Friday, January 29, 2010

Why It Continues To Be a Small World After All

As part of my whole semi-institutionalized “having Turkish friends” thing, I now go to the language school on Tuesdays and Thursdays (in addition to class on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays) to interact with the students intending to travel to America for Work-Travel programs. The classes for these students seem to be pretty free-formed. Today, I made a collage of what Turkey means to me (their words, not mine) while about five Turkish students made collages about America. The medium of choice was the Turkish version of Elle Magazine, which offers few good examples of Americana or Turkeyacana (my word, but it should catch on). Fortunately, the Americans in the room were offered Turkish tourism pamphlets, which were great. The Turks did not fare as well. One America-themed collage had at least three pictures of Russian churches and statues. I tried to point out that onion-shaped domes and three-bar crosses were indicative of Russian churches and that American statues are not so triumphant (or of Lenin), but perhaps I was too soft-spoken. I didn’t have the heart to argue further once the pictures had been pasted on. Almost every “America” collage also included dollar signs drawn all over, which sort of makes me feel bad about America is viewed abroad. After collage time, we went out to have a snowball fight in the first Ankara snow of the season.

Between the collage making and snowball fighting (forgive the non-chronological order – I need to do it for stylistic reasons associated with the title of the post) we met the director of work-travel programs at the language school. He was a nice guy, and was seemingly convinced that Americans are the friendliest people on the planet. He told the Turkish students with us that if you were in America and needed to get somewhere, you could knock on a stranger’s door and they would drive you. Though I am sure this is sometimes the case (especially since it happened to this guy once), I feel like any American would shudder at the thought of the combination of soliciting and hitch-hiking. Furthermore I am learning that people are generally nice to foreigners in most countries, provided they are of the right race (is that statement going to get me in trouble?) and neither too poor nor too rich. This is the only rationale I can come up with for why we are convinced that the Turks are the nicest people we have ever met and the Turks feel likewise about us.

Getting to the point of the story, this teacher began asking us a bunch of questions about ourselves. He asked us what we were studying, and when he heard I was studying mechanical engineering at METU, he more or less told me I was some serious trouble, as it was apparently one of the most competitive academic programs in Turkey* He then asked us where we were from. My usual answer is that I am from New York, but seeing as this guy lived in Pennsylvania for several months, I decided to say that I was from New Jersey. His response was something like “Oh really? Where are you from in New Jersey? Ridgewood?”

Assuming I had just suffered an auditory hallucination, I said, “Ridgewood, near Paramus and Hackensack, if you have heard of them.”

The teacher responded, “Oh yes, I have been there.”

Again, I was unconvinced that some man from Turkey that had toured the United States for a semester would identify my un-noteworthy suburban town as the first town he could think of in New Jersey. I said, “Which town? Hackensack?”

He responded, “No, Ridgewood. We got lost going through New Jersey and ended up there. There is nothing to do there. It really is a boring town.”

I agreed with him, still a little stunned.

*I am getting this a lot and it is starting to worry me. I need a B or above in all of my classes to get credit at Mudd (Pitzer students need a C for their classes) and this apparently requires scoring 96 or above on finals. Hopefully, Turkey is not a very smart country.

Family Changes and the Worst Parts of Turkish.

Since I last wrote about life in my host house, it has improved quite a bit, to the point where it is downright enjoyable to be home. The most obvious reason why is that my Turkish is steadily improving. This means that I can now actually speak to my host parents and understand them. I have found that it is much easier to make up a translation when I know a few of the words they are saying (though my strategy of using context and intonation alone was admittedly entertaining).

The other welcome change around the house is the rotating cast of people. My host uncle left this past weekend, going back to whatever mysterious place he came. I am beginning to suspect that may not be very far, since he has been replaced by my host parent’s son and his wife and baby (herein referred to as “my host brother,” “my host sister-in-law” and “the baby”*) have come to live with us. I have been to what I have every reason to assume is their house, and it is about a 15 minute walk from mine. My assumption is that they are either having a construction related issue (floors redone or something) or they just wanted to hang out here.

No matter what the reason, I am happy to have them around the house. The baby is still the cutest thing with two legs (and possibly with four limbs). He is generally well behaved though when he eats, he must be distracted from the apparent unpleasantness of having food spooned into his mouth so that he does not burst into tears and choke. Also, the baby is always the center of pressure, which relieves me from the position. My host brother is friendly, and makes me feel better about my Turkish when he practices his English. I have stated a competition, unbeknownst to him, in which I need to translate anything he says in English back into Turkish to prove my language-learning superiority. So far I am winning. My host sister-in-law is a boundless ball of energy, a wonderful cook, and eager to make me practice Turkish. This brings me to the second part of my post.

The Worst Parts of Turkish (Part of an Ongoing Series)

1. There is no clear way to say “yes” or “no”
To start with, the words that directly translate to yes and no (evet and hayır) are two syllables long and sound nothing like their English counterparts. I still mess them up and (as would be expected) the response I get for saying “yes” and meaning “no” or vice-versa is usually undesirable. Secondly, these two words are only applicable as exclamations. More useful are the words “var” and “yok” which mean “exist” and “not exist.” These are used as yes and no whenever talking about a thing. For instance, one has to say “Class does not exist tomorrow” rather than “No class tomorrow.” In some other situations like “No Smoking” (never used, since Turkish signs say “smoking prohibited”), the word “deǧil” must be used. Combine that with negation particles, and you get the reason why I will never be able to speak properly.

2. There is no easy way to say “to have”
This is a continuation of the “var” “yok” issue, as these are the replacements for “to have”. Instead of asking “Do you have a pen?” one would ask “Does a pen exist?” This makes for trouble, as I cannot figure out how to say who has the pen. In a conversation with my host brother, I tried to make a joke about “bebe biskuve” (baby biscuits). I looked at the nutrition facts and said “Baby does not exist.” His response was “I am the baby” which was reasonable, but undermined the basis of my joke. NOTE: I talked to a Turk about this and you can say “The pen exists at me” but it is only done for emphesis.

