Thursday, October 21, 2010

Turkish Directions

This is nothing new, but I thought you might get a kick out of this. Let me start with some background and a valuable lesson learned early on.

Four years ago, when I was still new in Turkey, a fellow expat and I made plans to go out to dinner with our respective boyfriends. She and I made all the plans; the men just had to show up. C picked me up from work, and we started to drive. "So, where are we going?" he asked me.

"I've got the address right here." I proudly produced my Palm Pilot, pulled up the address and read it out to him.

"What's that? Where's that?" he asked.

"What do you mean, where's that? This is your city!"

Well, who knew, but in Turkey things don't work that way. Addresses, streets, directions don't work that way.

Anyway, to make a long story short, C got on the phone with my friend's boyfriend and we figured out how to get to their place. But not without the two of them having a good laugh over us girls and our western assumptions!

So this is how it works when you want to give directions: first, you state the neighbourhood. If it's Istanbul, district first, then neighbourhood. Then you state the closest main street, and a landmark, such as a restaurant or a school. Then you might get more specific with the colour of the building, or which business is on the ground floor of the apartment. But don't bother with an actual street address, since apparently only the postal service uses or understands that system.

I was reminded of all this when I received directions to an event on raising bilingual kids I'm attending on Saturday. Can you make sense of this?

"Dumlupınar 17, Caferaga mah Kadiköy Istanbul. Near MUHURDAR Cad. and Burger King on corner of Muhurdar Cad. and Dumlupınar Sok. close to SIFA Hastanesi and next to Gümüş Cafe and opposite Sahaf Cafe. See you at Greenhouse!"


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

E-Books -- An Expat's Necessity?

A Picture of a eBookImage via WikipediaFor a few months now, I've seen colleagues, friends and even traveling relatives carry around either a Kindle or an iPad, and I can no longer ignore what seems to be a growing trend. I need to decide: do I buy into it? (And is it a trend, or will e-books indeed become what MP3 players now are to music?)

If I still lived in Toronto, if I weren't an expat, there's no way I would even be considering this. But an expat I am, so here goes:

  • an immediate expense (especially if I choose the iPad, which is way more than an e-book)
  • new technology = being replaced by improved new technology ... so would my Kindle quickly become 'old' the way the first iPods quickly did?
  • being unable to borrow from and lend books to friends, which is just plain fun
  • guilt: my school's library has a lot of books and magazines, and I should take advantage!
  • Never again having to pack, move and unpack books, as I already have so many times in my life, as I did this summer, and as I undoubtedly will again.
  • Being able to 'buy' a book and start reading it instantly (or so I'm told). This is especially key as English books are not easy to come by in Turkey. Or at least they weren't in Tarsus or Adana. Although they are in Istanbul, as I discovered much to my delight yesterday when I walked into Remzi Kitabevi and the first thing I saw, opposite the entrance, was a huge shelf of recently published English books, including several by Malcolm Gladwell and Elif Shafak's latest novel. Not your standard 'bestseller' fare. So anyway, perhaps this particular point is moot now that we live in Istanbul.
  • English books in Turkey are expensive; e-books cost the same everywhere (I would think! Please let me be right!)
  • Ordering books from to Turkey has just gotten more complicated and it has nothing to do with the bookseller.
  • E-book readers really aren't expensive at all, averaging around $150. If I buy 5 English books from a Turkish bookstore, I've spent around that much. 10 if I buy them on a trip home to Canada. But then of course I've got to lug them back with me ...
With all the 'pro' arguments, why haven't I just gone ahead and bought a Kindle? None of the items on my 'con' list are enough to dissuade me. What it comes down to, then, is this: I'm afraid I'd miss the feel of a book in my hand; would miss the smell of books; would miss holding one page between my thumb and forefinger as I read the previous page, anticipating the next; that I wouldn't be able to underline or otherwise mark up passages I find particularly inspiring. And most of all, that I'd miss seeing my collection grow on my shelves, grow until the next big heart-breaking purge.
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Monday, October 18, 2010

An Argument Against Owning Pets

Let me preface by saying I grew up with cats and have also been a dog owner. Let me also add that I absolutely love animals. I stop on the street to pet anything that'll accept a little cuddle, and have no qualms about Baby getting up close to the stray cats that come around to our terrace and beg for food. I really, really love animals.

