Merhaba, I speak çok az Turkish. In fact, my Turkish is almost as awkward as watching Paris Hilton bellydancing, but my failures sure have made my friends laugh over the years. I thought I would share with you some of my greatest Turkish fails.
Can I have a situation please?
There are two words in Turkish that continue to confuse me – dürüm and durum. There is a slight difference in the pronunciation but a lot of difference in meaning. A dürüm is meat wrapped in flatbread – sometimes called a kebab in the West, whilst durum means a condition, situation or attitude.
For my first year in Istanbul, I was going to the kebab shop and politely asking, ‘Bir tane durum, lutfen.’ Translation, ‘Can I have a situation please.’
Now, I still can’t remember the difference so I put the Turkish aside and just ask for a chicken wrap instead.
Winters in Istanbul are cold. It can get below zero degrees and it will often snow.
The Turkish word for cold is, soğuk. The ğ is silent. In an ideal world, it is pronounced like, so-ouk. However, when you’re learning a language it’s never an ideal world and when people do not have a Turkish keyboard you will see soğuk written as soguk. If you say, ‘Soguk,’ to others – without silencing the g – you’re simply saying (in Turkish), ‘Sausage.’
During my first winter I learnt soguk from Facebook and so getting into taxis I was telling the driver I was, ‘Çok soguk!’ Translation, ‘Very sausage!’ To make matters worse, I would hug myself and enact a shiver and finish the sentence with brrrrr to show how çok soğuk I really was. It wasn’t until I told my Turkish friend I was ‘very sausage’ that he pointed out my mistake. Yep, don’t I feel like a silly sausage now!
Excuse me, are you single?
Fast forward three years and my confidence in using Turkish has grown but I’m prone to making rookie mistakes.
‘Bakar mısınız.’ Is something you call out to get a waiter’s attention in a café.
‘Bekar misiniz.’ Is something you say to ask, ‘Are you single?’
As I learnt in a small crowded water pipe café full of young men, those slight differences make all the difference. Hanging out with a dear female friend, I confidently called out the latter sentence to the much younger male waiter. Suddenly the eyes of all the men nearby were on us ladies – obviously I had declared we were the cougars in the crowd! Realizing my mistake I laughed, corrected myself and made my order whilst the boys around us snickered and continued to smoke their water pipes.
Taxi driver, please wash
The waterpipe must have gone to my head that night, because in the taxi home I said to the driver, ‘Duş, lutfen.’ Translated, ‘Shower, please.’
What I wanted to say was, ‘Düz, luften,’ which means, ‘straight please.’
My love affair with learning Turkish continues. I am learning that every word and every letter can make all the difference from getting a serious response or a giggle. I’m a secretly surprised when no one laughs at my Turkish attempts and now I know if there is no giggle – I said it right!
Recently, I started formal Turkish classes and my sentences are getting longer and more complicated – making for more hilarious and embarrassing translations and durumlars. Stay tuned to read those…
If you’ve had similar experiences feel free to add to the comments section below.