3. Negation particles and question particles sound the same
To negate a word or ask a question, a particle is added either inside the verb or next to it. The two particles both start with “m” followed by a harmonic vowel (hard to explain, but in Turkish, some vowels change within one of two schemes so that they all similar within a word). I therefore confuse the two. Instead of asking “Should I eat it?” I sometimes say “I am not eating it.” This, understandably, can be a bad thing.

4. The word for pretty is a catch-all. I go around saying that the food is pretty, the baby is pretty and people’s English is pretty. In fact, I cannot come up with a situation when it is better to say good instead of pretty.

But the most important problem is that I can barely speak Turkish. So say a few complex and nuanced English sentences for me when you get a chance.

*Having a nephew, host or otherwise sort of freaks me out for some reason. It seems like more responsibility than I am willing to take.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Stories of the Half-Week

I suppose I haven't had anything truly fascinating happen thus far this week, but there were a few things of interest:

After waking up on 4:30 on Saturday, I went to FITUR, the Madrid tourism fair. We had been told that it was part of our curriculum for the seminar to go, that it would be very interesting, and that we were lucky the program was paying because the entrance was 8 euros. Since I woke up late, I arrived with only an hour to see the fair, so I was worried I would run out of time. I was wrong. Imagine a car show, except instead of the hottest cars, there were exhibits for each country, and rather than having the opportunity to sit behind the wheel, you could sign up for an all-inclusive package vacation with a friendly travel agent. If they were going all out, you could wait on a long line to enjoy a small cup of local coffee or alcohol - sometimes they just gave out Spanish beer. At first, I couldn't really figure out what to do, but realizing that I had paid the train ticket to get there, I eventually started picking up posters and pamphlets of places to which I may travel, knowing all along that I was just wasting paper. Honestly, I can't seem to figure out why we went. I assumed they were hoping we would investigate the section on Spanish regions, but the next time we met with the coordinator, she said it was because tourism from foreigners was important the Spanish economy...which is why we had to go to a fair for Spainiards to tour elsewhere.

I did learn a few things, though:
  • Spanish people love pre-packaged vacations. Pilar keeps on telling me to take them, but I thought it was just her. They're everywhere.
  • Despite being regarded as a really gross region (like the New Jersey of Spain), Murcia spared no effort on its exhibit, which actually taught me nothing, unless it actually is filled with giant tent-like structures with videos playing inside.
  • Apparently everyone in Egypt is white, or so they let me to believe.
  • For whatever reason, a lot of people in Spain want to go on "cultural excursions" to Myanmar. I guess they must be private tours, because I think the junta forbids more than 7 people from being in the same place at once.
I took a picture of what I thought was the worst attempt to bring authentic local flair to an exhibit:
This was perhaps less frustrating a day than Sunday, when it took me a half hour to find head and shoulders and another 10 minutes for soap. I spent a while searching the Corte Inglés pharmacy, but after seeing only one anti-dandruff shampoo for 18 euros, I gave up and went to the supermarket section, where it turns out the keep the cheap bathing supplies. After procuring the shampoo (called "h&s"), I tried to find a bar of bath soap, but it turns out that doesn't exist here, leaving me with bath get. However, I had no idea which ones were intended for men and which for women, if there was a difference. After a while, I decided to just wait until a man came by and bought bath gel and bought the same one. It was a very effective plan, but a little creepy.

Yesterday, it snowed. This is a big deal in Madrid, where it rarely even rains. Even more surprising, it has snowed three times this year and it's flurrying right now. Pilar's in a huff because the radio didn't predict it. She says she's staying home from work tomorrow, for fear that it might flurry by surprise again (the horror!). I feel bad that I come off so stoically about it, but it's not my fault they're all weak. Even the trains were running slower because of the half an inch of snow. I took some pictures, since everyone seemed so excited.
The roof of the Atocha train station, the place where I catch the train to school

Scenes on the way to school. We end up going into some serious countryside. It's really awfully pretty.

Yesterday, we went to explore the university campus and learn about the exchange program. Long story short, it's really complicated. I have to be in contact with four or five separate offices to change my classes. The more frustrating part was that the campus was designed to be riot-proof. The main building was built with as many stairs as possible and it is impossible without signs to know both which section you are in and which floor you're on. It took us 15 minutes to find the cafeteria, where I got these ketchup flavored fried. It turns out that Spaniards love ketchup. One kid's host mother asked what type of tomato he wanted on his sandwich, the options being real or ketchup. Unfortunately (or fortunately?) the fries didn't taste much like ketchup.
Ugly, no?

Today I went to see the Congress of Deputies. It was actually fairly dull and extremely small. Not really that exciting...

Turkish Friends

Last week, our Turkish teacher asked the American students in the class (the people the Pitzer exchange program) if we would meet some Turkish students that were headed to America. Having no real human contact outside of ourselves, our class and our host families, we agreed. I think we were all assuming that there would be five or ten students.

Two of us showed up on time and found two classrooms full of students at various levels of English comprehension (though it goes without saying that they were all better at English than we were at Turkish). My room went around with introductions, which was when I made my first faux pas. It turns out I have been pronouncing my neighborhood incorrectly for two weeks. As I should have figured out in our first Turkish class, the neighborhood Kocateppe is pronounced Kozhateppe. My pronunciation would have spelled Kokateppe. The class had a good laugh, which I think helped to break the ice.

The topic of conversation quickly became politics. The audience seemed to appreciate our explanation that America had spent 20 years messing things up in the Middle East and was now committed to fixing their problems even if it required unpopular occupations. My fellow American student taught everyone the word “hypocrite” and things went along well. One student then asked about American support for the PKK (a Kurdish pro-independence terrorist group). My real answer is that the America believes the Kurds deserve autonomy as does the European Union, but Kurdish Autonomy and the PKK are not the same thing. Knowing that wouldn’t fly, I side-stepped the issue. We talked a little about sports (outcome: I will be unable to pick a team to support that is universally popular, but only one team in Turkey is any good) and some other errata before we took a break an went to the other, less animated class.

