It’s that he tried to cover his mistake up because he thought I didn’t speak Turkish.
Eventually, after it became obvious, he apologized for seeing something incorrectly and taking the wrong route.
“It’s no problem. It has passed,” I said.
Again, I’m not speaking as well as I would have hoped after 4 years.
But I’m over the threshold I’m sure many (maybe most) expats never pass of being stuck speaking their native tongue after living in a country for 10+ years.