I’m sorry, “no” is not an appropriate answer.

April 12, 2010

One thing I have recently noticed that I find really interesting about Turkish culture, especially obvious with Turkish women, is the unacceptability of the answer “no” to offerings of any kind.

Whether they are offering you food, or asking you to come over to their house, or seeing if you want to go outside for 2 minutes, the response of “no” is not acceptable. In fact “no” is kind of offensive.

“Do you want this cookie?”


“But there is only one cookie left. You have to eat it.”

“But I don’t want it right now…”

“Eat it!”


*coworker proceeds to shove the cookie in my face until I finally begrudgingly take it…*

And this happens to me ALL THE TIME. From gum, to food at a friend’s family’s house, to tea at a restaurant, I am constantly being forced to take things I don’t really want because I am not allowed to say no. Questions aren’t really truly questions, they are more of nice commands.

I think in America it is kind of the opposite. At least in my opinion, people offer you things without really wanting to give it to you. For example, I might ask you if you want a piece of my chocolate, but I’m only asking to be nice because really I want to eat all of this chocolate and not give you any. Your proper response is “no” because it is more polite to say “no” than to say “yes” and take my food. I almost think it is more polite in America to say “no” than to say “yes”, which may be the main reason why I find the Turkish rejection of my answer of “no” so uncomfortable. I mean yes, maybe I do want that last cookie, but I still say no to it. I automatically say no. And when pushed about it, I subconsciously freak out. And then when I am finally forced to take the thing I was offered, even after saying “no” to it, I feel weird, even if it is a good cookie.

I talked about this with my friend’s Turkish boyfriend a few weeks ago, and he made the same observation, so I am not crazy and it is not just me. “No” is not okay here.

In Turkey, when offered something, you are always to say YES. This is made worse when you are a foreigner because everyone starts offering you EVERYTHING.

Try this, try this, come here, do this. It never ends.

And in response to all this, I don’t know what to do. Half of me, the stubborn half, just wants to say no. NO. I DON’T WANT YOUR GUM. I don’t really like gum. I don’t want it. No. BUT I CAN’T SAY NO.

Things could be worse. I mean so what, Turks are good hosts and really want you to take part in their culture. They want to share with you what they have. You and I shouldn’t be saying “no” to that anyway.

“I am American” …?

April 10, 2010

So the other day as I was walking through Taksim at like 11pm with a few girlfriends, we passed a group of Turkish policemen standing around and one of them turns to me and says, very loudly….



No, you are a Turkish policeman. You of ALL people should not be antagonizing me on a nighttime street in a slightly shady area.

I find it so interesting how when you are considered an outsider, when you don’t look like you belong, all of a sudden all societal norms fly out the window and it is okay to misbehavior. rudeness and vulgarity all of a sudden are acceptable.

but it isn’t acceptable. it is still rude and vulgar and makes me uncomfortable.

but i wasn’t offended, just confused. interesting.

Anladım, ama anlamadım (I understood, but I didn’t understand.)

