Talk’n Turkish fails: Part 1

Spoke turkishMerhaba, 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.

Very sausage!

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.


A lesson in abundance from Turkey


I am contemplating a move back to my hometown in Australia, but – to be honest – I’m nervous. You see the longer I live in Turkey, the more I resent the lifestyle I led in Australia and I fear going back to it.  I wish to share a story – a defining moment for me in how I choose to live my life now and in the future.

Before I moved to Turkey, my friends and I used to gather once a month in my hometown to break bread together and to reflect on our busy lives whilst intending for better days. We called ourselves the intenders circle – a group of like-minded spiritual people who over an hour or so, would eat together, and later, we’d form a circle by sitting on plush cushions. We’d  close our eyes and meditate – visioning for a better world. Then we would we would share the things we were grateful for and intend for things we wanted like ‘abundance’.

Usually we wanted abundance in love, in money, in success, in health – abundance in anything we thought we were lacking. We thought, if we were lucky to attain this abundance – we’d be happy. But since moving to Turkey my thoughts on abundance have shifted thanks to grounding experiences like the one I had in 2012.

Autumn of that year, I was walking through one of the poorer neighbourhoods of Istanbul –Zeyrek in Fatih. Zeyrek is one of those areas modern Istanbul seems to look down on because it’s like a village in the middle of the city on the edge of the Golden Horn – slightly conservative and somewhat gritty. Ultimately. it’s like time has stood still. But it’s full of decaying wooden Ottoman houses and old Byzantine churches that were turned into mosques by the Ottomans. It’s an area of the city I’ve grown to like because of its old world charms.

On this particularly evening, the sun was just setting and I could hear some soulful Middle Eastern singing in the distance and so, me being a big fan of Middle Eastern music, I walked towards the sound. I was curious to see who could be making such a beautiful noise in the quiet streets at dusk.

I came across a tiny playground on the corner of a paved street near a mosque. The playground was barricaded by a high iron fence encasing two swing sets, monkey bars and other equipment that on this evening created a performance platformsfor about 10 children under the aged of 12. They were singing and tapping wooden sticks from the nearby tree against the steal playground equipment – creating a rhythmical sound.

One of the boys in particular had a vibrato so clean, so mature it was utterly captivating. I felt both joy and sadness tuning into his voice. His mates seemed to be his band and he was the ‘rockstar’.

Completely mesmerized, I listened to them outside the gates of the playground. Soon others joined me for the impromptu performance. The children were unaware they were now entertaining a small gathering of the neighbourhood outside the gates.

The children were in singing in Arabic and they didn’t respond to comments made in Turkish or Kurdish from the passersby – so I suspected they were Syrian.

As I watched them, it dawned on me. It was a cold night and there I was dressed in a warm winter jacket, boots, scarf, new jeans and I had my Iphone and camera with me. All these things I thought gave me abundance and happiness in my ‘western world’, yet, despite my belongings I was feeling a little low. I can’t remember why…whatever it was I was feeling sorry for myself.

Meanwhile, these children singing were dressed in one layer of dirty clothes, they had no shoes and it looked like they hadn’t washed in days – but there they were smiling, laughing and creating such joy for those now listening.

I was standing by myself – a little separate from the small gathering. The boy with the vibrato spotted me and ran from the playground equipment, stepped up on a ledge and lent over the fence towards me. He sang to me. Soon all of the kids followed. There was now a choir of children hanging over the fence, singing to me. All of them tapping their sticks on the steal gates. They were intrigued by me as much as I was intrigued by them. Now I – the blonde yabanci (foreigner) in a conservative neighbourhood – was part of the entertainment for the crowd and passersby.

When it was time to leave, I waved goodbye to them and with huge smiles they all waved back. We had connected over their beautiful organic music and they so innocently taught me a lesson in abundance.

What is abundance if I can be dressed the way I was – abundant in warmth and comfort –and yet feeling sad about life. And they can have so little – a layer of dirty clothing, no shoes – and be so happy. If they were from Syria, what had they experienced before this impromptu playground performance? But yet, there they were delivering joy to others with few possessions and making the most of what was around them.

Should asking for abundance be about wanting to be richer in love, money and success? The experience led me to conclude that abundance should perhaps be measured by what we need to survive. Do you have food in your fridge? Do you have clothes on your back? Are you warm? And most importantly do you have friendships with like-hearted people that support you to sing loud and proud? If you say, “yes” to all of these, then you have abundance already. Anything beyond this is perhaps a luxury – a want. Not a necessity for happiness.

I have reduced my list of wants since living in Turkey because I realize I have abundance  – I’ve had it all along. I don’t want for as many luxuries here that my friends in the West want and that’s why I’m nervous to return to the ‘abundance’ as defined by the West. I have less here in Turkey then in my hometown but yet I feel richer…because I have the bear essentials for survival and I’m surrounded by like-minded people who sing to the beat of my drum, and I hopefully they know I sing to theirs. I’ll have to say, “no” a lot to the luxuries on offer if I do return to my hometown –- to keep Istanbul’s lesson in abundance with me. Because: When our want becomes less we do become richer.