When the people from the first class got back from their break, they decided that we should all go to lunch. The whole thing was quite a bit of fun. Everyone wanted to talk to me and was eager to please. It was probably the closest I will ever get to knowing what it feels like to be the most popular guy in middle school. Everyone had something they wanted to tell me. My favorite was a guy that was concerned that in America, people are called by their surnames in formal settings (In a formal Turkish setting, I am David Bey) and his surname did not mean anything (most Turkish families picked their own surnames, as directed by Ataturk. As would be expected, most mean something). He seemed really relieved that American surnames have no recognizable meaning most of the time. A bunch of people seemed really excited to buy “cheap” cell phones in America, not realizing that the price did not include a service agreement.

We then went out to play pool at what apparently was the top-ranked pool hall in Turkey (I am still not sure how you rank them or whether the ranking affects one’s playing experience). Turkish men are outstanding pool players (as it is an issue of machismo pride), but were still rather kind about destroying me. We finished a couple of games and said our goodbyes.

So the verdict? Turks are friendly to excess. Also, it seems that I now have scores of new friends, with corresponding email addresses, facebook friendships and phone number. Not bad for four hours.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Adventures in the Madrid Nightlife

One of the purposes of studying abroad, I am told, is to experience things we would never do in our stateside lives by experiencing local culture. One of the defining aspects of Spanish culture, it seems, is a undying love of "going out" (it's actually the same word in Spanish). Spanish people don't socialize in the home and dinner rarely starts before 9:00 (except in my house - Pilar goes to sleep by 9:30 because she leaves for work by 6:00 AM, so we eat around 8:30), so socializing tends to take place in other establishments in late night and early morning. That in mind, it was still a surprise to me when Pilar, a woman who appears to be in her mid-60's, told me that 3:00 AM was pretty early to get back from a night out.

I'm beginning to get down the dinner part of the evening. I'm still pretty confused as to how to figure out whether the bar you're at will serve sufficiently filling tapas to cover dinner or whether you will have to buy a ración (a real meal) to get subsistence, but I assume this will come with experience.

After dinner, most people seem to go to bars. There are two types, as far as I can tell. The typical bar, or cervecería (beer-ery) serves mostly domestic beer (usually Mahau or San Miguel), which is cheap and not very good, as well as some cheap wine and mixed drinks. The other option is a bar de copas (copas refer to cups of mixed drinks), which I haven't really tried yet. They're more popular with the young crowd, are more trendy and expensive, and play louder music. The main difference is intention: you aren't supposed to get drunk at a cervecería (that's why they give tapas), while that's the whole point of a bar de copas - ir de copas actually means to drink in order to become intoxicated. It certainly helps that a mixed drink here, while pricey, is a cup half full of alcohol with a small bottle of mixer on the side.

Bars generally close around 3:00 AM, so the last part of the evening process, if one chooses to participate, is going to a club or disco. They open at 12:00 and generally run until 5:00 or 6:00. This is something I despise in the U.S. I don't like loud music, I feel silly dancing, and the overdone sexuality generally makes me feel sort of sick. I've gone clubbing twice, but now I avoid both clubs and club-like campus parties. Being here, especially with Boston University students who are really into it, I decided it's something I should give another shot.

I tried going out twice this week: on Thursday, I went to Chueca and, at the advice of a bouncer, ended up at a tiny gay disco called delirio, which had no cover. On Friday, Molly, my friend from high school, was in Madrid with her friend from college, and we went to Kapital, a giant seven floor disco in my neighborhood, which most Spanish people seem to think is a bit too intense. The experience is pretty different than in the U.S. People are much less likely to dance together here. Actually, I'm not sure I saw anyone dancing in pairs at delirio. People either dance alone or in circles. It's sort of like middle school, except no one seems awkward about it. At Kapital, Molly and her friend did each dance with a guy, but the men were awfully chivalrous about the affair. It's worth noting, though, that both of the guys were Argentinian, so it's not exactly representative. Also, the music is not nearly as loud. You can still have a pretty reasonable conversation, even right next to the speakers. A lot of people don't even dance - they just hang out and chat, which seems to be a good way to work on my colloquial Spanish.

The most amusing moment of the weekend, perhaps, was a conversation at delirio. This guy dancing next to me appeared to be lip-syncing all the songs. I asked:

"Do you know all the lyrics to the songs"
"No, do you?"
"No, it seems like a lot of these songs are translated in Spanish, and I only know the English lyrics"
"I think this song is in English, isn't it?"
"Oh, I guess so. I'm sort of isolated from pop culture"
"Where are you from"
"The United States"
"Like, New York"
"Oh, what neighborhood"
"Uh, like 30 minutes away"
(in a disparaging voice) "Oh, you're from New Jersey"
"'ve heard of New Jersey?"
"You can't say you're from New York if you're from New Jersey!"
"Yeah, I never would say that in the U.S., but most people here haven't heard of it."
"No, you just can't say that. You're not from New York!"
"Yeah, I agree with you. I was just assuming people here wouldn't know."
"You just can't say that. It's not ok! You can't say you're from New York!"

With that, he walked away. I was a bit shocked to say the least. I didn't really know anyone here would care. My other surprise of the weekend was sleeping until 3:40 in the afternoon on Saturday and missing the paella lunch Pilar had made for her son's visit. They were both quite surprised to hear that I had "only" come home at 3:30.

Friday, January 22, 2010

My First Week of School

I started classes this week as part of our program's "intensive" seminar on contemporary Spain. I don't know what BU thinks is intensive, but in my mind, while hearing someone lecture for two hours, reading 20-30 pages, and writing a page each day (plus movies and responses twice a week) is perhaps a bit much while taking three other classes, it's basically a cakewalk if you have no real other work. In this case, my other work is talking to Pilar (my host mother, who chats with me for at least two hours a day), eating, going to museums, and going to bars. Transportation, I suppose, takes some time as well, but it's not exactly a hard life.

The class is basically remedial Spanish common knowledge. This week's topic has been modern history and government. These two go along surprisingly well, since, by all measures I can tell, Spanish culture has this fantastic origin myth that everyone believes in on some level or another. I've heard it so many times, with so many embelishments, I thought I should share it:

Around 1930, the Spanish people revolted and overthrew the restored king. They established the glorious Second Republic, under which everyone was happy, well-fed, and enlightened. They also had a flag with a purple stripe at the bottom, which you have to admit is pretty awesome, as there aren't a lot of flags with purple on them. Anyway, Spain, had basically advanced to a postindustrial understanding of human rights, and had managed to create an agreement by which all the regions were happy and the culturally distinct ones had autonomy. There may have been massive economic and political crises, but they don't really matter, because it was really just a fantastic period of time.

