Monday, March 30, 2009


In an effort to make LE tired enough to want to go to bed an hour early (we had our time change yesterday), I took him for a long walk to thoroughly run down his batteries. On our way back home, LE was very against holding my hand, so we separately threaded our way through the few other people along the walkway.

LE fell into step with a mother and teenage daughter, and much to our delight, started strutting. He was swinging his arms and swaying his shoulders and striding as much as his little legs would allow, doing his darnedest to walk like the big people. I was pleased because it's not often LE is deliberately hilarious outside our house.

Giggling and cooing, the mother and daughter passed by us and went around LE. The daughter looked at me and at LE and murmured, "Yabancı" to her mother, though I easily heard her from five feet away.

That yabancı was just sort of... deflating, I guess. Why did it need to be pointed out? Who cares? Does LE's Big Man strut lose or gain any cuteness because he's different?

This is a microscopic moment that reminds me of why I don't want to raise LE here. I don't want him always being pointed out as foreign and noticed as different, every day of his life. I don't want people looking at his blond hair and asking where he's from and if he speaks Turkish, every day of his life. Whether it's privilege or discomfort being foreign in Turkey will buy for him, I don't want it.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

An Embarassing Confession

Today is one of the days the LE goes to his Babaanne for the day. He goes once or twice a week now. I hate to admit how much I like these days off. Until a couple months ago, I hadn't had a full day off from Baby Stuff since he was born.

Days off take some getting used to, but I'm settling in. I don't pace so much as I did before, wondering what on earth I should do with all the spare time and becoming flummoxed by the possibilities.

But there are some things about myself I'd forgotten, like what I do left to my own devices and not having to worry about anyone else. One of these things is that at some point in the day, I realize I'm hungry and that I just can't be bothered about dealing with food. So purely for sustenance, I eat something like this:

That's right. I'm eating some 5-hour old oatmeal I found on the stove, directly from the pan with a wooden spatula.

It could be worse. In fact, it's a little bit good. But I'm still kind of embarrassed.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Language Learner

A loyal commenter asked me about what it’s like learning Turkish as a foreigner in Turkey. It’s an interesting question because it’s about language learning and I get to talk about myself a lot. Also I’ve gotten pretty lazy about thinking up new post topics.

First, a brief bio of myself as a language learner before coming to Turkey:
Spanish: I studied it from 7th grade into university. Spanish was part of my Romance Languages BA.
Italian: I studied it for two years in university, plus a short abroad program in Perugia, Italy. Italian was the other part of my Romance Languages BA.
German: I had one year of 100-level German which I mostly took for fun and I didn’t really go anywhere with.

I was always interested in, and not bad at foreign languages. I enjoyed the type of study that was necessary to do well in a class, and I liked writing in foreign languages. My spoken Spanish was never fluent, but I could read well. I think if I’d gone abroad it would have gotten pretty good. After learning Spanish, Italian was very easy to pick up. My spoken Italian was as good as my Spanish in a year, and I was pretty good at reading. Then I left school and both languages fell into disuse. After starting to learn Turkish, my spoken Spanish and Italian got much worse. It’s like there’s a foreign language button somewhere between my brain and my mouth, and when it clicks on, Turkish comes out, or some bizarrely garbled version of the three languages. My understanding of spoken and written Italian and Spanish has worsened over the years. I’m kind of sad about that, but I suppose some latent knowledge lurks somewhere if I want to pick them up again.

Next, some other relevant information about myself as a language learner:
My other BA was in Linguistics, and my MA is in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages). My TESOL program was as much about Applied Educational Linguistics as it was about practical teaching. I’m sort of a junior linguist, which means I like analyzing grammatical processes and patterns (Turkish is particularly well-suited to this), I have a nifty vocabulary to talk/think about them, plus I have a good background in second language acquisition and sociolinguistics. Personally as a learner, I’m usually pretty shy, I don’t like making mistakes or embarrassing myself, and I don’t make much of an effort towards seeking out new situations for language practice, though I’m happy to avail myself of the ones that come my way. My success in communicating in a foreign language depends very much on how comfortable or happy I am in a given situation. I can’t imitate accents well, though I can hear different accents or pronunciation mistakes—I just can’t assess and adjust myself well.

