Monday, April 26, 2010

I saw a fascist!

On Saturday, I saw a fascist.  I was walking to the side of the train station, and he was coming down the same path in the other direction.  You may ask, as others have asked me: "Evan, how did you know you saw a fascist?  Was he a skinhead?  Maybe he just liked that style and aesthetic!  Why do you have to judge everyone based on how they look!  Why can't you just let people be!  You think you're better than everyone else, don't you?!"

Okay, so no one has actually gotten indignant yet, but many have asked me how I knew.  The short answer was that he wasn't exactly hiding it.  He was about my age, wearing a t-shirt with a Franco-era flag on it and waving a huge falangista* flag.  Other than that, he seemed pretty normal.  He looked a little awkward walking alone without any protest around, especially since it was clear the construction workers on the side of the road were talking disparagingly about him.  I was sort of tempted to go up and befriend him.  I wanted to know why he believed what he did and what his friends and family thought of it.  Also, I didn't understand why he was walking alone and I could use some Spanish friends who like to hang out in places other than night clubs.  Later, I found out that there was a falangista rally one train stop away, so it was probably better that I didn't speak to him
The flangista flag - I personally think this thing is just about the scariest flag I've ever seen

The Franco-era flag - the symbols are largely borrowed from Ferdinand and Isabel, who unified Spain

It's interesting, though, that whenever I tell this event to someone in Spain, they're totally unsurprised.  People with radical political beliefs don't keep silent here.  I regularly see posters advertising Marxism, fascism, communism, anti-fascism, or whatever else.  In the U.S., we've had a liberal democracy for so many years that it is intricately tied to our national identity, and an attempt to subvert it would be like an attempt to destroy the country.  All of this is less clear in Spain.  The current political order was very much a compromise, and no one is really happy with it.  It's democratic, but people don't have much say in their representatives.  It's sort of decentralized, but more so in some regions than others.  There's a royal family, but they spend most of their time trying to convince everyone that they're just ordinary people, and not enjoying any sort of power or riches.  Even the very existence of the country is controversial in some regions, so much so that some Cataluñan politicians avoid the word "Spain".

Also, Spain has seen global political history very differently.  The Spanish Civil War was basically the opposite of World War II.  The democratic countries opted not to enter, leaving the Second Republic, the Soviet Union, and a handful of international volunteers to lose against the Spanish, German, and Italian fascists.  Spain also essentially sat out of the first half of the Cold War.  The ideological struggles that led to the victory of liberal democracy over fascism and socialism were heard in Spain only as distant echoes.  They still haven't quite been resolved here.

As a result, there are strong anti-status quo movements: the republicans (some liberals, some socialists), the falangistas, the secessionists, the anarchists, and the communists - each has littered the streets with their own political graffiti (I recently saw a mailbox painted in the republican colors).  Some are even politically powerful.  It's a pretty striking change from American culture and one of the most interesting parts, in my opinion, of the modern Spanish experience.

Further continuing my weekend of Spanish stereotypes, this Sunday a famous toreador was mauled in a bullfight.  He didn't step to the side in time and the bull pierced his side with its horn.  He needed 8 liters of blood.  Even though the majority Spaniards don't approve of bullfighting, the news took this as an opportunity to show all of this toreador's past maulings over and over again.  There were many.  After the first few minutes, Pilar and Álvaro decided this was a good time to end lunch.  Neither of them had the stomach to watch anymore.  This was apparently also true of many of Pilar's former students, who went to bullfights only to leave in the middle disgusted at the amount of blood.  I'm still planning to go next month during the Festival of San Isidro when there are fights everyday.

*Falange (pronounced fah-lan-ḥeh) is the Spanish political movement to which Franco belonged that supports the idiosyncratic brand of fascism known as falangismo.  It's basically just fascism with some national-syndicalism mixed in it and a strong reliance on Catholicism and Spanish nationalist symbols.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

What the European Union Means to Me

A months or so ago, a friend who is also studying abroad (but with significantly less email access) and I had a brief email exchange in which we attempted to summarize the vast breadth and nuance of our respective experiences into a few paragraphs.  I told her that I had been basically just been taking classes having to do with the European Union.  She said that she thought it must be cool being learn about the EU while experiencing its impact on my day-to-day life.  At the time, I didn't really think much of it.  I was mostly learning about the complex treaty-based history of what was and is an extremely non-transparent and sometime deliberately confusing institution*, so it was a bit difficult to see its direct impact on my life.  However, after a few months, I thought about it again and decided that, being that this is my sole academic focus while I'm here, I should take some time to consider that question.  I present you with:

