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LPT Symbol Real True Lies about Turkey

The Personal [oft-times embellished] Turkish Experiences -- of visitors to LPT

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Misunderstanding mama...whats new
Especially soothing syrup...whats new
Fouled-up Flirting...
Young Love
Person to person, hand to hand...
Politics spoken here...
For Language Lovers?
Stoned near Ankara
The Ladies Turkish Bath...
Driving in Turkey...
John can do...
To pay the bill...
Our "Private" Conversation...
Were you talking to me?
The Tell-Tale Thud
Cussin' in the Rain...
Ayran a good race
Just peachy ...
You're my beloved...
A dolt by any other name...whats new
Shish enough, and more...Ed. 5.0

John can do...

When I arrived in Turkey in May 1958, the first thing I bought on the local market was an English-Turkish dictionary. I was a member of the advance team for our company, which had just received a contract to maintain the U.S. Air Force Bases in Turkey. We arrived in Istanbul via Pan Am after midnight. On the way into the city, all the neon signs looked so strange to me: Tuzcuoglu, HacI Bekir LokumlarI, Koç. I thought, I'll never be able to learn this language. Then I saw a sign reading is BankasI and I was sure the word "bank" was lurking somewhere in there. Since I knew one word of Turkish already, I decided to stay.

I love language. (They say marriages succeed or fail, not on sex or money problems, but on language alone.) And I love foreign languages almost as much as English. In high school and college I had taken five years of Latin, three years of French, two years of German, and loved them all. Now, here I was in a new country with an exotic new language to conquer -- Turkish! Additional signs along the way such as ÇInar Otel, Pera Palas, and Anadolu Sigorta, only fortified my decision to stay since I saw clearly in those neon lights the words "hotel," "palace," and "Anatolia. "

The next morning, before my teammates were out of bed, I left the Istanbul Hilton and hopped a "taksi" (another Turkish word I grasped easily). I ordered the driver to take me to Istiklal Caddesi (Independence Avenue) where I had seen on my tourist map in English, the University Bookstore. I leapt out, telling the driver to "Wait!" (I knew he understood that word because I hadn't paid him), and charged into the bookstore.

"Do you speak English?" I barked at the young, beautiful, dark-haired, dark-eyed girl standing behind the cash register.

"I want to buy an English-Turkish dictionary," I shouted, "Çabuk!" (Quickly) -- proud of another Turkish word I had learned the night before.

The pretty girl started shaking. "Yes, sir! Please follow me, sir!" She ran to the front of the store and grabbed the Redhouse English-Turkish Dictionary off a shelf. "Here!" she said, almost throwing it at me.

I flipped through the pages and discovered that it had no phonetic pronunciation of the Turkish words. "You wretched girl! How am I to know how to pronounce Turkish words without the phonetic spelling?"

She looked bewildered and started trembling again.

"Bring me an English dictionary and l'll show you what I mean," I said. "Çabuk!"

She reached into the front window of the shop and pulled out a copy of Merriam-Webster's Second Collegiate Dictionary of the English Language, my favorite.

"Good," I said, flipping it open at random to the first word on the page. "Look, archaeology... and in parentheses ar-ke-ol-i-je. You see?"

She started to apologize for no parentheses in her Turkish dictionary, but it was getting late so I said, "Oh, never mind, I'll take it. How much?"

I got back to the Hilton at 10:15 a.m. and found our whole team sitting on their luggage outside the entrance of the hotel. We were scheduled to fly to Ankara at 11:15 a.m via THY (Turk Hava Yollari-Turkish Air Lines).

"Hurry, John!" said Nila Springer, the only female on our advance team. "We were about to leave you here." She was our Mother Hen, our Personnel Director, but I knew she wouldn't leave without me. I ran up to my room, threw the Redhouse into my ditty bag along with my airline ticket, passport, Polaroid camera, and Baby Ruth bars (l had already packed my suitcase) -- and was down in three minutes standing beside Nila, waiting for the "otobus" to take us to the airport.

After we boarded the THY plane to Ankara, I sat down beside Nila. She opened up her thick, loose-leaf notebook of SOPs (Standing Operating Procedures) and started revising them. I opened up my Redhouse Dictionary and learned immediately that many Turkish vowels were Latin or European:
[a] as in father
[e] as in bet
[i] as in machine
[o] as in boat
[u] as in tutu

Then I learned that most of the consonants were the same as the Roman alphabet, with a few exceptions:
[ç] is pronounced ch as in China
[s] is sh as in shell
[j] is soft as in the French Jacques
[c] is a hard j as in jazz

Suddenly I realized that Turkish was completely phonetic. Every word was pronounced exactly as spelled: Amerikan, bambu (bamboo), kanser (cancer), fotograf. I got a hot flash thinking of my shameful behavior in the University Bookstore that morning. No wonder that pretty girl must have thought I was mad -- demanding a Turkish Dictionary with the pronunciation in parentheses. Oh, Allah, forgive me!