But I've been firm with myself over the past few years, and while I cannot imagine having a pet-free household forever, I do not want any now. We travel too much, for one thing; and it's just too much responsibility.

That said, lately my resolve has been waning. Baby loves pets too, but until recently, I was
happy to let him play with our friends' dogs and cats. Then a young grey tabby started coming round. I estimate he was about six months old, so past the worst of the kitten stage, but young enough to train. (Assuming one can train a cat. We'll talk about that another day.) He was incredibly sweet, and would put up with Baby's tugs and pokes; he would head-butt Baby lovingly, and purr; he wasn't scared by Baby's squeals of delight. Once, he snuck into the
house and I found him sleeping curled up in a corner of Baby's room.

My resolve was in serious jeopardy.

Then I got the following email from my brother, who has two cats.

I have a cat flap, and my beasts regularly drag half-dead (which means half-alive) RATS into the house!

Once, the first time, the damned thing got away from them ... The next day, while watching TV, I saw the very much alive rat hiding on top of the curtains! Since that fiasco, the cats drag in vermin that can't get away. Often I just find headless rodents, or worse, just the entrails.

That's yuck. Had to clean up that the other day.

My resolve has returned.

Sunday, October 17, 2010


Yesterday while walking along Istiklal Caddesi, I saw this sign outside a Starbucks:

"Ring bell for assistance," it reads in Turkish.

The small step was no challenge for me and my stroller, but someone in a wheelchair would have definitely needed help. Seeing this sign made me happy -- I have faced more difficult entrances than this with my stroller, where not a ramp or elevator was in sight.

I love when it is obvious that someone has thought of such details. It tells me that someone not only recognized a problem, but did something about it. And that in turn inspires confidence that the employee or business is a good one.

Except I'm not sure how the fact that said Starbucks is three-storeys high but has only one washroom fits with that theory.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Reading - an Update

Am having mixed feelings about the book of Pamuk's essays ... don't know how much further I'll push on.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Other Colors: Essays and a Story

I've just ordered books by several of who may very well turn out to be among my new favourite writers. Earlier this year I took a creative non-fiction writing course with Liz Boltz Ranfeld, who introduced me to several marvelous authors. Hungry for more of their work, I've been carrying their names with me on a list for months now, and finally got around to buying their books last week.

I think I'll keep their names a secret for now, posting about them one by one as I read them. In the meantime, I'll tell you how excited I am to have gotten my hands on a collection of essays by Orhan Pamuk. Controversial in Turkey and perhaps therefore so well-known in other countries, I'll admit I've left more of his novels unfinished than finished. But the ones I loved, I really loved; and I'm always a sucker for the essays of novelists.

I found out about "Other Colors: Essays and a Story" by accident about a month ago, and was delighted to learn that the school where I work has it in its library. I was even more thrilled to discover how FAT it is when I picked it up today. Turning from the table of contents to get to the first page, I was surprised to find two and a half more pages of table of contents!

I just hope that this book won't end up as so many Pamuk books before it -- abandoned.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

It's that time of year again ...

NaNoWriMo is back! And even though I don't have nearly the time I did living in Tarsus, where my hobbies were vital to my mental well-being, I am determined to do it again -- I will write a 50,000-word novel in thirty days.

And while I may have more distractions here in Istanbul, I also have loads of cafes in which to write, writing buddies galore, and inspiration everywhere I look!

Let's just hope the nine-day holiday in the middle of the month helps rather than hurts me!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


To pick up on my recent post about cross-cultural linguistic misinterpretations, I'd like to share with you one of the many puzzles I cannot solve. Perhaps I'll start a semantics series ...