6 Ways the European Union Affects My Everyday Life
By Evan Rolfe

1.  Things cost less now then when I arrived in Spain.  When I got here, one euro was about 1 1/2 dollars.  Now it's about about 1 1/3 dollars.  Why?  The EU (or at least the eurozone) is a complete monetary union, but only partially an economic union.  They sort of halfheartedly put controls on national fiscal policy, in that there are a ton of rules without any enforcement mechanisms.  Greece, Portugal, Spain, and Italy, among others, have massive deficits in direct contradiction these rules, but there's nothing anyone can do about it.  So, when Greece's problems came to the surface, Spain's currency depreciated.  Now, things cost less for me.  In fairness, Spain will face a similar crisis soon, but I'll probably be gone by then.

2.  Everywhere I go, I see a European flag.  It's EVERYWHERE.  On my money.  At my university.  On some of the traffic circles.  It's funny, really, because since the EU doesn't really have a lot of symbols (or even a unified name due to language issues), so they just stick the flag all over the place.  The result is perhaps even more striking because Spanish people (except the most conservative ones) don't like putting up their flag.  I think they're all a little too wary of nationalism.  In the autonomous communities with stronger identities, they just put up the regional flag, but in Madrid, they generally put flags up in groups of two to four (European, Spanish, Madrid community, Madrid municipality) just to show that they aren't trying to make a political statement.  It really just warms the cockles of my heart and it's probably pretty good for instilling a European identity in the next generation.  Soon, we will live in a world of freedom and consolidation!

3.  Everyone under 30 is dating a foreigner.  I'm sure whoever thought up the Erasmus program, the EU-wide study abroad system, had education in mind as the primary purpose.  Today, however, it is a way for Europeans to party for a semester in a foreign country in a manner that looks good on their resumes.  Part of this partying involves varies sorts of romantic contacts.  Whatever it is about the experience, everyone seems to end up dating someone they met during Erasmus even after the semester has ended.  Eventually, it seems, they all get married and/or live together, thanks to the EU guaranteed free movement of workers (or, as the case may be, free movement of systematically unemployed people).  It seems like these relationships are disproportionately between Spaniards and Italians.  I think it has to do with the language similarities.  It's also why my internship office mostly speaks Italian (much to my confusion) when our boss is away.

4.  There are some non-Americans in my economics class.  Officially, my econ of the EU class is full of Spanish kids.  For some reason, they don't show up.  Almost everyone (sometimes everyone, depending on the day) is foreign - half American, half Erasmus.  I guess if it weren't for the EU, it would just be like being in a Spanish class in the U.S.  My EU politics class is probably about half non-Spanish, but has near complete attendance for some reason.

5.  There's a special EU section of the propaganda they put on the metro TVs.  The newer metro cars have little TVs that play a loop of news, mostly showing all the great things the various levels of government have done today to make Madrid a wonderful place.  Every once in a while, a waving European flag briefly flashes across the screen and we are treated to a segment on all the things the EU has poured money into.  It's a good time.  Sometimes, I even see the back of my friend's head.  She works in the Madrid office in Brussels and they don't have a ton of stock footage.

6.  Cell phone calls in other EU countries aren't that expensive.  When I went on the tour of the European Parliament last spring (in Brussels - I'm still hoping to see the seat in Strasbourg), the key accomplishment they pointed to was the mandatory ceiling on roaming charges for cell phones within the EU.  Over spring break, I spent much less than I expected to on cell phone charges thanks to the European Parliament.

In other news, the man who lives above me has started to get loud again.  Two days ago, he started playing bad heavy metal very loudly before repeatedly dropping things and screaming.  He woke me up yesterday morning by dropping things again.  I mentioned this to Pilar, and she said that she regularly complains to the building supervisor about it.  The man is apparently not only involved in drugs, but was also abandoned by his parents at the age of 18 (does that count?) and has some issues.  I told her not to worry about it and that it doesn't really bother me since I sleep with earplugs (this was pre-being woken up).  Pilar then told me how she always tells her friends when they ask about me how tolerant I am.  I was shocked.  I've never been called "tolerant" in my life, though variants of "intolerant" have been used semi-regularly. I guess it just goes to show that social norms are relative.   Since there's no Spanish social norm against complaining too often (actually, it seems the opposite sometimes), I come off as nice and tolerant.