Just then I realized how to write my name John in Turkish. The J was hard [C], the o was the sound of [a] in father, the h was silent (ridiculous and unnecessary), and the n was no problem. I got so excited, I pulled out an air-sick bag from the pouch of the seat in front of me and printed on it in capital letters :


I showed it proudly to Nila.

"It's in the back," she said, jerking her thumb toward the rear of the airplane.
JT (July '97)

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To pay the bill...

My job required that I speak Turkish when I was stationed there. It also provided me with the opportunity for some nice European side-trips. And on one such side-trip, I bought a little Austin A-27 new in Dusseldorf, and started driving it back to Ankara.

It was the summer of 1956.

Through Germany and Austria I'd had plenty of company on the roadways, but in Yugoslavia I'd been pretty much on my own.

Just to be on the safe side, I decided to spend a night in Belgrade -- where I visited the US embassy and got clear directions to the exit border-post on the Greek frontier.

The next morning, driving a southbound road out of Belgrade, I was attracted by the sight of a colorful group of local folks in a passing haywagon -- and I stopped to take their picture.

No sooner had I snapped the picture than a cop appeared on a bicycle , and he began to raise hell with me for taking the photo -- with an electricity power station in background. A detail I had not even noticed.

I didn't speak any Serb, but I knew enough Russian to realize that he aimed to run me in and to confiscate my camera -- I had been warned of this possibility by the Army attache at the embassy in Belgrade .

This was not part of my plan. I only had a three-day visa to get through the country. I'd already used half of it -- and the longest part of trip was still to come.

I had to think fast…

So I looked at the cop on his bike, said da da to him, and hit the gas -- foot to the floor .

A half mile ahead, I ran into a village -- in the midst of 'market day'…Looking behind, I saw the cop pedalling furiously and ringing his little bell! I guessed (hoped) that nobody would pay any attention to him (or, for that matter, to me) . And, mercifully, I was still well in the lead.

So, by continuously honking my horn, I made it through the crowd, through the village, and out the other end into the open countryside -- with my throttle open all the way, I was outtathere...

It soon began to get dark. And rain set in and got heavier by the hour (for which I thanked God, since it made it all the more difficult for authorities to spot me) . Finally, at about 1 or 2 in the AM, I arrived in Skopiye, the capital of the (then) Yugo province of Macedonia. It was still raining like crazy.

I entered the only hotel with an outside light, noting at the time that it was same hotel recommended to me by my US gang in Belgrade. I registered, went straight to my room, and crashed.

Well, I slept in the next day. And when I finally got up about 10:30 AM, I staggered downstairs for breakfast.

I found the dining room and got a menu from a waiter -- a menu in Serb, which didn't help much. So on a whim, I closed my eyes and muttered "Ham and eggs..." To my surprise, the waiter seemed to understand -- at least he wrote something down, and headed for the kitchen…

I cast a look around, and spotted a number of small empty glasses on neighboring tables -- and in my (then) innocence assumed that they had once contained fruit juice. I got another waiter's attention and grunted and pointed to my lips. He quickly provided a decanter and glass, filled the glass and I tasted.

It was Slivovitz -- otherwise known as a "blast from hell" among visiting Westerners, as I later discovered. The natives were already boozing at 10:30 in the AM!

I decided to join in the fun. And ten minutes later, believe it or not, the waiter delivered real Ham and eggs, and I dived in with relish.

When I had savoured the last bite (and sip), I started getting ready to leave. But, no matter how I tried, I couldn't get the waiter to understand that I had finished my meal and wanted to pay the bill. I tried French, Italian, German and, of course, English. But I got nothing except a blank look.

So in utter desperation, I closed my eyes, again, and roared out "HESAP!" -- in Turkish.

Whereupon the waiter smiled broadly and said, in perfect Turkish: "Why didn't you say 'Hesap' in the first place?!"

Stunned to find a Turkish-speaking waiter in such a remote and out-of-the-way locale, I could only utter: "How was I to know you speak Turkish?"

He instantly replied: "Everybody here speaks Turkish! It is the only medium of common communication around these parts!!!"

The rest of my trip was uneventful, and the Yugo police never managed to trace me.
But when I got back to Ankara, I checked the Austin's odometer...
I had travelled 2,000 'interesting' miles from Dusseldorf --
and it was good to be home.
RFZ (August '97)

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