April 7, 2010
So my work associate decided that it might be cool to have the ETI KROM website, that I helped him with in English, translated into other languages. Since I have nothing else to do as I wait around for more English stuff to edit, I am now translating this chrome/ferrochrome company website that I was working on before into Spanish and Italian. Hahahahaha. I just finished doing the Spanish version, which by the end was driving me crazy. I haven’t written in Spanish since my senior year in high school, and even though I took the language for 5 years and started learning it when I was 13, my grammer honestly isn’t all that awesome anymore, so translating was kind of difficult. I mean, I speak Spanish just fine, but writing is different. So most of the time I just write things like I would in Italian and hope that it is the same. Good translation approach, no?
I have begun on the Italian translation, and it is amazing how much easier it is for me. I mean my Italian writing skills aren’t perfect, but at least I can do it without having to think too much. I can just write the main ideas and it flows better. But, translating into Italian has another difficulty involved… it makes my heart hurt. I will always be able to find opportunities to speak Spanish, but my opportunities to speak Italian aren’t that common. It’s sad. I need to go to the Italian Culture Center in Taksim and see what kind of stuff they have going on. Knowing Italians, though, I’m sure they don’t have much organized… 😉
As for my Turkish, with all these other languages floating around in my head this week, my Turkish is not getting any better. Class is over (THANK GOD) and I have all the basics I need to speak basically, but I am still finding it difficult to form sentences. The easy things come easy now, though, so that is a start. I can tell people my mother is coming next Monday and that I am traveling to Spain for two weeks to visit friends soon. But when I have to actually EXPLAIN anything, my words come out jumbled. I do understand a lot, though, which is good, but Turkish is a weird language. You can understand what someone is saying linguistically, like understand the words and the verb tenses, and still have no clue what they are talking about. There is no feminine or masculine, no “he” or “she”, and when people speak fast, it is really easy to miss a letter or pronoun which changes the entire meaning of the sentence. So even if I understand the conversation my coworkers are having at lunch, I still have no clue what the hell they are talking about.
“Anladım, ama anlamadım. “ I understood, but I didn’t understand.
So basically now I have graduated from understand NOTHING, to understanding, but being in a constant state of confusion. Excellent.
Again, I cannot stress how humbling it is to learn another language and then have to use it in your daily life. It’s like someone telling you “Oh, you thought you were smart?? well no, you are not. you are dumb.” everytime you can’t answer a question or the taxi driver looks at you like you’re crazy when you mispronounce a word or you have to ask your coworker to repeat a word 5 times because you don’t know it.
But I am working on it. Slowly but surely.

Istanbul’da Lale Zamani!

April 6, 2010

It’s tulip time in Istanbul! On Easter Sunday I went to Emirgan Korusu, a park along the Bosphorus, to go see tulips! My pictures don’t do this park justice. It was GORGEOUS. I love that spring is here!

Welcome to Mustacheland: A Short Commentary on Public Transportation in Istanbul by a Californian

April 5, 2010

 I sent this blog to Matador to be considered for [paid] publishing, but alas I never got a response, so I decided to finally post it on here for the world to see…

One month living in Istanbul, and I think I have now seen every sort of mustache that exists.

My Turkish father maintained a commendable bushy black stache for my entire childhood. In fact, when he decided to permanently shave it off 2 years ago, my sister and I thought the world was ending. He didn’t look the same. My baba was not my baba without his signature mustache. And it seems that many a Turk feels the same way.


One month ago I moved to Istanbul to learn Turkish and see where life takes me. Life has taken me to a place where I spend a total of 1.5 hours a day taking public transportation, mostly in the form of the metro from Levent to ITU/Maslak to Taksim and back to Levent. I run around the city going to work in Maslak editing English at my father’s office to Taksim for Turkish class and back home to Ulus, near Levent, at night. I spend lots of time entering and exiting metro stations, going up and down escalators, and of course, last but not least, blatently and rudely staring at the people around me.