In 1936, an evil, evil man named Francisco Franco tried to come to power. No one really liked him, but he was the only person all the crazy reactionaries (they're called Carlists), rich people, and fascists could agree on. He attempted a coup, but failed, because no one liked him. As a result, he launched a massive, horrible, deadly civil war. Franco was supported by the evil Nazis and Italian Fascists, and all the suffering in the war was because of him. In the end, he took over Spain and killed all the socialists and regional nationalists.

Franco's regime sort of sucked. He tried to play the neutral game in World War II (though he sent troops to fight the USSR), but everyone knew who's side he was on, so they isolated Spain. Finally, the U.S. realized he was anti-communist and wanted a military base, so they opened up trade. Tourism became popular, but when the Spanish saw tourists, they realized how poor they were and got pissed. Eventually, the economy slowly opened. Anyway, the real point is that Francoism was the exact opposite of the Republic. People were poor, uneducated, and sad. Franco subjugated the autonomous regions, and tried to enforce a uniform Spanish culture, which was mostly from Andalucia and Castillia. Again, not a good time. Also, Opus Dei had a big role in government and they're scary.

Anyway, Franco knew he was going to die and didn't have any sons. He had always liked the idea of a king, but wasn't one himself. He decided to groom Juan Carlos, the son of the Infante Juan (the guy who was next in line for the throne under the monarchy) to be a good little Francoist. Franco died and Juan Carlos I was crowned as king, but rather than continuing the Francoist state, Juan Carlos I wanted democracy. He slowly and secretly, with incredible ease and metaphoric dexterity, altered the existing fascist laws to allow for democracy, having to trick the old guard into letting their dream fall away by passing the laws he wanted.

Eventually, thanks to Juan Carlos' general awesomeness, Spain was ready in 1978 to adopt a new Constitution. It gave the King little to no role in the government and managed to make everyone happy while making Spain a "social and democratic state of rights" (according to my professor, which he says is somehow proved by the fact that they have public health care and gay marriage and the U.S. doesn't). It passed resoundingly, because it was so great, except for all the problems no one knows how to resolve, like how the government really unfair to princesses and non-Basques (I kid you not).

Still, democracy was threatened again! The army attempted a coup in the parliament. Once again, the King rushed to the side of democracy, coming on TV to tell soldiers not to fight and ordering the rule of law. It worked! Spain was free! The next year, the ruling center-right UCD party was kicked out and the socialist PSOE party was elected, which somehow marks Spain's true emergence into democracy for reasons I don't fully understand (something about how Franco really hated socialists).

Now everyone lives in peace and harmony. The King has virtually no power. Actually, Spainiards don't want a king at all, but they just love Juan Carlos I so darn much that they don't mind. Most of them like his son, Felipe, too. They think his older sister should have the throne, but it doesn't matter, because Felipe is friendly and attractive and married a TV anchor.

So, in conclusion, life in Spain is great now. Thank you, King Juan Carlos I! Just don't ask anyone what they think about the Constitution - everyone agrees it needs major changes, but that making them is impossible. According to Pilar, the solution is just not to vote.

Family and Pikniks

My host-uncle has come to visit. He is a professor in Ankara University, which you may have guessed is in the same city as my host family’s apartment. Though I have been unable to determine whether or not my host uncle has a house in Ankara, it is clear that does not live in my host parent’s house usually (at least judging from the fact that he lives out of a suitcase), but how far he usually lives from Kocatepe (where I live) is impossible to determine from interactions within the family. Whenever Turks meet and they haven’t seen each other for a couple of days there are enough hugs, kisses and back-pats to make you think they have been apart for years. My best guess is that he lives near Ankara University on the other end of the city. Even though this is a shorter distance than the commute of some of the exchange students, I get the impression that this is a long distance in Turkish terms – especially for family. Most families here live within walking distance. In fact, I get the impression that my host family is more spread out (up to a half-hour walk apart) than most. Some of the exchange host families all live in the same apartment complex. One exchange student said that it was a little disconcerting that every time she visited relatives; the relative’s apartment always had the exact same floor plan as her own.

So in the past week, in addition to my host parent’s son, daughter in law and grandson that I already know, I have met my host mother’s two brothers, sister in law, mother, father and niece. I met most of them at an after dinner gathering that my host family invited me to at the last minute. I was probably underdressed (I always am, since everyone has a sweater on constantly in addition to being more fashionable that most New Yorkers) and definitely unprepared for a more traditional gathering. There are at least three kinds of greetings when visiting family: handshakes, kisses on both cheeks and kisses on hands (followed by putting the kissee’s hand up one’s forehead). The conventions are based on how well you know the person, their gender and their age. I tried to follow my host father’s lead, but because I was not my host father, I think some of the gestures were wildly inappropriate. The family was very friendly regardless and took a vague interest in me, which mostly manifested in talking about me in Turkish. One of the brothers was seemingly fluent in English, and asked me a handful of questions whenever the group needed more information to fuel their conversation about me. The whole thing was actually rather nice, featuring some great cold fruit soup and plenty of tea (Turks are caffeine fiends when they are socializing. Yesterday, I had five cups of tea and two cups of Turkish coffee in social settings.)

The next day, we had people over at my host parent’s house. In additional to my host uncle and the son’s (my host brother’s?) family, there was some other guy that may be the brother of somebody or a student of my host uncle. When he was introduced to me, my host mother used a word that my dictionary translated to “dead.” Seeing that this man was clearly alive and my host mother seemed to disagree with my pronunciation of said mystery word, I am assuming I had it wrong.