*For example, the EU "Constitution" is called the "Consolidated versions of the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union".  It is about 400 pages long with clauses such as:
Where, pursuant to the Treaties, the Council acts on a proposal from the Commission, it may amend that proposal only by acting unanimously, except in the cases referred to in paragraphs 10 and 13 of Article 294, in Articles 310, 312 and 314 and in the second paragraph of Article 315. (Article 293 TFEU)
By the way, in reading that, you should be realize that "Council" refers to the Council of the European Union (also unofficially referred to as the "Council of Ministers"), not the European Council (a similar EU institution also governed by these treaties) or the Council of Europe (a non-EU body that is still occasionally referenced).

 I am so psyched for Europe Day!

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Schwa: My Secret Weapon in the War Against Gramatical Gender

Like many languages, Spanish has grammatical gender.  Words are either masculine or feminine, with no real relation to their function in a sentence.  It's not nearly as bad as other languages.  There are only two genders and words tend to follow certain patterns based on how they end.  Among others, -o words tend to be masculine, while -a, -ad, -ión, and -umbre tend to be feminine.  These rules aren't set in stone, though, and there are a bunch of exceptions.  For instance, it's el monarquista and la monarquista (depending on the monarchist's gender), el problema, el agua (but las aguas), etc.  Even worse, if you forget whether a word ends in a -o or -a, you don't have any hints available, and sometimes this can change the meaning (e.g. política is a policy, while político is a politician).

I get genders wrong pretty regularly.  By and large no one really cares and won't correct you unless there was some sort of semantic issue, but it's pretty embarrassing and worth avoiding when possible.  Anyway, the issue reminded me of a David Sedaris story about learning French.  Having moved to France with his boyfriend Hugh, he was having a difficult time getting genders down.  French genders are much harder than Spanish, at least from what I've heard, as there aren't really many hints.  He soon realized, though, that he could avoid the issue by dealing only in the plurals, since the French plural article is the same for both.  He begins to buy things only in multiples, but Hugh starts to get angry when he realizes the house is filled with unreasonable quantities of everything.  The story ends:
Hugh tells me that the market is off-limits until my French improves. He's pretty steamed, but I think he'll get over it when he sees the CD players I got him for his birthday.
Thinking about how nice it would be to have my own anti-gender cheat, I started to pay more attention my daily conversation.  I realized that when I talk fast or if I'm unsure, I begin to add schwas to words, like in English.  I always thought of it as just a fault in my accent, but I'm beginning to realize that this could be deeply useful.  For instance, if I forget if "tripe" is callos or callas (this is actually a tricky one for me - somehow tripe comes up a lot in my life), there's an easy solution.  Suddenly, I just have to say "Me gustan ləs calləs" and people may think of me as accented (not to mention gastronomically sophisticated), but won't have nearly as much of a reason to question my capacity in Spanish!  Or, they'll think that I am just proclaiming my affection for the streets, or calles, which would not be that out of character for me.


Speaking of genders.  I was once again amazed last week by the continuing strength of traditional gender roles in Spanish society.  With the start of my internship rapidly approaching (I've been there three days - I'll write about it soon), I went to the dry cleaner to get my clothes cleaned.  I was shocked when I was charged only €8.50 for my suit (not cheap, but not that bad) and €3.50 ($4.75) for each shirt.  When I got home, I told Pilar, who agreed that the price was unreasonable:  "If you want, in the future, I can wash your shirts and you can pay Lili (the cleaner) to iron them for you when she comes.  I have an iron and you would just need to pay her my rate for whatever extra time it takes her."
"If you have an iron," I said, "I can iron them myself just as easily, and then I don't have to wait for her."
"You know how to iron?" she asked, as if I had just revealed that I could carve elaborate ice sculptures. "How did you learn how to iron."
"That's how I get my shirts ready for work when I have internships at home," I said, a little indignantly.  "My mother hasn't washed my clothes since I was 14."