And what do I see everywhere? MUSTACHES! Mustaches of all different shapes and sizes. Some large middle-aged men have ones so bushy that they overwhelm the owner’s lip. Some younger men have thin ones with curled up ends that make them look like some sort of strange Ottoman pirate. Some old men have untidy graying ones with the ends drooping down to match a grumpy frown. The other day I saw a neat and tidy little mustache with a man in a bowler hat to match. All of these I see and more while utilizing Istanbul’s giant mess of a public transit system.
Now public transportation in a giant urban setting, especially one in which the language spoken is not your mother tongue, can be a difficult undertaking. Public transportation in Istanbul is no exception. The metro and the trams are relatively easy to handle, aside from the strange little fact that even though there is only one metro line from Taksim to ITU, I still have to get off and get back on at 4.Levent since they haven’t yet made a connection between the older line and the line with the stops that were built later.** The trams and the Kabatas Funicular are pretty simple, with their set schedules and stops clearly marked and announced. The ferries that go to the Golden Horn and Sultanahmed, where all the touristy things are, are relatively easy to tackle as well.
The regular city buses, on the other hand, are a completely different matter. Since I haven’t really been able to communicate well enough to be able to ask my fellow mustached commuters which bus goes where, I am having issues with the buses. The day that I actually did take the only bus I am sure about to the metro stop, it was so full I could barely squeeze on. One rainy day, I tried to take the bus back to my apartment at night and I waited for 30 minutes trying, unsuccessfully might I add, to get on 3 different completely full buses. Finally, I gave up and walked the 30 minutes home in the rain. And the dolmus, oooohhhh the dolmus, how you alude my understanding alltogether! The dolmus are privately owned minibuses that have 2-4 names of places listed on the front windshield and no set price. Good luck trying to get on one of those without much knowledge of Turkish! Even now that I am beginning to be able to function at a rudímentary level in the language, I am still pretty sure that I will not understand anything going on in the dolmus and am still too scared to try it out.
Even if you know which bus to take, it seems like every bus is always overwhelmingly full. And getting on a bus filled with school children and villagers doesn’t exactly make you feel like you’re in the big modern city that Istanbul would like you to think you’re in. Anybody with any money drives to work, making traffic in the city horrendous. Others take a taxi wherever they go. The metro has its fare share of business folk and University students, but the buses, ladies and gentlemen, the buses are filled to the brim with everyone else, the odd people out. They are crowded and smelly and kind of miserable.
In general, I feel that many Turkish Istanbul dwellers have a sort of discrimination for the public transportation of this city. The metro is acceptable, but the buses and the dolmuses are not. “Just take a taxi!” I’m told. Now I do not come from a taxi culture, so the idea of taking a taxi all the time for no reason other than to skip taking a bus kind of disgusts me, even though the buses themselves aren’t my favorite thing either. The taxis here really aren’t that expensive, it’s true, however, I personally believe that this is because you are required to know exactly where you are going and how to get there because your mustached taxi driver is guarenteed to have no clue where the address is, or at least pretend he has no clue, and then proceed drive you around in circles for 15 minutes in the rainy traffic while you figure out the Turkish word to tell him to go straight, which is “düz” by the way in case you’d like to know. (Also, for your information, “sol” means left and “sağ” means right. You are welcome. Now you can take a taxi home!)
My aversion to taxis aside, I do love that I can grab a taxi home from Taksim to Ulus for a mere 15 lira whereas in California that same ride would cost you $30. I mean, at 2am I wouldn’t take a bus anyway. BUT, at 8am, I will be damned if I will get into a taxi. But the buses are too full. And the dolmuses are too scary. So I walk 30 minutes to the metro stop. At least I have lots of mustaches to observe…

**On March 29, 2010, the “two” lines of the single metro that I take were finally combined. The first few days were a little rocky with the metro basically not functioning in the mornings (I waited 30 minutes last Tuesday for the metro only to find out it was not going to be coming…), but now everything is just fine. In fact, my commute time has been cut down by a whole 10 minutes!

Mustacheland with a [pretty] Ogre Language

March 3, 2010

Phrase of the day: Di mi? = right? (or, according to zargan, my go-to online Turkish dictionary, the exact definition is “innit?”…)

Wait, how long have I been here??

It’s been a month since I arrived in Istanbul. One month of Turkish class. One month of office work in the mornings. One month. It’s amazing how fast time goes when you are going going GOING. I’m out and about from about 8:30am to 7pm everyday. I made some friends and go out and do things. Basically, I do not have much down time, but so far so good.

Giovanna Türkçe konuşuyor! kind of…

Giovanna speaks Turkish! Well, at least I try sometimes. Honestly, starting to speak a language is always the hardest thing for me. I can be good on paper and know how to do all the grammar and even know a handful of vocabulary words, but actually getting the nerve to speak is really hard for me in the beginning. It’s embarrassing and incredibly humbling to have to slowly put together words to form simple sentences in the presence of native speakers.