Turkish is a fun language to learn. It’s grammatically rich, and for the most part it’s very neat, tidy, and regular. I had seen a lot of Turkish while studying linguistics, because it was often used to exemplify certain grammatical processes, and it turned up in homework and exams a lot in pattern-finding questions. It is, outside of a few English and Romance Language cognates, completely different from any language I’ve ever heard, and it took me about 3 months here before I could even begin to parse sentences I heard and guess what they might be about, and about 6 months before I could confidently produce anything beyond single words. Because Turkish is so different from English, and because of things like vowel harmony, I can’t begin to imagine how difficult it would be to learn Turkish in a classroom outside of Turkey. I had a few lessons here through the school where I was working, but the class was beyond my zero ability and it was about a year later that I was able to use the past and future tenses I learned in those lessons. However, there were some good vocabulary lessons too and that helped immensely.

In my opinion, after seven years here, my Turkish is pretty abysmal. It should be much better, but I think I reached a point where I was competent enough to do most of what I needed to do, and I lost what had been a keen drive to learn Turkish. Having a husband to deal with any unpleasantness like trips to the Yabancı Emniyet Mürdürlüğü for residence permits made me lazy, and I admit a psychological element in that I’ve become increasingly unwilling to deal with Turkish as I’ve started more and more to want to leave here. My pronunciation is bad and I can’t even hear what’s wrong with it. My grammar isn’t great and my vocabulary is limited to areas of my direct experience. For example, I can get around fine in usual things like shopping or most conversations one has with neighbors, my lexicon around hospitals and childbirth isn’t bad, and I can talk easily about food (I even know some words BE doesn’t know) and domestic routines (my mother-in-law loves to talk housekeeping), but for something like politics, business, law, and the economy, I’m awful.

I also read and write very poorly in Turkish because I’ve never had to do either very much. Newspapers here are written at a low reading level, so I can read the blurbs on the front page and things like the women’s section, but for the hard news and the economy sections, I’m hopeless. I also have limited experience with reading different registers of Turkish, so I don’t get jokes well, and anything subtle or ironic or poetic is lost on me. I’m a little bit better with this in spoken Turkish. I noticed the other day while perusing BE’s Leman comics that I can read those pretty well and get the jokes more than half the time, which I think is because a lot of them are written more like people actually speak. Spoken and written Turkish are really quite different registers, and in speaking I’m rarely called upon to say or understand a very long, grammatically rich sentence. Grammatical endings I’m not sure of I just sort of flub when I’m speaking and hope it doesn’t come out horribly wrong. Another thing that makes written Turkish hard for me is that many words in Turkish have multiple meanings, often meanings which are unrelated to each other, or which are determined by the grammatical or situational context. One word I can think of offhand is ya. This word is everywhere. I learned it first in its most prevalent use, which is when people are whining or complaining (“Oof, yaaa teacher yaaa this is much homework yaaaa.”), and it doesn’t mean anything more than, “I’m whining and/or complaining.” But ya also has grammatical and lexical functions, where it can mean “either,” or have an either-ness quality in certain grammatical structures. In speaking, I don’t worry about this word much, but in reading I realize its importance and can’t quite work out what it means.

A lot of Turkish is about how something is said or when it’s said to take the meaning from it. This is another reason why I can’t imagine learning Turkish in a classroom. Speakers use a large array of situational and paralinguistic signals that can change the meaning of what they’re saying quite a lot. As a shy person these are hard for me to imitate, but a trick I learned early on is that good stress and intonation helps you to be understood even if what you’re saying is pretty mangled. One example of this was on the dolmuş (a minibus that follows a fixed route but drops people wherever they want). I was taught to say “İnecek var” (it means “There is someone who is going to disembark”) to make the dolmuş stop, but I found a lot of drivers just ignored people who said this (and I don’t know why I was taught this phrase because the only time I’ve heard Turks use it on the dolmuş is when someone has requested a stop and the driver didn’t hear them or ignored them). Then I noticed dolmuş drivers stopped almost immediately when someone said something like “sa,” at almost any volume. I learned they were actually saying the more polite and respectful “Müsait bir yerde inebilir miyim?” (“May I get off at a suitable place?”), which at the time I couldn’t manage, but I found just going “’Sa’!” or “Müsait!” would effectively get the driver to stop.