For the next 24 hours, every other conversation concerned my immanent plans to iron a single shirt.  You would think I had told her I was planning to launch fireworks in the house or perform minor surgery on myself.  First, I was introduced to the iron and all it's relating items, complete with a lecture on iron safety.  I was then regaled with stories of Pilar ironing her ex-husband's clothes and her friends ironing their husbands' clothes (note: ironing-based stories are as boring as the sound).  I was told about all the starch sprays she could buy to help me, the friends she would ask for helpful tips, and how lucky I was that she had a particularly good iron.  "Evan, when are you planning to iron? Tonight?" she asked me as I came back from an errand.  "I'm just so worried about it."

Finally, the night before my internship, after she went to sleep, I quietly took out the ironing board and iron and made my (unclean) shirt look presentable.  The next morning, I went to my internship and came home.  That evening, after asking how my internship was, she asked, "and did you iron your shirt last night?"  I nodded.  "Oh good," she said.  "Just make sure you let it cool before you put the iron back in the cabinet.  The cabinet is plastic, so I'm afraid it could melt if you put it back right after using it."

I must say I'm a bit confused by the importance of gender roles.  Spanish society has advanced rapidly.  The socialist government has, among other things, created an Orwellian-sounding of Ministry of Equality, put civics classes in schools where children learn about how equal men and women are, and established gender equality as one of its goals as rotating president of the Council of the European Union.  Pilar is a strong, single working woman who raised a son.  She's sufficiently progressive that from her lack of reaction, I wasn't sure for the first few months if she even that she had realized I was gay despite occasional references to a boyfriend (which, in all fairness, differs from the word for "girlfriend" only in that it ends in -o instead of -a, and, as mentioned above, I don't use genders well).  Yet, as soon as I try and do something domestic or even mention that I can do so, like clean dishes, do laundry, or cook food, she either appears amazed or acts as though I am taking away one of her greatest pleasures.  I'm not sure who exactly she thinks does these things for me at college (actually, she asked if my friend were going to hire a cleaner for our next year), or who will do them in my adulthood.  I'm not sure what it says about Spanish society, or if it only has to do with a mother who misses having her son to take care of.  Either way, though, I'm certainly not going to object to my lack of domestic responsibility too much.

Oh, may I live, may I die in the North!

At the time that I started writing this (more than a week ago) I had just came back from a great Spring Break (or Holy Week, as it's known here) trip to Stockholm and Berlin.  Holy Week in Europe is sort of like a giant Chinese fire-drill: everyone leaves there city and goes to another one to hang out.  Madrid was basically empty when I got back on Saturday, mostly to the beach.  My boyfriend, Andrew, and two of our friends, Courtney and Jonathan, met me in Germany and we spent a few days in Stockholm courtesy of Ryanair.  At the risk of writing what would sound like a diary entry, I'll stay to the important points.

Arriving in Germany for my transfer in Dusseldorf was like entering another world.  The airport was clean, modern, and completely silent.  People talked only in hushed voices, quietly nursing a beer or sandwich.  No one was talking loudly enough for the entire room to hear, no one was smoking in blatant violation of signs, and even the Spanish couple that found it necessary to straddle one another to better make out while the plane was taxiing (no joke) learned some restraint.  Most read newspapers, which were, unlike in Spain where free 10-page rags are the norm, complete and varied.  I picked up my free International Herald Tribune (thank you, Lufthansa!) and breathed a sigh of relief that I was going to take a week's break from the most annoying aspects of Spanish culture.  Even the pleasant and considerate manner in which services were provided was a welcome break.  When our plane was delayed in Madrid-Barajas (as they always are), the friendly German flight attendants calmed down my seatmate who was going to miss his connection.  They apologized profusely even though it wasn't their fault, and although they said ground staff would be there to help him in Dusseldorf, they did their best to help him from the air.  It was so much better than Spanish apathy!