This ex-pat, language immersion time around, my situation is different because of two reasons:

1. I had very little background in the language before coming here and have been taking a super intensive Turkish class this whole month. I’m learning as much in 1 month as I did in an entire quarter at UCSD, except that the language is completely different from any I’ve ever experienced and at first glance, nothing makes any sense. Yes, it’s cool because I’m getting all the language skills I need in a short period of time, but I’m having a hard time actually applying what I’m using. I feel like there is too much information for my brain to process and I need time for it all to sink in. I am starting to hear and understand the language, but I am finding it really hard to actually formulate sentences and express what I want to say.

It’s kind of a sort of ogre language.

Istanbul beautiful. Weather rainy. My name Giovanna.

English translations just don’t exist. It all just has to make sense on its own, and I think that is just going to take time.

2. I made friends before learning Turkish. I speak English with said friends. Friends of my friend who don’t speak English, who are quite lovely and adorable, know me as the American who doesn’t speak Turkish. SO, when I ever try to speak Turkish, I get reactions of shock and “OMG HOW CUTE YOU’RE SPEAKING TURKISH!” instead of normal, regular reactions. Also, people just don’t think I understand, so they don’t speak to me in Turkish. Or people translate everything instead of just letting me figure it out. I’m finding this a little frustrating and I’m going to put some more effort into fixing it. I really just have to start speaking even though it’s embarrassing. Also I do think that as I speak more and take more initiative, people will start taking me speaking Turkish more seriously.


no comment. just come visit me. haha.

I’ll leave you with two pictures I took from the port that my father works at…

The belly rules the mind.

February 8, 2010

Word of the day:

mercimek = lentils

First comes the food…

Now anyone who knows me well knows that I, Giovanna, am a vehement lover of all things edible. Food just may be my favorite part of travel. I love trying all the typical foods of a place and finding things I really love. Living in Italy for a year really made me appreciate the concept of truly good food. I spent one year indulging in amazing cheese and gelato and tagliatelle. It was glorious. Italian food really holds a special place in my heart/stomach. That being said, Turkish food is actually my absolute favorite. I think part of my affinity for it has to do with the fact that I grew up eating some form of it. It just is so familiar to me that it makes me happy. It’s like how hearing people speak Turkish makes me smile. It is kind of a form of home to me. But beyond that, Turkish food is just really really good. There is a pretty decent amount of variety. Whereas Italian food is pretty much just pizza and pasta (don’t deny it, you know it is true!!!), Turkish food has all kinds of meat dishes, pizza-like dishes, breads, yummy salads, and soups. Turkish breakfast is just about my favorite thing ever with yogurt, cucumbers, tomatoes, bread, butter, honey, jams, feta cheese, olives, and even egg dishes. I love yogurt. I love feta cheese. I love the bread. I love the tea. I am one happy girl in Turkey, as far as food goes. So of course, the first part of the Turkish language that I will be focusing my efforts on will be the acquisition and consumption of food. And then maybe how to buy a bus ticket.

Moving on…

I have now settled into the apartment in Ulus that I will be staying in for awhile! Woohoo!! I’ll be pretty much living by myself. I still have to figure out the public transport. Tomorrow I start Turkish class! I’ve been living in this world confined by English the past week and I’m excited to start to finally break through the language barrier. I am not excited for the process, but I am curious how it will be. I have never started from scratch with a language while in the country where they speak the language. I took a lot of Italian and Spanish before going to Italy and Peru. I’m kind of assuming I’ll pick up the language faster considering that it is all around me.

A movie at the mall…

We went to go see Book of Eli yesterday night at the big mall Istinye park. It was in English with Turkish subtitles. It was the most bizarre thing to sit in a darkened theatre just like one at home in California and watch this movie completely in American English, and then walk out of the theatre and be surrounded by Turkey again.

Random American Export…

There is a Popeyes Chicken at the mall. The need for southern style chicken is clearly universal.

and tonight we had dinner at El Toritos.

Merhaba Blog World!