But in the meantime, I'd love to get to the bottom of why Turkish fathers call their babies "daddy" and Turkish mothers call their daughters "mummy?" Used as a term of endearment similar to sweetheart or honey, I once asked my husband why on earth babacığım and anneciğim are so commonly used? He admitted to being as baffled as I, and we agreed on the spot never to use either term with our own children.

Of course, he now often addresses Baby as baba, and when I remind him of his promise and point out the ridiculousness of it, he just shrugs.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Musings ...

A group of Turkish women, wearing different co...Image via WikipediaThis is probably the closest I'll ever come to writing about politics, so bear with me.

The other day, after taking my nanny, who happens to wear a headscarf, to an informal afternoon school function, she asked me whether I thought she'd made anyone uncomfortable with her headscarf. Her question was beside the point, as I realized that she herself had been uncomfortable as the only covered woman.

The irony wasn't lost on me -- walking around Istanbul in my t-shirt and jeans and my long hair blowing in the wind, I often feel slightly uneasy, as if I'm being judged by the covered women I see around me. Am I just imagining scowls of disapproval? In my mind, they're holding their breath for the day when all women in Turkey will by law be required to hide their hair under headscarves and cover their arms and legs.

The reasonable part of my brain tells me that's not at all how they feel; indeed, the covered women I've met have only ever been warm and friendly towards me. Yet I suspect this divide, based primarily on misunderstanding and lack of communication, exists not just in my mind, but in the minds of others as well.

I wonder if the two 'sides' spoke openly, whether we'd be able to trump any higher powers that might be pitting us against each other?
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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Why Less Can Be More

Back in Tarsus, spending a cozy evening at home in your pajamas with a glass of wine and a book was guilt-free. (Unless you were trying to cut back on your alcohol consumption, of course.) Here in Istanbul, nights in mean you're missing stuff out there.

But if you resolve, like I have, to make the most of the city and visit its museums, go to its concerts, explore its back streets and unique shops, eat its food ... Where do you start? The choices are unending, and one might easily become so overwhelmed that one does nothing.

Back in my former Toronto life, with so much at my finger tips, I admit I took the city for granted; I can count on one hand the times I visited a museum or art gallery, and tended to go to the same restaurants and cafes whenever I went out with friends. But nothing shakes you out of that better than four years in a provincial outpost!

The reality of my new Istanbul existence includes a full-time job and a family of three, and so I'm happy if I get out into the city once a week. As long as I do something fun and interesting in this incredible city each week, I don't feel guilty. Last weekend included brunch at a cafe on the Bosphorus with a group of ten interesting people; we walked forty minutes to and from the restaurant, thus getting a good dose of warm autumn sunshine (and a little rain!).

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Lost in Translation

I'm sure we Canadians are guilty of it too -- what we call pizza is apparently nothing like the real Italian pie; and I have to assume that we are misusing some of the many foreign words in our English language.

But I've never been more aware of the way things get lost in translation as I am here in Turkey. I'll leave the linguistic examples for another day, but want to tell you about a new "valet" service now available in Istanbul. The advertisement caught my eye right away because of what it was 'selling' -- an alternative to drinking and driving. I get excited whenever I see social education programs here for things I grew up with as givens -- recycling and car seats for children being two examples dear to my heart. Although I have heard of many people lose their licenses for a year for drinking and driving, this was the first time I saw an attempt to tackle the problem closer to the root -- instead of punishing offenders, here was an attempt to prevent drunk driving. And I was thrilled.

The only puzzling thing is the way the ad opens: At last, the 'designated driver' system so popular in Europe and America is here. It then goes on to explain its service: Just call this number and one of our experienced chauffeurs will immediately hop on his collapsible scooter and come meet you; he will then drive you home in your own car.

Obviously, the 'designated driver' concept has been modified to suit Turkish party-goers, who are far more spontaneous than us North Americans; whereas we designate our drivers before starting to drink, here, there is an 'out' for anyone who suddenly finds themselves too drunk to drive home. I guess one needs to know one's clientele.