Sunday, April 26, 2009

Feeling estúpido en español


"You're not in Turkey anymore," this sign may well have read, and indeed I wasn't, spending a stellar 10 days touring southern Spain with a pinch of Portugal thrown in. While I exulted in many of the differences--there aren't many major Islamic monuments you can follow up your tour of with a heaping plate of cured pork--the change of language was a source of constant frustration for me. Here I was, traveling in a country whose native tongue I had studied for 5 or 6 years back in my high school and college days and I could barely spit out a "hello" or "thank you."

"Merh--er, ah, buenas dias."
"Teşekk-- uh, uh, gracias."

Though I never got past being completely tongue-tied, I realized after a few days that I could still understand a large part of what was being said to me (or, more likely, in my general direction, since my travel partner spoke Spanish well). Better yet, finding myself completely incompetent in one language reminded me that I had actually achieved competence (fumbling, bumbling, funny-accented competence, but competence nonetheless) in another, as I continuing found myself thinking not "I wish these people spoke English," but "If I was in Turkey, I could handle this, no problem."

So, sad as it was to bring the vacation to an end, I happily sank into the backseat of the car taking me home from the airport last night, relieved and pleased to be able to chatter away with the driver about how the weather had been in Istanbul, his theory that the city was hiding artifacts found during the building of the Marmaray tunnel so as not to hold up construction, and Topic A with Turkish cab drivers (and a not un-favorite one of my own), "Aren't you so happy about Obama?"

3 comments:

Barbara said...

Hahahahaha, I know exactly what you mean, Jen. When we went to Athens last year, all I could think was, argh! I could totally do this just fine in Turkey! It's really nice to have that realization that you DO speak good Turkish -- funny accent and all -- and it's lovely to come home to a place where you can speak it. That's one of the many reasons that coming back to Istanbul after an overseas trip always feels like coming home to me.

Anonymous said...

Your travel partner spoke Spanish well?!

You are being much too kind. But thanks!

Jen said...

And you, mister, are being much too modest. Besides, compared to me, the bar was set pretty low ;)

Glad you're on my wavelength, Barbara. Even after only being here for three months, I remember being so glad to get back on that bus from Bulgaria and be able to say "Buraya çantamı koyabilir miyim?"