February 4, 2010

I don’t have a real journal this trip like I had in Peru and Italy, so I thought maybe this time I’d blog for all you curious folk to see instead. So here I go…

The arrival…

I arrived in Istanbul on Monday, February 1. It is snowing. I’m not in my final apartment yet, so my bags are still packed and I still have to forge through my full, badly arranged backpack to reach the countless layers I have to wear out in this godforsaken daily event called WINTER. I’m in my father’s office until 10pm every night and eat out for every meal. Every five seconds I am painfully reminded of just how little (well really next to NOTHING) I know of the Turkish language. Every 10 seconds, someone asks me why I am in Istanbul for 6 months and my answer, “To learn Turkish,” seems to not really satisfy the inquisitor. Long story short, I’ve been having more than a few “WTF” moments since my arrival in the beautifully chaotic city I’ve wanted to live in for the past few years. But I mean, that is always how these experiences go, right? You show up, you freak out, you have no friends, and then within weeks you can order tea and find people to order tea with and all of a sudden you have a life again. And I am not impatient. I just would really like to put my clothes away because I honestly can’t even remember what clothes I have in these suitcases!

On my living logistics…

This week I’m staying at the home of my father’s best friend/boss/my “uncle” because the apartment that has been my father’s apartment for the past few years is getting internet installed finally and my dad didn’t have time to move me over this week. Since my father and his best friend work until like 10pm every night and come back to work at 9am everyday, my father essentially just lives with my “uncle” now. My father weakly tried to convince me to stay at the house with them and not move into the apartment, but that is not an option. I need my own space, and more specifically I need my own room where I can put my things, so it has been decided that I will be living in the apartment by myself. WIN! I guess my dad will be there on the weekends when he doesn’t have to be working at the port, but essentially I will be on my own. I also could not bare the thought of being at the mercy of my father when I wanted to go home. I need to be home by dinner, sorry. If my life is just an office 5 days a week, I will go crazy! So the housing is settled and I figure if I get too lonely, I can always find a roommate or something. Or maybe one of you lovely people can come live with me :-)

As for work…

There honestly isn’t much for me to do my father’s office at the moment. They have me editing the English version of the website. I am actually about halfway through the process of it. I think they gave it to me as a sort of filler since they didn’t really have anything else for me to do, but the site honestly does need a lot of rewriting and I can definitely do that thanks to years of experience editing and rewriting research papers while acquiring my degree in the social sciences. Doing this for 10 hours a day, however, is painful. Luckily, I start 4 hour a day Turkish class next Monday, so I’ll only have to come into the office for a few hours each morning and I’ll get to be home for dinner.

Turkish class…

I start Monday at the Tomer center, an affiliate program with the University of Ankara, and it is located in Taksim. I like Taksim. It’s the young hip downtown area on the European side of Istanbul. There is a multi-level TopShop (DANGEROUS) and some dirty alleyways scattered with antique booths and hidden thrift shops. My class is Monday through Friday from 2-6pm. INTENSE. This better result in me learning Turkish! I’ll be getting more hours of teaching in one month than in an entire quarter of a language class at UCSD! The time of the class is nice simply because if I happen to make friends in class, we can go out afterwards in Taksim for dinner or whatnot. It’s a really chill area with lots of coffee shops and food places and bars. However, I am honestly not that hopeful about making friends in class. I’m pretty sure that the people in my class will mostly be a bunch of wives of men who got transferred to Istanbul for work. It is February, not summer. Who comes to Istanbul in February to learn Turkish? Only crazy people. Only me.

Oh friends, how I miss you all so much! I took forgranted just how easy it is to make friends in school. I took forgranted how lovely it is to have all your dear friends near you. Once it’s all over and you have to make your own way in the “real world” (or in my case, a lonely demented year-long continent jumping existence), everyone scatters and new friends just aren’t the same. They just aren’t as dear. At least not yet. We are in an awkward phase of life and I clearly did my best to make it even more awkward by moving around so much and finally settling for 6 months in a place where I don’t even know the language.

Anyway, wish me luck with my move this weekend. I think my dad is going to come with me for my first adventure to the market for food and I need to buy a defuser/blowdryer so I don’t have to go out into the cold with wet hair. I also need a waterproof jacket because I’m pretty sure riding public transportation without one during a snow/rain storm would be the worst experience ever.

Until next time, ciao ciao ciaoooo. Baci. Besos. And all my love. ❤