Last, I think there are gender issues with learning Turkish. It is my impression that it’s easier for men to learn Turkish from talking to people in Turkey for a few reasons. For one thing, men can more freely enter into conversations with more people in more situations because there are fewer limitations on who men can talk to, where, and when. Women have to be a little more careful with talking to men too much because it can easily be misconstrued as romantic interest. In a day of dealing with the people you usually deal with (sellers of things, waiters), most of them will be men and while some of them will happily chat with a foreign woman and not get all excited, others will start getting obnoxious. Add to this that even if you find some decent fellows to practice Turkish with, politeness will dictate to them that there are certain topics that he should avoid talking about with a woman, some obvious and some more mundane like business or contentious issues in politics. Another thing is that men’s Turkish and women’s Turkish is pretty different in terms of intonation and vocabulary. A lot of slang and all swearing is the domain of men, and people are scandalized if women swear or use certain slang or insults (most men wouldn’t swear in front of a woman anyway, unless there’s a soccer game on—I learned how to string together swear words properly by watching soccer and driving with BE). I know several foreign women, myself included, who have learned a lot of Turkish from listening to our husbands and their friends, and we always make embarrassing “mistakes” by saying something we didn’t realize was “men’s talk,” and therefore is either really impolite or just really funny for women to say. After I’d been here for about a year, people kept telling me I spoke “man Turkish,” which was probably because I’d learned most of my Turkish from random people I talked to, who were mostly men—all the Turkish women I knew either spoke good English or were trying to learn English.

I find the interaction of language and culture so interesting, and the Turkish language is so bound to Turkish culture. Where I can imagine learning English outside of immersion (and many people do just fine with this), I can’t imagine properly learning Turkish outside of Turkey. I often think it’s cultural misunderstanding that causes me trouble understanding language, because (not just in Turkey) why people are saying something is often as important as what they’re actually saying.

And now I’ve gone on far too long, but that’s what happens when I’m invited to talk about myself and language learning in one go. If anyone still reads this blog, I invite commenters to talk about their language learning experiences because I really do think this is fun to read about.

Friday, March 20, 2009

A Rainy Day Adventure

It's been mostly raining for weeks on end and even though spring is not far off, it's been too wet for park adventures. Admittedly LE and I got so stir crazy one day I decided to take him out puddle-jumping. Naturally he found some very deep puddles and got soaking wet up to his waist and some busybody stopped for a few minutes just to give me a good, long dirty look about this. Then she went off to some nearby workmen to tell on me, much to the workmen's amusement.

After so much rain poor LE can not always contain his youthful exhuberance indoors, so last weekend I had his Baba pack him off to a new mall nearby where they have a play area.

I'm not sure he's totally comfortable about Spiderman.

LE's never been much of a guy for security objects, but apparently he hung onto his keys the whole time.

I guess all the fun was a little overwhelming for him.

Thursday, March 19, 2009


I heard this word "monumentous" on TV last night, in some dumb show about Oscar's parties that came between Without a Trace and forgetting to turn the TV off before bed. I don't know if this word "monumentous" was a stupid mistake on behalf of the speaker, a particularly delicious piece of generative grammar, or a word that has wormed its way into English since I left the US.

In any case, I kind of like it. It’s a useful coinage that rolls off the tongue.

And it nicely describes recent Baby Events. The other night, LE escaped from his crib. I knew he'd been getting close, but I didn't think he was that close. He was surprised about his escape in a not altogether good way (who can blame him, suddenly escaping your crib in the dark like that?), but then he realized what he’d done and was really pleased with himself. He was laughing and sobbing at the same time. Conflicting baby emotions are funny.

So even though managing to escape the crib is an impressive feat, I think LE’s pretty lucky he didn’t hurt himself and I’d rather discourage future attempts. LE’s crib, fortunately, converts to a bed. Ikea is so clever like that. The bars just whipped right off with an allen wrench and now we have this nice little boy bed.