30 signs you’ve settled as an expat in Istanbul


  1. You furnish your house entirely from an Ikea catalogue to avoid the two-tone, hard-wearing wooden Turkish furniture.
  2. You know not to plan life in advance here – the best experiences are organised last minute.
  3. Punctuality? What’s that? An hour late is fine.
  4. You accept phone calls and text messages at all hours – no problem.
  5. You don’t get out of bed before 9am, because you know not much happens before then.
  6. Your first Turkish words were,”Çok trafik ya!”
  7. You know it is possible to get motion sickness in a taxi on a straight road.
  8. You’ve learnt not to say the word, “sick” especially in a taxi.
  9. You know not to mention the social networking images called, “meme” in public (especially in a taxi).
  10. You know how to pronounce “müdürlüğu” and “ikamet” and you survived the process involving both words.
  11. 100 pages to sign to open a bank account? Sure, no problem – system inefficiencies are just a part of life here.
  12. In the company of Turkish people, you hear the word “yabancı” – you know they’re probably talking about you.
  13. In an effort to practice Turkish, you’ve ordered the “sicak erkek” instead of the “sicak ekmek” at the local bakery and you’ve said “terlikler” instead of “tebrikler “ to a bride.
  14. When your friends have good news, your immediate response is, “Hayırlı olsun!”
  15. You can’t eat a meal without saying, “Afiyet olsun” at least twice.
  16. You say things like “Allah, Allah” when things get confusing, surprising or funny.
  17. That street cat on the corner, you think it’s a good idea to take it home (Allah, Allah!)
  18. You know drinking copious amounts of tea from a tulip shaped glass is important in making new friends.
  19. You’ve had at least one Turkish lover who insisted on calling you every hour to tell you they love you and miss you after one date.
  20. You know you’re having a serious relationship with a Turk when you get a personal pair of house slippers to wear at their house.
  21. Sex outdoors is now something you can only do when you visit your hometown.
  22. You’ve learnt that an Internations party is just for Turkish girls to meet Western men, Western men to meet Turkish girls, Turkish men to hit on Western girls and Western girls to drink wine.
  23. You’ve paid 30TL for a glass of Angora wine at an Internations party.
  24. You know that 30TL can buy you two bottles of Angora and a pirated DVD to watch at home.
  25. You hold onto your glass of wine in a bar because you know the waiter will take it before you have finished.
  26. You know what a twinkle is and their association to self proclaimed Indian and Middle Eastern businessmen and pilots.
  27. You’ve watched all the seasons of True Blood and Game of Thrones in three months thanks to online streaming and cheap unlimited downloads.
  28. You know who Kerim and Fatmagül are.
  29. You don’t smoke cigarettes but you’ll occasionally smoke nargile.
  30. You could add many more crazy things about Turkey to this list!

A lesson about beauty from Turkey


The way in which Turks deliver compliments has always made me giggle…at least after I get over the initial shock.

The chilly winter is making way for warmer spring days and so, the layers of winter clothing are starting to peel off – uncovering the extra love handles beneath.

In the west, a couple of kilos will go unnoticed. But not here in Turkey.

In the west, people would say, “Hello? How are you? You’re looking good.” If the person looked like they had put on weight we would never mention it. We have grown to dislike weight gain in the west – it’s evil and we beat ourselves up for gaining a little here and there. To acknowledge a friend’s extra weight (especially unprovoked) would be considered insulting.

But in Turkey, acknowledging weight seems to be a compliment and “Hello? Have you put on some weight?” is akin to saying, “You look great!” or, “You look healthy!”

I never bought scales in Istanbul, I just rely on my Turkish friends for their ongoing assessments. It took me a long time to accept this and I almost learnt the hard way…

Three years ago I was introduce to a Turkish man at bar. Within 10 minutes of exchanging pleasantries he said, “You look like…balik etli.”

Stunned, I translated the words in my head to – fish meat.

Fish meat! What!? I shifted uncomfortably in anger and looked for an exit from the conversation. What a rude man. I did not know what to do. Perhaps I did not hear right? Or perhaps my Turkish is more average then I thought so I said, “Pardon? Did you just say I look like fish meat?”

I gasped when he answered, “Yes.”

Sensing my disgust he was quick to explain that to be balik etli in Turkey is to be voluptuous – to have curves and the Turks do love curves. His confident explanation soon had me believing that he did just indeed compliment me on my body shape.

I have been labelled balik etli three times since and I am always met with the same complimentary explanation.

So fast forward to yesterday when I bump into a young turkish friend. Pointing to his belly he politely said, “Sister, have you put on extra here?” I giggled.

I smiled and said, “Yes I have. Thank you for noticing. Thank you for the compliment. You’re right – I do feel great!”