Some interesting (and uninteresting) points from Sweden:
  • Sweden is really cold.  When we arrived, the ice was still breaking up in the bay.  Piles of snow were also a common sight, even in almost-April.  Outside of the city, the ground was still completely covered.
  • When Ryanair said they were flying into Stockholm, they actually meant "nowhere near Stockholm".  Stockholm-Skavsta airport is actually 63 miles outside of the city and is not in the city, province, or county of Stockhom.  It takes a 90 minute bus ride - longer than the flight itself - to get into the city.
  • Stockholm has really odd hours of operation.  Things are only open between 10:00 and 4:00, if you're lucky.  English tours are almost universally only once a day, starting between 1:00 and 2:00, meaning that you can only see one thing at a time.  The notable exception to this is Ikea, which is open until 9:00 and has a free bus service.
  • Ikea also differs from the rest of Sweden in that it's quite cheap.  Sweden is not cheap.  Despite our best efforts to save money, we were at times caught completely off-guard.  One cafe even charged $6.25 for a slice of cake!
  • I actually kept forgetting what country I was in.  It feels so much like every other northern European country that I at times thought I was back in the Netherlands.  There's the same hushed sense of efficiency and unintelligible but clearly Germanic language.
  • Our hostel was on a boat.  We sang "I'm on a boat!" not infrequently.  Stockholm is full of hostels in weird places - on a boat, on a larger boat, in a former prison...  The hotel was actually a lot of fun and had a quiet 24 hour bar above it.  Logically, we never saw any Swedes there after 4:00 PM.  I'm not sure what they do with their time.  They only work 40 hour a week (36 if they have kids) and don't seem to go out except to get afternoon cake and coffee.
  • Stockholm is actually a fantastically beautiful city, especially in the sun.  There are a ton of steeples and many traditional buildings, or buildings in a traditional style.  Also, it's built on a bunch of islands, so you're always walking on bridges and it's hard to get lost.  The smallest one contains an institute for research on democracy and elections.
  • The degree of gender equality is startling.  Half of the strollers were being pushed by men and most bathrooms were not divided by sex.  One actually indicated that it was for use by both men and women with a drawing of two people wearing pants, except one had two circles on its chest, representing breasts.  Interestingly enough, though it seemed just as homophobic as the U.S. Eastern seaboard (more so than Berlin or Madrid).
  • Everyone speaks really good English, complete with colloquialisms and slang.  Even the street vendors and grocery store clerks.  I was really impressed. 
By far, the best part of Stockholm was the tour of the Riksdag, or Parliament.  As we came in to get a tour, the man in the front informed us that there were only four tickets left for the English tour.  "We're four people," I said.  "Yes," he said, holding the entrance stickers and if to prove that he was truly regretful, "but I only have four spots left.  I'm so sorry.  The rest will have to come back tomorrow.  I if could I would give out more, but I can't.  I wish I could let you all in.  I really am very sorry."  It was sort of touching.  The tour was let by a tall blonde woman with a meek demeanor and a great sense of humor.  Highlights included:
  • "The parliamentarians who choose to live in public housing have only very small rooms, but the basement of the buildings have swimming pools and laundry machines, for those who are addicted to laundry"
  • "We used to have two chambers of parliament, but it was so inefficient to have to go through the same procedure twice!"
  • (In response to a man criticizing the modern architectural elements to the building) "We think it is quite beautiful.  The Council of Beauty has approved it!"
Berlin was a totally different city in its own right.  Unlike Spain or Sweden, which were technically neutral (Spain, at least, really sided with the Axis and even sent soldiers, but whatever), Berlin was bombed to the ground.  There's really very little old or quaint left in the city, since everything was more or less build from scratch.  As a result, the city is modern and incredibly spread out.  Moreover, there has been a huge amount of reconstruction since the reunification, such that you can't even tell whether you're in the east or west.  The city is still very much under construction.  Not wanting to make an eyesore, though, they cover everything in fake facades that look like what they are trying to construct.  It's not really that successful a substitute.

The effects of the new construction mean that much of the city has a really modern feel.  As an example: monuments.  Germany had a difficult time getting over its role in World War II, and mixing it with modern conceptual art has made interesting effects.  Deciding that a single Holocaust memorial was not, the city decided to create separate memorials for each group involved, plus for anything that happened in a given place, all deeply conceptual. The burned book memorial, for instance, is a relatively small clear tile in the middle of the square where there were book-burnings, which looks down upon an empty white subterranean library.  The Jewish memorial looks somewhat like a graveyard, with passages on a grid between the stones that get deeper and deeper towards the center.  It is a favorite location for tag for German youth, I suppose with the added challenge of running from the police who try to stop them.  The most conceptual was the gay memorial, which featured a single large rectangular stone in a park with a small square hole in one side.  Looking in, one could see a one minute loop of two guys in 1930's dress making out.  This was the only one of the three with any sort of explanation, but it wasn't that close by and didn't really make a lot of sense

The best part of Berlin, in my opinion, were the governmental buildings.  The Reichstag is simply stunning.  Its dome, added in the 90's after reunification, is modern without being gaudy, like the European Parliament in Brussels.  It gives the feeling of being new without detracting from the historical building.  Moreover, it is located in a plaza from which one can see two other incredibly beautiful, super-modern glass government buildings and the super-modern glass train station.  I consider myself a connoisseur of government plazas.  I would say that Empire State Plaza, located in Albany, is still my favorite due to its absurdity, but Berlin is probably the best I have seen in terms of sincere effort.  We went up in the Reichstag one night.  It was a good opportunity to see the city, but I fear it couldn't compare to the tour of the Swedish parliament.

