Monday, April 12, 2010

Sucu, or the Water Guy

Turkish has some really cool noun endings. One I particularly like is the one you use to make cardinal numbers into ordinal numbers. "Bir" (one) becomes "birinci" (first), "üç" (three) becomes "üçüncü" (third), and so forth. The reason I like this one so much is that you can attach it to "kaç" (how many/how much) to ask someone which floor they live on. "Kaçıncı kat?" translates to something like "What-th floor?" Isn't that cool?

I'm going somewhere with this, I promise. Another great noun ending I like is "-cu," which you change to harmonize with the vowel and groove with the consonant, then use to make a noun into "person who does something related to the noun." It makes the words for lots of jobs, like spice-seller (baharatcı) and repairman (tamirci). It can also make a noun into "someone who really, really likes that noun," as in "şarapçi" (wino) or "tinerci" (glue-sniffer). There's room for some creativity too. For example, BE might call LE "turşucu," meaning that LE really likes pickles and hogs all of them whenever he has a chance (although as I write this I'm getting pre-emptively embarrassed that "turşucu" has a dirty meaning I'm not aware of). "Turşucu" can also mean pickle-seller.

I admit I'm not at all PC by saying things like "water guy" and "repairman," but realistically, I have never seen women in Turkey doing these jobs so I see no need to protect their feelings. I also just think repair-person sounds stupid and asshole-ish. LE is learning this way too, and whenever the doorbell rings he gets all excited and wonders aloud, "This water guy? This bakkal guy? This French fry guy?" (I'm sure I've mentioned before you can have fast food delivered to your house). And actually, he says "Fah-fwy guy," which I think is extraordinarily cute and I'm reminded that I don't gush about my gorgeous, perfect boy nearly enough on this blog. In LE's world, the doorbell usually brings some nice, harried guy delivering something wonderful and interesting to our house and LE gets to give him the money. Delivery guys always like LE, which makes them cool in my book.

So the word for water guy is "sucu." When I used to live in a more city-ish part of Istanbul, water guys walked up and down the streets with their carts calling out "suuuuuuuuucuuuuu," though to be honest I recognized water guys not by the words but the cadence, since it sounds more like, "seeeeeeeeeeeeeeyip." In fact, the only way to differentiate the water guy from the milk guy (sütçü) was the tune of the call. Not that it matters anymore-- I think selling milk on the street has been banned due to some dodgy sanitation issues. But I always thought it was funny they sold water just by going "Water guy! Water guy!" but that's because I would expect someone selling something to extol its virtues rather than simply announce his presence.

So. Our water guy. We've lived in this building for almost 6 years. We chose our water company not on the mere presence of a fellow with a water cart (sadly, our soulless neighborhood lacks cool noisemaking things like street sellers and Ramazan drummers), but based on who managed to get their fridge magnet advertisement and phone number stuck to the metal frame of our door the soonest. This whole time, we've had the same water guy.

Before my readers outside of Turkey start thinking I'm some kind of water snob that has watered delivered, I should mention that in Turkey, the tap water isn't fit to drink. It's not that it'll give you the shits (though that has been known to happen, allegedly), it's that the arsenic content is unsettling high, along with other scary chemicals and heavy metals that we frankly don't need in our lives in tap water form. Plus it tastes like crap and makes everything it touches taste like crap. The in-laws and the cleaner always go on about how great my tea is, like I'm some kind of tea-making wizard even though I rarely use Turkish loose tea in favor of good old Lipton bag-tea. People are faintly chagrined when they see the Lipton-- no wait, I just checked the cupboard and it's not Lipton in there this time but Doğan which is bag tea packaged in a Lipton-like yellow box but the real truth is I don't give a hang what tea it is. Bag tea is easier to deal with and I buy it like twice a year and then I only get whatever's on sale. Anyway, I think the secret to Stranger's Fabulous Comment-Drawing tea is the water, because a lot of people are used to tea made with tap water which tastes like crap and makes everything it touches take like crap.