Oops, sorry. Big Boy Bed.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


There are times when the Turkish sense of decoration travels into the surreal, and even after so many years here, there are still things I find funny. Bouquets of roses stuck into the assholes of whole skinned sheep in butchers' windows. Dishtowels tied to the side mirrors of cars participating in wedding processions. Plastic hood ornaments of various American cars stuck all over a dashboard.

It's local election time this month, which means over the last year the municipalities have been falling all over themselves making things look pretty. Not that they're fixing potholes or putting in useful traffic signals, but there are lots of flowers, shiny newly revamped footbridges, and spiffy signs, often ones that light up and show the temperature and time.

Here's another thing that's appearing all over the city:

Doesn't it look nice? It's like an Ottoman-style gingerbread house, with the cosy shutters (real wood, by the way) and the brick and rock veneer. It makes you want to go on in for a nice cup of tea or baklava or something.

But, like the gingerbread house of lore, this one holds scary dangers inside too.

In this case though, it's not the witch that will kill you, but the high voltage.

Why did they go around and make these Houses of High Voltage look so inviting? That's the kind of thing that will always remain a mystery to me here.

In other news, after weeks of rainy, dreary weather (including a couple of days that it just rained mud), there's is hope for Spring after all.


To be honest, my money was on Hamsi as the next to go. He's been lying down resting under plants since yesterday and his color's off, but instead it was Phillip and Stinky.
**UPDATE** Hamsi joined his mates a couple hours ago. I was sick of taking pictures of dead fish by then.

Monday, March 16, 2009

A Bad Day For Fish

It is the nature of fish to die, suddenly and for no apparent reason. I couldn't even guess how many pet fish I've had in my life. More than 20 for sure. More than 50 is possible. And almost all of the fish I've ever owned have died.

A couple of days ago, Lazlo died. He wasn't looking good, then he was stuck dead upside down in one of the plants. This morning I woke up to find either Apache or Abdullah dead, upside down in the same plant. A couple of hours later, the remaining Apache/Abdullah also died, which was weird because when I fed them he'd been as frisky as ever.

This last death was a little more depressing because a fish death can be hard to identify. First, Apache/Abdullah was mostly dead for awhile, then it seemed like he was all the way dead but it was hard to tell if he was still moving a little or if it was just the current pushing him. Around lunchtime I proclaimed him certainly dead before he got stuck in the plant too.

The one good thing that came out of today's second fish death is that I'm not left with the burden of identifying whether it was Abdullah or Apache that died, since they both are dead now.

The first time I had an aquarium, when I was about eight, my favorite fish right away was the angel fish. When we got him he was fine, but by evening he was delighting me by doing flips in filter current every time he got close. The next morning he was dead and I cried and cried and cried. I was really damned freaking upset about that fish.

Our most recent deaths were less upsetting, though it does trouble me that I don't know why there is this sudden scourge of death in our tank. I'm hoping it's because the tank was too crowded. That would mean the recent die-off will solve the problem. If it's disease, there's nothing to do but wait for the rest to die and see if anyone survives.

But then, there's the dilemma about geting more fish. On one hand, it seems I'm some sort of fish killer, much like I'm a houseplant killer, but a fish death is ever so slightly more momentous than a plant death. On the other hand, maybe they were just going to die anyway, since it's the nature of fish to die suddenly and for no apparent reason, and it was just nice for them to have a few weeks in a not too-crowded tank, two squares a day, and minimal molestation from baby hands.

I do the fish-flushing when LE is asleep because I don't want him getting any ideas about things that can be done with fish. It's one thing for me to be bad at creating and maintaining fish ecosystems. It's quite another for fish to be sent prematurely down Mr. Toilet's Wild Ride.

Three down, four to go. Rest in peace, Abdullah or Apache, whichever one you are.

Monday, March 2, 2009

House Of Fish

All of the birthdays in the Stranger household have taken place in the last week and a half. We're all Pisces. I think the teenage years around here are going to be pretty scary.

Nonetheless, we wish a warm welcome to the newest members of the Stranger family: