After six weeks, four visitors, and two trips out of the country, I’m beginning to settle into expat life in Turkey. It’s a bit like being a retarded child: you speak in stilted and monosyllabic sentences, simple tasks take hours or even days, and you can get away with things regular folk can’t because they know that you don’t know any better. Occasionally or even daily if you try hard enough, you will have a small victory and learn something new about your new city.
One of my favorite (and few) Turkish words is tamam, which means okay, all right, perfect, etc. Most of my transactions here begin with me asking for something in broken Turkish (“Shoe. Fix. Please. Yes?”), them giving me a lengthy response I don’t understand, me smiling and saying tamam, offering what I think the price is, and eventually leaving with more or less what I needed. Once I realized that there is little chance of agreeing to something serious in another language when you are in a shoe shine shop, I figured it was okay to just smile and nod. Additionally, every business that I have had even a mildly successful transaction with has earned my full loyalty. The first time in my local cobbler, I left one shoe to have the sole repaired with no idea how I would claim it or when it would be ready, and returned an hour later to find it fixed, shined to a blinding sheen, and paid about a dollar. I’ve been back several times since with similar results. And maybe eventually the old man’s words will sink in through osmosis and I’ll actually understand the long stream of comments he is making about my shoes.