So whether it's because of the taste (I've tasted yummier swimming pools than the tap water here) or the arsenic or the alleged stomach sickness, pretty much everyone only drinks bottled water. Once or twice a week we get a big bottle of water delivered to our house (they're like the big bottles on office coolers), and we put this pump thingy into it and that's where our drinking and cooking water comes from. And I admit our goldfish are spoiled because they live in bottled water. I read on the Internet that chlorine kills fish. Not that the bottled water keeps ours from dying, but at least I'm not actively killing them with fragrant chlorine and arsenic and god knows what else-- I shudder to think what the poor fish in the Bosporus are drinking, though the clouds of jellyfish seem pretty happy.

As another pointless aside, I never followed up my missing fish post with my discovery of what might have been the solution-- when I cleaned the tank a couple of months back I found a tiny, pinky-toenail sized bit of black speckled white cartilaginous material that could have been a piece of gill . So the mystery went from "Where is the fish?" to "Why on earth did Whitey Ford and Pencil suddenly decide out of the blue to completely cannibalize Fish Who Liked to Hide Under Stuff?" Fish are mysterious and troubling and they don't blink but at least they don't have creepy bird eyes. Except sharks and those scary black fish with lanterns on their heads and gaping mouths full of pointy teeth that live in deep sea chasms with aliens and the Lost City of Atlantis. Anyway.

After almost six years, it occurs to me what a strange tangential relationship I have have with the water guy. He's seen me hungover, or in my jammies, or holding back tears, or dressed to go out, or heavily pregnant, or bouncing a squalling infant, or preventing the grown infant from escaping, or tiptoeing around so as to not to wake said infant. Now LE gets really excited when the water guy comes because he gets to give the money and the empty bottle and take the change which he promptly loses somewhere in the house. The water guy manages to be delighted with LE every time he sees him. LE actually gets all excited when he sees any water guy. He goes, "Bak bak, mama, bak there water guy. That not our water guy." Except instead of water he says "wamu." Isn't that so cute?

Still, I don't know the water guy's name or how old he is or where he's from or his religious persuasion or his football team, yet he's had a weekly snapshot of my and my son's life every week for the last 6 years.

In one way I'm okay with this. Often marriage in Turkey is like a protective bubble that keeps cheeky men from asking a bunch of questions and trying to buddy up with the foreign chick. Not that the water guy is cheeky. He's never been anything but a model of earnestness and politeness. And I do enjoy being relieved of the obligation to find something to chit-chat about every time the water runs out.

Yet the relationship troubles me. I've never even discussed the weather with the water guy. The only deviation in our conversation is to wish one another happy Bayram when the occasions arise. Sometimes we share our ideas on how cute LE is, only because there's no way of avoiding that glaringly obvious topic. But there's a whole class system thing here that I've never really been down with. I, the respectable middle class matron, should never deign to talk weather with our water-delivering servant, and for him to try otherwise would be the height of rudeness. For me to attempt to engage him in conversation would embarrass a nice, earnest kid like our water guy, or be construed as an invitation by a less scrupulous fellow.

But for me to ignore the humanity of this person, I can't stand it.

On the other hand, if I had to talk to him for more than 30 seconds every week I'd probably start considering getting a new water guy. Sometimes an overly chatty service person can be a royal pain because there's no polite way to escape time-consuming conversations with them and you find yourself putting off doing things like getting water because there's too much else to do.

In one neighborhood where I used to live here, before my Turkish was up to the task of ordering water by phone, I would just walk around the block to the water shop with the empty bottle to get new water (not that they would let me carry the full bottle home). Getting water from those guys was like an hour-long affair minimum, with linden tea off their soba in the winter and regular tea (or water!) in the summer. Mostly they just wanted to inquire in a lot of different ways about what American girls were like and how could they go about marrying one of them and get a visa. Fatih with his green eyes and tight bottom might have had a snowball's chance in different circumstances, but Selcuk with the missing teeth not so much so. After a few months, their relatives from the nearby gecekondu started turning up to chat too. Those were the only middle-aged Turkish women I've ever met who swore and talked politics. Though I have to credit those guys with teaching me quite a lot of Turkish (my favorite word they taught me was "arızı" meaning "out of order, as in broken" to describe someone with mental problems-- I've gotten some good mileage from that word), there were a lot of times I'd buy a bottle of water from the bakkal and spirit it home rather than get into it with those two.

