Thursday, 15 September 2011

Invisible Yabancı

I was having a conversation on an ex-pat forum recently about the way we yabancı (foreigners) are treated by the Turks.   It doesn't matter that I (and many others) have dual nationality, and have lived here for a number of years, we are still treated differently.

Don't get me wrong, we are welcomed warmly by most Turkish people.  Their kindness and generosity is well documented on my blog.  It's just that they seem to think we are at best incapable of organising our lives or at worst just plain stupid.   Almost every time I use my Turkish to communicate (and I am confident I am using it correctly) they make out they don't understand or that they haven't heard us.  Reading Jack's blog perkingthepansies, this morning reminded me of this, when he mentioned that it's sometimes easier just to speak in English to get a response.

I sometimes get offers of help to undertake the simplest of tasks without asking for it.  Mostly I accept it as just plain willingness to help, but occasionally it irritates me.   I have the easiest of things explained to me at great length as if I were a 5 year old.  Teaching your grandmother to suck eggs springs to mind.

When shopping in the markets, we foreigners are often asked where we come from.  When I say I live near Milas, it's almost like they refuse to accept that this is my's where I have lived for 13 years.  They seem to find difficulty in accepting that I am English but have made Turkey my home.   And we all know that when you buy anything in markets, there is a different price structure for Turks and foreigners.  How long does one have to live here to be treated equally?   Why do I need to explain every time I want to buy something that I'm not a tourist...just so that I can get a fair price?

Whenever my inlaws are due to visit, FIL never rings me to tell me the date and time they are due...he rings Mr A who then (if he remembers) has to call me.  FIL knows Mr A isn't here most of the time, so surely it's best to let me know?   Of course I am aware that FIL will do this to a large extent just to annoy me, so I let it go.

Yaşar, Mr A's ex-boss and good friend to both of us, was very kind last Friday and took me to the dentist in his car, then returned to collect me after my treatment.  Later, I discovered that Mr A knew all about this because Yaşar had phoned him to let him know.  I didn't think much of it at the time.  I just thought Yaşar felt it right to let my husband know.

However, on the same day Yaşar informed me that his English girlfriend was due here this week, and that he would like to bring her over to visit me.  I invited them to come yesterday, and they were possibly going to bring Gwen.2 with them if she could get away from the shop.   I expected them to arrive at around 2.30pm.  When it got to 3.15pm  there was no sign of them.  Gwen.2 phoned me to say that she was stuck in the shop and wouldn't be over after all.  It wasn't a definite arrangement for her to come, so I wasn't concerned.  She said that she had told Yaşar and assumed they were on their way.

I phoned Mr A a bit later and happened to mention I was waiting for Yaşar and his girlfriend to arrive and he informed me that they would be late.  "How do you know?" I asked.   Well it would appear that Yaşar had phoned Mr A to tell him this.  And Mr A had forgotten to let me know.  Yaşar has my number.  He knew Mr A wouldn't be here, so why are he and Mr A making arrangements for ME?  Is it because I'm a foreigner and I'm not considered capable of sorting it out for myself?   They don't do it with Turkish women.  

I was extremely irritated by this and told Mr A to ring Yaşar and say that it was too late now for them to come as I had to go shopping, but they could come tomorrow instead....and to please tell Yaşar that if this wasn't possible, or if they were going to be late, to phone ME and not him.

I have to admit to being tempted to just go out...let them arrive find me not here.   After all it would seem that I'm somewhat invisible, so maybe I should be just that.

Rant over...back to normal tolerance tomorrow, I promise!


  1. You got this sort of thing in France too....among the more backwoods seemed to run like this -

    'She doesn't speak the way I do'....not surprisingly when they were speaking patois and still thinking in old centimes, gallons and pounds!

    'Therefore she is stupid.'

    Then it could go either way....over the top helpfulness, or an attempt to con.

    Among the French who thought themselves superior the refusal to accept that i spoke French was a way of putting me in my place.
    I remember meeting a French woman, lost in the tube in London and asking directions in word of one syllable English.
    I told her in French where she needed to alight, but she did the 'put you in your place' thing and tried her English I let her get off at King's Cross rather than making her stay on to the right stop.

    Here, come up with a couple of words of Spanish and they assume you're a native speaker!
    The avalanche of words rolls over and engulfs you!

    There's still the attempt to con a foreigner...must be a tourist...must be fair game.

    Taxi drivers who put a cloth over the metre, for example. That doesn't last long.

    Poeple selling land who double the price at the sight of blue eyes....

    Still France trained me for all that...

  2. Yes Fly, you certainly did get the best training in France to be prepared for all this. I guess I'm still learning how to deal with it. I'll get there eventually! Hopefully!

  3. How frustrating!! It's just rude, regardless of the country/culture. It's like you're not an equal in any way because you are not Turkish. I honestly don't know how you do it. But I certainly love to hear about it! Give 'em hell, Ayak!

  4. 'Cross the Pond: It's difficult to give 'em hell half the time because they are so damn nice!

  5. I think we are fortunate in that Selcuk is small enough that the tourist industry people have started to recognise us. We remain yabanci but are not the very transient tourists most commonly seen round here.

    The refusal to hear yabanci speak Turkish is something I find very frustrating as I struggle with the language.

    A couple of weeks ago, in Kusadasi, we were asked where we came from. I answered 'Selcuk'tan' and he heard 'Belgium'.

  6. omentide. I have to agree about Selçuk. We lived there for a couple of years before we moved here, and it was one of the few places where the locals get to know newcomers fairly quickly. Incidentally I don't know if you ever encounter Turks who don't understand English but then insist on speaking to you in if every other language apart from Turkish is bound to be understood!

  7. I just don't know how you tolerate this all the time.....but I fully understand what you mean. I just go for a month or two and it irritates me.
    Everything has to go through my husband like I was stupid or something. :-( Once we had to go for dinner and the woman was in the same house with me and didn't say anything but left and had phoned my husband.....who in turn thought I knew it was cancelled and was who knows where....and I sat like a dummy waiting and waiting. Could she not tell me or what???? that her husband was terribly delayed at work that night.

    About prices.....well a few times my husband was approached by shop owners of carpet stores and told him..."if you manage to get your American girlfriend to buy a carpet"...I will split some of the profit. He would get very annoyed and mad and would say thats my wife and we would leave the store.

    Sorry if this is too long but I love reading your posts...... have a great day.

  8. Erica: Oh yes the carpet salesmen..along with jewellery and leather salesmen. It's happened a couple of times when Mr A and I have been together. They make assumptions far too quickly. Mr A gave them a piece of his mind too.
    One of the good things about doing this blog is that it's somewhere for me to rant about these things...very therapeutic!
    And no your comment is not too long at all..I like to hear of your experiences too xx

  9. Yesterday I went out to buy roasted chicken (a lazy git, I know) and the kid who waited on me talked with me for about 5 or 10 minutes there. When he asked me where I was from and I told him the US, he was stunned. "You're not Turkish?" I have to say I was pleased as punch.

    Pleased because it was an exception to the rule. On many occasions, for example, a car has pulled up beside me while I was waiting at a bus stop and the passenger/driver has asked me for directions. (It is never an easy route or a place I know well, for some reason) Mid-way through my instructions, the passenger will always smirk and turn to the driver and say, "Yabanci" and they drive off without even a thank you. I have told myself I will never answer questions like that again so I just say- even when I know the answers- "Ben Yabaciyim." And they drive off without saying thanks. It saves time.

    There are tricks though. First of all, no matter how bad your Turkish is- and mine comes and goes like a fever- always speak quickly AS IF you were speaking correctly. Nine times out of ten, they just accept whatever they've heard and fill in the rest.
    And also try this experiment, wear a scarf around your head the next time you go to the market. See if they don't understand you better.
    A lot of it is about expectation.

    Once I went to a pharmacy here to ask about hydrogen peroxide and to my astonishment, none of them SEEMED to have it. Really?? My Turkish friend who witnessed the exchange, said, "As soon as you spoke with an accent, they stopped listening."
    "Was my Turkish THAT bad?" I asked him. (He would have told me too)
    "They just didn't want to bother trying to understand."

    It is one of the surprising things I have encountered while adapting to Turkish culture.

  10. Hi Ayak, I certainly identify. This has happened to me too.

    Mxo me too.


  11. Nomad. Wasn't it great that the boy thought you were Turkish? (Its OK I buy the roasted chickens too!). Actually it is rare to receive a different response. When I came out of the dentist last week iin Konacık there was a market there, and my friend wanted to buy some shorts. Her Turkish is worse than mine (and thats saying something) so she relied on me to talk to the stallholder. He praised me on my Turkish..said it was very isn't of course but it felt good to be told that.

    I think I might well wear a headscarf next time..just to see what happens!

    Hi Maria: Now that I've talked about this subject, its amazing how many people have said the same this past couple of days. I'm glad its not just me!

  12. Infuriating, though nicer than being treated as a "foreign devil" :)

  13. Yes Jenny...really infuriating at times!


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