The bright side of all this is that I am starting to figure out Turkish social interactions. That, in addition to the fact that I can now form extremely simple sentences is really helping me become more comfortable around Turks (though all the tea and coffee has the detrimental effect of making me anxious) in more formal settings. As for informal settings, it seems like I can do no wrong. Turks are extremely friendly and being American is still “cool” to them. Much of the celebrity factor, it seems is that everyone in Ankara has learned a little English, and the more confident Turks want to show their English off. At least once a day if I am with Americans, we are stopped by someone eager to say hello. There are the obvious cases, such as when we asked the Police for directions, they wanted to say hello, ask where we were from and what our profession was (these are quickly becoming the basis for every conversation – no wonder we learned all three on our first day of class). The same thing happened with some staff member of a piknik* today. My favorite was while standing on an escalator on the way out of the Metro, some young bartender that had been overhearing us speak English said hello and asked us the standard litany of questions before running off to work.

*Piknik, which means the same as the English “picnic,” is a cross between a restaurant, a cafeteria and a fast food place. Piknikler are cheap and serve superb food, but the ordering process is always confusing and varies from place to place. Generally (though by no means always), you order your food first and then show your receipt to a cook. Today, we went to a Piknik with no apparent way to order food, and stood around for a while looking confused before a massive American (at 6’-6” and 300 pounds, he was clearly not Turkish) came over and gave us detailed instructions for ordering. He introduced himself as “Rider” and said that it was amusing watching us stand around confused for a while, but he got bored and decided to help. He had been living in Ankara for two months without really anything to do (including, it seemed, Turkish classes) as some sort of break from whatever else he was doing. As far as English-speaking acquaintances go, a 6’-6” scruffy blonde guy is a pretty good one, as he is easy to spot everywhere. Our first Rider sighting was no more than two hours later in a Metro station.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

El Angel Caído

I live within walking distance of the only known public monument of the devil.

Awesome, no?

Cell Phone, Television and Conspiracies

Well, the cell phone is finally working. It turns out that though Avea may not have the best service, the phone was not working properly. I went back to the same guy that sold the phone and told him “Service is non-existent.” He tried to fix it for a while, then said something involving an hour, which I assumed meant that I was supposed to take the phone home, wait an hour and activate it. When I headed to the door he started yelling at me, so turned back. As it turned out, he wanted the phone for the hour, so I went to sit in the park in the town center. The park was great; I sat next to a giant statue of Ataturk, and men came by with carafes yelling at me and insisting that I wanted tea (tea is a Turkish compulsion, as I will surely explain later). When I got back, the guy had fixed the phone and even offered to setup my prepaid phone card (which was rather helpful, as the voice menu was in Turkish). Then he asked me something which I thought was “Do you want to contact people in America with this phone?” to which I thought I replied “Yes, but Turkey too.” I think what I actually did was turn down his offer to set my phone back into English. This time, it only took 15 minutes to figure out how to change the language and now I have an almost working phone. If you want to waste a lot of money, contact me and I’ll give you the number.

I’ve stopped watching so much television at night with my family now that I have quite a lot of Turkish to study (by family, I mean my host mother, since my host mother and my host father watch televisions in opposite sides of the house). The two shows I have seen a lot of are the ones that play at breakfast and dinner. Breakfast is dominated by what I can only assume is the Turkish equivalent of Oprah. Usually, the host (who is stunningly beautiful, yet in an accessible way) is sitting next to a crying teenage girl. People call in and yell at the crying teenage girl, making her cry more. Sometimes people in the audience take turns yelling at the girl, but by and large the audience is crying or stoically clapping. Sometimes someone in the audience (a relative of the girl?) comes and hugs the girl. The host serves as some sort of moderator in the whole crying/yelling process. I have yet to figure out exactly why the girls are crying, but I think the issue has something to do with the girls having loose morals or something. The girls are never veiled, whereas half of the female members of the audience are veiled (in Ankara, it bears mentioning, nobody under 50 is veiled). The people who call up talk about God a lot, but I have yet to figure out if this is rhetorical, or they are talking about GOD. The show is only fair as far as entertainment value for people that don’t speak Turkish, but it is still fun to watch.

The dinner show is harder to understand, but people are clearly cooking for a small group of people they know. Some members of our exchange group suspected that the people take turns cooking for a week and a prize is awarded on Friday. The rotating characters each week was confirmed by a Turk with limited English, but she got confused when we asked if there was a prize. Apparently, the cooking group insults the food of their fellow cooks, though I am still not sure why this is. There is also this reoccurring cowboy hat that everyone seems to wear at times, but some characters wear more than others.

I also watched the Turkish version of America’s Got Talent, which I can roughly translate to You Exude Talent, Turkey. The talent was pretty good, but the show had a nasty habit of bringing on young, lack-luster but adorable contestants and then voting them off because they were not very good.

I went to the Anatolian Civilization museum and the Ankara citadel. They were nice but not in the way that makes for entertaining writing. There was this one woman we ran into on the way to the citadel that claimed that NATO had destroyed the real historical sites in the area after World War II (which reportedly was a fight between Anglo and German Protestants, apparently without the Russians, Italians or Japanese). She kept confusing the English words for building and people and also kept changing her mind on whether Jews and Armenians are great or abhorrent (It seemed to depend on the time period, both were better before WWII, but she admitted there are still good Jews and Armenians now). She apologized for her country for making us visit the conspiracy museum instead of the people’s museum, and we went off.

In other news, I found a tapestry thing with my host parents names on it. They are Aynur and Ömer.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Ir de botellón and many tapas

Last night, I met up with a friend I met in New York at an internship over the summer, Ana, who lives in Madrid. We went out to for tapas with her childhood friend, who brought along her boyfriend and her two roommates, both of whom are from France and are studying in Ireland. This meant that they didn't speak Spanish, so fortunately the majority of the conversation of the night was in English.

Tapas in Spain is totally unlike in the U.S. Rather than being a delicacy, it's basically glorified bar food. You order drinks, typically cañas (small glasses of beer), and they bring dishes of food for you too eat with each round. Almost all of it includes potatoes. There were potatoes with blue cheese, potatoes with chorizo, and potatoes with mini hot dogs, as well as whole cured fishes, cod croquettes, pork meatballs, and an omlette with mushrooms. Since the food is technically free, you only need to pay for the beer, which, while a bit overpriced and not very good, is still only about 1.50 euros. In total, it was a complete meal for 6 euros, which seemed absurdly cheap to me.

