Expat lesson learned: pantomime and broken Turkish

I’m going to ignore my many pending posts and excuses about not blogging and just post about a typical Istanbul experience. Months ago, Husband got the bright idea to apply for a mortgage refinance on our Brooklyn apartment. Due to annoying coop rules about subletting, it has been sitting empty since we left in April and with lower interest rates, he figured it would be a good way to save some money on the place while we’re away in Turkey. With visions of a few hundred dollars more in my bank account each month, I agreed and applied online through our bank. A few weeks after getting approved for the lower interest loan, I received a letter by email outlining the many pieces of paperwork I’d need to provide the bank, and then realized my coop board would require even more. Thus became the first of many times in which I burst into tears of frustration over the refi.

If you are ever considering something paperwork-intensive while in a foreign country, just stop. Save yourself the aggravation, the language barriers, the dropped Skype calls, and the stress; nothing is worth it. While many things can be done via email these days, financial and bank business still use things called “fax machines” and ask for files they call “original documents.” As I don’t have a scanner or printer at home in Istanbul (a fact I regret daily and may soon rectify) and H. is mostly at a client office where it’s hard for him to print out a large bank document, completing the refi process has involved a lot of trips to copy shops, online PDF editing to fill out forms, and my sister generously scanning documents that come in the mail back in the US. By the end of November, I had much of the work done but needed to fax a signed agreement to the bank.

The day before Thanksgiving, I took the form and made the rounds to find a place to fax it: copy shops, stationery stores, and anywhere with a “fotokopi” or “faks” sign, but none would send my four pages to America. Finally I saw a random shop that sold ink toner, printers, and either fax machines or sent faxes. I poked my head in and found an old man and a teenager involved in some photocopying. I expected the old man inside to refuse me again, but he said sure. His shop is something that would not exist in America: a hodge-podge of dusty and outmoded machines that seems to service few customers and yet occupies some fairly prime real estate. He offered me a seat and a glass of tea (natch) and took my pages with shaking hands to one of his old machines. After a few minutes of trying, it did not go through and we hunched over the fax, trying to hear its message. Finally he tried to explain to me, via pantomime and very slow Turkish, that the recipient’s machine was out of paper and that I should call them to tell them. I explained in turn via pantomime and broken Turkish that I was pretty sure a major bank’s primary fax was NOT out of paper but anyway, it was very early in America so I would try again later.

The next day I returned to the toner shop but we again heard the angry dings of the fax machine refusing us. I then had the idea to scan the pages so I could then email them and began another pantomime-and-broken-Turkish request, putting my pages flat against the scanner of one of the many (functional?) machines. He soon got the message but had no idea which scanner thingie was connected to his computer or how we would accomplish this task. We tried various machines and I even got onto his ancient desktop to try to figure it out to no avail. Finally the old man got out his cell phone and called someone (presumably the teenager from the prior day, as I heard him say something about “the American again”) who routed remotely into the computer and managed to help us scan and save the documents onto my USB stick. The whole process took about a half hour and cost me about 2 TL (a little more than a dollar) and when we finished it, I shook his hand and used the full “tessekur ederim” instead of just “sagol” or “tessekurler,” the equivalent of a formal “thank you very much” rather than just “thanks.”

While I’ve had a half-dozen more printing and scanning emergencies since then, I’ve opted not to bother the nice man and have found other options less time- and embarrassment-intensive. So I guess the real lesson here is to just invest in a cheap scanner/copier machine (perhaps from the nice man!), but I’m glad to know that if I need printing or scanning help, it’s only a random toner shop away.

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2 responses to “Expat lesson learned: pantomime and broken Turkish

  1. Great article about trying to fax from abroad – very funny reading about it, but I’m sure so stressful. It reminds me of the time I had to fax all personal details (copy of passport, credit cards) from a very similar type of shop in India to an airline in Kathmandu, which would only guarantee my seat once fax received. Of course, there was no confirmation, I just had to wait until I arrived in Kathmandu and thankfully they had, by some telecommunications miracle, received my fax.

  2. I’ve had similar experiences trying to photocopy/print documents abroad but we get there in the end.

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