In any case, while I could undoubtedly continue writing this, I fear I lack the interest to do so (hence why it's taken me a week so far) and it wouldn't hold anyone's attention.  While I think I feel obligated to write about trips I've taken, I don't think they're ever as interesting to write about as they were to take, unless something crazy happens.  I think I just prefer to write about negative things (some have commented on my general tone), and fortunately most of my trips don't fit that category.

Why You Can Be Too Polite In Turkey

As one Jessica Blevins reminded me today [ED: at the day of writing, not posting], my posts have become a little less frequent.  I apologize about this to everyone reading this blog and not secretly wishing I didn’t write so damn much.  Between homework, midterms and neurotically applying for jobs (@DGro: great bloggers make great engineering interns – hire yours today!), I seem to have other things to do in my dorm room besides blogging.

So the title of this post, which surely will be overshadowed by tons of superfluous text, requires a bit of back story…

This past weekend, Nick (from Pitzer) and I decided to backpack on the Lycian way (or Likya Yolu).  The Lycian way is probably the most popular hiking trail in Tukey and it is abundantly clear why.  The trail hugs the Mediterranean coast, occasionally diverting to reach a village, ruins or a mountain view.  Our route started in Kaş (which, since our last visit, has become infested with British and German tourists) and ended in Üçağız (if the specialized characters are confusing, it’s pronounced ewchauhz).  The hike was stunning and with the exception of some stinging something-or-other in the bay we swam in, altogether pleasant.

As Nick didn’t bring a sleeping bag to Turkey, we decided we would find a place to stay for the night.  As there were only two small villages along the way, this was actually rather risky, but we figured that we would just sleep with emergency blankets in a worst case scenario.  Fortunately for us, at the end of the first day, we met a man outside of the village of Boğazcık (boazjuhk) eager to have us spend the night in his pension.  That the man was the owner of the pension was a little unclear until we got to the village proper, though I don’t know if this was because we didn’t understand his slurred Turkish or he didn’t tell us.  Either way, the pension was basically just this old couple’s house with two rooms for backpackers.  There were three Germans also staying the night.  They knew no Turkish, and our hosts knew no English and very little German.  This was hilarious for Nick and me, as we finally got to see other people go through a shortened version of our month of home-stay.

Getting to the title…

The highlight of the pension was clearly the meals, which were cooked from things the family grew on their farm.  We were hungry and impressed with the food, so we thanked our hosts profusely and complemented the food.  In America this would have been good manners, but in Turkey it gets a mixed response.  Turks hate to be indebted to someone.  This is the reason, for instance, why Turks secretly leave their hosts gifts.  I am also beginning to conclude that this is why they don’t like to be thanked.  Compounding this, rural Turks especially are super-superstitious, especially when it comes to the evil eye.  Even in the cities, everything is decorated with “blue beads” – eye-shaped charms for warding off the evil eye.  I think my host family had at least 30 blue beads.  They even pinned blue beads to Kaan on occasion.  The evil eye is believed to come through jealousy, so having something worthy of jealousy is a bad thing.  Complementing something makes it worthy of jealousy, thus putting the recipient of the complement at risk for evil-eye-ness.

I don’t think we angered our hosts that much, they just complained/joked about our insistence that everything was delicious.  They seemed much more interested in the fact that Nick could remember the names of all three of their baby goats.  Still, not complementing people or saying thank you is something I am going to have to work on.

To be fair, some Turks appreciate politeness.  My friend Müjgan is going to America for grad school next year, and when I asked her why she wanted to go to America, one of her reasons was that people in America would be as polite as me.  I think this pales in comparison to her other reason: the police or ambulances in America come on demanded and don’t take kickbacks.  Still, it’s nice that someone appreciates well-wishing attempts at politeness, especially since this someone is making sure I don’t accidentally miss my Advanced Strength of Materials midterm (all information about which is given in only Turkish).