After eating, Ana told me that she was going back home, but her friends were going to go out drinking and I could go with them. I still had 6 euros on my dinner allowance (we get 12 euros each Friday and Saturday to eat, to give our host families a break), and it was only 11:30, which is absurdly early in Spain, so I decided to go. As we headed to the metro, Ana's friend told me that we were going to a bolletón (literally "giant bottle"), which is when Spanish kids drink together outside. It recently became illegal, so we had to be wary of the police, but they rarely showed up at the place we were going.

We came out of the subway at a square in the Universidad Compultense, the other really big university in the city. It looked like a post apocalyptic warzone. The area was dimly lit by the streetlights, but the square, which wasn't exactly lush to begin with, had gone through years of neglect by the students. The main statue was totally covered with graffiti and there was trash everywhere. Clumped in groups around the square and surrounding parking lot were kids drinking and talking. Cars were parked by the sidewalks playing music. If this really was illegal, the police must not care, because the scene was not subtle to say the least.

I spent most of the hour I was there talking to Ana's friend and her roommate, but towards the end, moved on to some of the Spaniards. One girl kept on coming to offer strawberry flavored marshmallow hearts, which she would only give if we said the word for marshmallow (esoponja (sponge) or nube (cloud)). I actually didn't have a whole lot to say to most of them, as they weren't really the crowd I would hang out with in the States, but the drunk ones seemed more that sufficiently entertained asking me repeatedly what I thought of Spain and Spanish people. Luckily, by time they tried to get me to dance, I needed to get on the metro before it closed. The boyfriend (I think his name was Andreas) told me I would probably find my way back there after I start my classes, since a lot of Automona students go to botellones at the Compultense as well. He just told me I should make sure not to walk around, since there are skinheads (!) in the area, who do unnamed bad things to people at night.

This morning, I moved in with my host mother, Pilar. She's a divorced nurse with a son my age who lives elsewhere in the city and works for IBM. I believe, due to my height, I may be expected to play basketball with him when he comes for lunch tomorrow. I fear disappointment will be in the air. When I told Pilar that I had enjoyed tapas the night before, she decided to take me out for pre-lunch tapas. The local tapas bar was a total Cheers bar, almost to the point of being goofy. We immediately ran into Antonio, who lives in our building, and his son, who had three young children. Antonio recently quit smoking, which apparently means that now he is eating and drinking more. Right before we left, his other son showed up as well. We ended up having three cañas and tapas a piece, all on the way back to get lunch.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Two Observations about Spaniards

1. They're really, really fashionable. All of Madrid, especially at night, looks like an H&M catalog. Almost everyone dresses in black, with various sorts of coats and scarves. Many men seem to wear scarves, especially with suites. There's also a pretty sizable portion of punks. I can't tell if they're ahead of the times, behind the times, or both. They wear goofy haircuts (often like mohawks, but not quite as defined, and sometimes with the top bleached), lots of piercings, and more sleek fashionable black clothing. I feel under-dressed all the time.

2. They're surprisingly affectionate. My step-grandmother told me that when she visited under Franco, kissing in a public park could put you in jail. Now, in addition to every couple being firmly attached to their significant other (I mean seriously attached - it's like a pose rather than a sign of affection), I've seen quite a few overt displays of sexuality in the streets. On Gran Via (the main street), I saw a guy repeatedly slapping his girlfriend's ass while walking. She didn't seem offended or even embarrassed. In another incident, I saw a guy basically manhandle a girl in an archway. It seems a bit strange to me, but perhaps I'm old fashioned.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

HelloMyNameIsEvanIt'sSoNiceToMeetYou and the Saga of the Vodafone

For the past few days, I've had a cold that I got from David. It hasn't been totally awful, but it has made me less than pleasant to be around. Unfortunately, I bought David some psuedoephedrine (the real Sudafed) when he got it, which means that I have been unable to buy some for myself. An individual is limited as to how much they can buy in a period of time for fear that they will use it to produce meth. Anyway, Andrew (my boyfriend) came to visit me before I left and was kind enough to buy me a box, right before we went out for coffee. By time we got to the airport, the combination of the two was making me incredibly excitable. Since I had a group flight, we all met in a room before boarding, where I socialized with a sort of intensity I usually reserve for life-or-death situations. This continued as I got on the plane, and, had everyone else not fallen asleep, would have gone on all flight. I hope I didn't scare anyone too much.

After being moved to the hotel and having lunch, I decided to set out and buy a cell phone. We had been told that there was a service that catered to American students with phone that automatically bills you, but it sounded like it was only useful for talking to other American students in Spain. Vodafone prepaid phones, we were told, were easy to buy and activate, so I decided to get one.

I set off to the Corte Inglés, which, according to my middle school Spanish textbook, was this sort of incredible store that sells everything. There was one close by and I figured I might as well see this bastion of capitalism I had heard so much about. The first thing of note is that Corte Inglés is not one store, or even a couple of stores nearby, but rather a series (I counted 4 or 5) of stores placed somewhere in the same neighborhood with seemingly no rhyme or reason as to their specialties. It included two stores that were eight stories tall, each with a different department on every floor. I'm still not totally sure whether they were affiliated or competing, as they seemed to sell a lot of the same things. By "a lot of things", I don't mean exclusively "things", I don't just mean objects, but also things like, insurance, travel packages, DSL, and haircuts. All of it was presented in a way that was sort of like that of a department story, but less appealing.

Such began my tragic encounter with the good people at Vodafone. I bought a prepaid phone at the Vodafone booth at Corte Inglés, got it activated, and then went back to my hotel to set it up. Before I could get the phone out of the box, though, I passed out from having not slept. When I awoke a few hours later, I tried reading the instructions, which, despite my supposed Spanish proficiency, I didn't really understand. I tried to call a friend, which got me redirected to Vodafone help. They basically continued telling me my phone was not activated, at one point making me go back to Corte Inglés for them to do it for me (which made me look like a fool, since it wasn't their fault). After calling 7 times or so, they finally seemed to give up. I was called back a half-hour later and told that if I removed the SIM card and battery, turned it off for a minute and restarted, it would work. Sure enough, they were right.

