Friday, January 22, 2010

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.

1 comment:

  1. And so the caffeine addiction continues.

    Also, as a side note, the little captcha security thing prompted me to type "scrit" to make sure I wasn't a robot bent on sabotaging your blog comments.