One thing I've noticed since I got to Spain: they're crazy for reflective vests. From the police patting people down at customs, to the guys trying to get you to sell gold and silver on the streets, they find a surprising number of uses for them.

Also, I finally saw someone wearing a Guardia Civil helmet. It looks like a hard plastic hat with a plastic bar behind it, making a shape sort of like a tricornered hat. They look really silly.

Cell Phone Saga Part 1

I´ve now been in Turkey for half a week with no cell phone. This hasn´t been a problem since I don´t know enough turkısh to talk to anyone, but Pitzer wanted me to have a cellphone on Day 1, and I can´t communicate with my Mudd/Pitzer friends, call the Ibrahim (the program coordinator) to tell him I am lost in a city I can´t pronounce, call my host parents and say late in turkish over and over again to tell them I wont be home or anything lıke that.

Yesterday, one of friends from Pitzer (Irene) was going to get a phone with the help of her host sister, and I asked if I could get a phone with her too. The whole thing struck me as very Turkish. We set off with the host sister and the rest of the Pitzer crew, stoppıng to eat first. Then the sister told us that her uncle had a cell phone store, and we should go to that one. We passed about five cell phone stores on the way (there is about one cell phone store in Kızılay for every 20 residents), but the store wasn´t far. When we got there we met the uncle and explained we wanted cheap phones. He said 'used' then 'very cheap' in Turkish and gave it to Irene for 30 lira. He then gave me one for 50 lira. One person in the group pointed to another phone and said it was less expensive. The uncle replied that it indeed was inexpensive, but it didn´t work (this made me glad I did not buy the phone alone).

Then he took us to his store´s (Avea) competitor, Turkcell to buy us SIM cards and minutes. At Turkcell, it was determined that we could not use our minutes (or maybe they were points, the two seemed pretty interchangable). The uncle told us that Avea would let us call the US, so we went back to his store to buy SIM cards there. The process was pretty complex, requiring my passport, my Mother´s first and maiden name and little else. He then told us that once we charged the phones and waited an hour (the phone was uncharged and not turning on at this point) they would turn on. Irene asked what would happen if the phone broke, to which the man replied that he would give us a two month guarantee.

Long story short, after charging my phone and getting Ibrahim (who just happened to visit my house that night) to put the phone in Englısh, I still can´t work the phone. The problem may be that Avea has terrible service, which is probably why the uncle took us to Turkcell first. Assuming it is the phone or something, I am reasonably comfortable that I have the closest thing to a service plan in Turkey: a family connection.

Oh,and one of these days, I swear I will take pictures. Also no promises about spelling when I type from an intenet cafe.

Languages and Babies

I had my first Turkish language class on Monday. I was supposed to be there at 8:30, though I had apparently not effectively conveyed this to my host family (every other day, class starts at 9). By 8:10, I think I made it clear to my host mother that I needed to leave by 8:15 or so, but by then she had made me a hardboiled egg that she insisted I eat (in addition to the eclectic mix of other things that comprise a Turkish breakfast). I think she said something about it being my first day, so it didn’t matter if I was late, but I could have been making that part up (It sounded like Oblarıd adsnfo ığö vıdçedfı). Either way, I showed up about 20 minutes late on a count of the breakfast issue and the fact that the Google map I printed out before I left sent me in the wrong direction. I still beat two members of our group, including Johnny, who was driven by his host parents, and seemed a little shaken by the ordeal*.

The class was entertaining, though it looks like it may be several weeks until I will be able to communicate much of anything. I have been taking to following around my host parents, smiling and saying how good everything is. To be fair, I can only say “good,” which is probably grammatically incorrect without adding some sort of declension. At least now I know how to say good as in “great” and good as in “fine” (the latter of which I have been using to say I understand something). I am suspicious that my host parents think I am retarded, since besides the language issue, I have not mastered basic tasks like unlocking the door yet.

The whole thing has actually been less frustrating than I would have expected; it helps that I have very low expectations for myself. Yesterday, my host mother took me to see her son, his wife and their new baby. Her son started taking an English class a few weeks ago (I am guessing, though he when I asked him how long he has been learning, he was confused). He is just a little better at English than I am at Turkish, which I found pretty reassuring. The baby was absolutely adorable. It was entertaining to hear Turkish baby talk, which is more rhythmic than American baby talk and makes about as much sense to me as regular Turkish. Turks seem to playfully hit and push their babies more than Americans (who, as I recall, do more poking and tickling).

As an aside, though I will probably be posting to the blog quite a bit, I will be doing less replying to email, facebook, etc. It’s nothing personal, but it seems like all the internet cafes provide their own computers, and the Turkish keyboards on them are not easy to type with. The main problem is that there are two i letters in Turkish, one with a dot and one without. As a result, I need to use different keys for capitol and lowercase is. It took me five minutes the last time I went to an internet café to figure out that I couldn’t log in because I was typing in “davidarolfe” with a dot-less i.

*I am sure I will be talking a lot about Turkish driving, but let me reiterate that I would be surprised if driving was not the leading cause of death in this country. Unlike in most of America, where drivers yield to pedestrians, Turkish drivers will only avoid a pedestrian if they are stopped at a light or cannot make it to the pedestrian in time. So far, I have been waiting at intersections for the Turks around me to cross the street and then I book it to the other side.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Day 1: Still Alıve

Johnny and I took the same flight in to Ankara from Munich.  The meal for this 2.5 hour flight was stupendous and took at least half of the flight to consume.  The whole thing was presented rather well including little shrimp in the side salad and some sort of basil-tasting polenta with the beef.  As always you could wash it down with wine if you felt the urge.  Not bad for a flight short enough to not feature beverage service on US domestic flights.  I have no idea how much this adds to the cost of the ticket because Pitzer paid for it.  Thanks, Pitzer.
After arriving in Ankara, we met with Ibrahim, our program coordinator.  We took a bus with him into city center, where we split up.  Johnny went with Ibrahim’s assistant to his host family’s restaurant, “Fantastik Burger” and I took a taxi with Ibrahim to my host family.  We said hello, and Ibrahim quickly determined that my host mother and father do not speak a word of English.  He left me with something like “The first few days will be a little hairy, but it will get better after that.”  I was glad that I had learned about 30 words of Turkish through some language tapes.  Good (which I later found out I was usıng incorrectly), yes and no and eat (a surprise) came in rather handy.  We aren’t communicating effectively yet, but at least we have been able to convey major themes.
My host family seems rather nice.  After I got in, my host father took me to a telephone store-ish thing to get a calling card and to call my family.  He made it into one of those “I’ll point and say the name” things, which is fine, but I’m not sure if I remember any of the words he said.  I don’t really know their names yet either.  My host mother is named Anur (I only know this because I had it written down) and my host father told me his name, but it was between the word for mosque and the word for sausage, and I started to get confused.  The neighborhood looks nice – rather vibrant.  We ate dinner after we got back.  I think I could get used to Turkish cooking.  It seems more Eastern European than Middle Eastern, but I can’t complain.  My host father told me the words for fork, spoon, soup and bowl, none of which I can remember.  Then we watched some television.
Let me just say that I could really get into Turkish news, at least on the station we were watching.  My views of the stories might be a little skewed, since I didn’t know what they were saying but here are some I can remember.
·         Overweight transvestite sings the call to worship for an apparently edgy mosque.  Turks seem to have mixed opinions, but I am basing that statement from the fact that some of them were smiling and some of them were frowning when interviewed.  It could be that some are naturally happy and some are naturally surly.
·         A boy either gets stuck in a pot, has a pot for his legs, or his father attempted to make him into a soup and the paramedics had to save him.  It was riveting no matter what happened.
·         People keep getting in car crashes.  To illustrate that point, the news played clips of the ten most gruesome car accidents they could find over and over again in slow motion.  I can say from my hour of Ankara traffic experience that Turkish traffic looks a bit like a school of fish.  Most people drive in the same direction, but few of them are following what I assume are the traffic laws.
There also appears to be a Turkish game show in which contestants are given a string of numbers and have to use basic operations on them to form the last number in the set.  I’m a fan.

Travel, or how Lufthansa stole my heart

Not much to say about my trip on the whole.  It was in a plane, which was pretty par for the course.  It was my first time flying Lufthansa, or any European airliner for that manner.  As a result of either that or the fact that the flight was international, it was a little different than usual.  Bored, I compiled a list of differences.
·         Hot, moist towelettes were provided with some regularity.  This seemed a pretty nice touch, especially since it is easy to provide and your hands need to be cleaned anyway.  Unlike in a Japanese restaurant, I felt no shame in rubbing my face with it after 12 hours in a plane.
·         Cup holder in the seat in front.  Given that Americans are famous for their love of cup holders, it’s funny that I saw the concept first on a German airline.
·         Quiet section – this was purported to exist and I was supposed to be in it but I have my suspicions given that there was still a crying infant near me.  A good idea none the less.
·         Free alcoholic drinks – who doesn’t need a nightcap to sleep in those seats?
·         Pepper in tomato juice – classy, and never offered on American flights.  The salt was unnecessary though.
·         One carry-on bag for coach – perhaps my personal item was not personal enough, but I usually get away with a bassoon and a backpack.  This time, they wouldn’t even allow a gym bag and a backpack.
·         In flight shopping is too fancy – SkyMall is an exhibition in dumb gimmicks and shams that Americans will buy.  Lufthansa’s catalog was rather expensive and not so entertaining.  Few items were less than 100 euro.  My favorite was a pencil sold for 160 euro or so.  It was the kind that you sharpen and when you sharpen too much, it’s done.  I’m not sure how it could be so expensive.
·         I only made my connection by two minutes, but this is nothing new.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Hi, I'm Evan

I spent too long (it was about an hour, but still) on the header and layout of this blog, so I'm going to take the initiative to start writing on it, especially since David told some people about it and it's totally blank.

So, the scoop is that I'm going to Spain. My reasoning for this, as explained to my study abroad advisor in my mandatory meeting, went something like this:
Me: I want to study abroad because it's something international relations concentrators are supposed to do and I suppose it could be something of an adventure. I thought I should go somewhere that speaks Spanish, because it's the only other language I know. I eliminated most other Spanish-speaking countries because I wanted to be able to drink the water for the half-year I would be there.

Her: It sounds like you've thought this through quite a bit - more so than most people who study abroad.

Me: Really? That doesn't say anything good about me; it just means they have bad reasons too. Also, I'm worried I don't really speak enough Spanish. Brown says I'm proficient, but I can't really hold a conversation.

Her: If Brown says you're proficient, you're proficient.

Me: I'm not sure it works that way...
That was, perhaps, the most useful she has been, which isn't really saying much, because the only other time I heard from her was when she called me to tell me I signed up for the right program two months after I sent in the deposit.

However, now that I'm on my way, I decided to draft another list of reasons, ex post facto, of additional benefits of going to Spain:
  1. Now I get to finally check off that final box for membership in the club of East Coast Liberal Intellectual Elite - Having lived in Europe. It's always a drag to have someone tell you about the time they spent living in "Budapesht" and how the sunrise over the Széchenyi lánchíd really is the most beautiful thing in the world and you simply must see it if you have the opportunity. You assure them that should you, by chance, find yourself in Hungary someday before dawn you really will try, but it seems unlikely. Now I will have my own set of stories of Europe to tell back at them.
  2. I finally have the opportunity to lisp. I spent years of my life overcoming speech impediments so that I now can, in limited case, adopt the only one I never had.
  3. I will be living three blocks from the site of a major terrorist attack. Estación de Madrid Atocha was the epicenter of the March 11, 2004 train attacks that killed 191 and injured 2,050 Who knew the developed world could be so dangerous?
  4. I will indulge my love of the EU. The European Union is the coolest thing I can think of. It's just full of bureaucracy with little to no democratic oversight. It's probably the only governmental body in the world that can talk about "consolidation" and "uniformity" as good things. I plan on taking as many classes on it as I can. Also, I'll be there for Europe Day.
  5. Access to both Gibraltar and Andorra!
  6. If Spanish movies are any indication, I think I may really appreciate the culture. It seemed like most of them are intensely morbid and surprisingly political.
  7. Spanish people like coffee. I like coffee. It's a match made in heaven.