In conclusion, I have no conclusion. I'm just putting it out there. Right now I'm watching a movie that takes place in Vegas and it showed a guy walking out of casino into the bright morning sun. It reminded me of a time I was in Reno with my brothers (I grew up in Reno, by the way-- make what you will of that) and we used the $50 my grandmother had given each of us to drink for free all night in Harrah's club. I played nickel slots (they still had those at the time-- I don't know if they still do) while my brothers gambled successfully and yelled at me to get away because seriously, I'm like some kind of freak gambling jinx. I once saw a movie about people like me called "The Cooler," and I often wonder if there are real jobs like that because I'd be good at it. After drinking a skinful, we stumbled out into the dawn light, passing a few tired-looking kids like you always see at the entrance of casinos, having been dumped there by parents who aren't comfortable leaving their little ones in the Lord of the Flies atmosphere of the bigger kids casino arcades. Amid the flashing neon signs you could hear the early morning peeps of birds that nest in the nooks of the buildings. Really. You would think that a casino strip would mean the death of nature but however incongruously, nature manages to survive no matter where it lands.

Not that this last story has to do with anything whatsoever.

17 comments:

paul said...

When I lived in Atakoy, we had a variety of sucus come along, each with their different sounds. There was an older guy who'd say 'suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuucccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuyaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!' with the intonation dipping in the middle and rising to a stentorian blast of noise at the end, or a young chap who'd say 's'cuuu!!' with a castrato squeak at the last 'u!'; Then there was the bloke who sounded like Mr Bean.
Out of all the street sellers though, the one I miss most is the Bozaci, and his sad, haunting call deep in the dark winter nights as he sells the fremented millet drink that looks like a bodily fluid extracted from a dog.

Stranger said...

Haunting is exactly word I would use to describe the sound of the bozacı. I miss that one the most, actually. He's specific to a short time in winter, and he only comes out at night when his voice is slightly muffled by fog and cold but you can hear him perfectly because everything else is relatively quiet.

toastytoasty said...

My father in law is a rakıcı and let us not forget an otuzbirci

Stranger said...

Well said. He sounds like a real prick.

Briar said...

I love this post.

Bulent Murtezaoglu said...

Hmpf. Arsenic is not a problem in Istanbul's water. If you trust the gov't, here are the water quality reports. I have an under-sink filter with its own little tap (from around Necatibey cad.) for taste and it works OK. It's been years, I'm alive and well, and my tea is OK too. Something to think about, perhaps. (To be honest, I think you guys (including everyone I know) are nuts to buy bottled water. Now-a-days, after they changed the piping around here, even my sediment filter doesn't get dirty.)

I absolutely agree about the bozaci BTW. Never bought from him, he just plants the thought into my head and half an hour later I am out looking for a place that sells boza. I'm hoping he'll quit selling boza and put his considerable talent into use in the ezan business[1] where such talent seems very rare indeed. Anyway, for the bozaci-deprived poor souls living elsewhere here's a rather odd bozaci. That's the only one I could find online.

[1] Hah, you don't say 'ezanci' but 'muezzin.'

Stranger said...

@Bri: Thanks! I miss you guys, and I'm surprised you would want to read anything with "water" in the title...

Maybe we could call LE "ezancı" because he loves ezan so much? He thinks it's thrilling. He thinks minarets are rocket ships, so whenever he sees a rocket ship he goes, "Mama, bak bak, Mama, ezan come mosque!" BE is less than thrilled about this particular enthusiasm.

If we owned our flat I'd get an under-sink filter. My friend has one and the water is perfect. Buying water is stupid because I suspect it's just filtered municipal water anyway. A carbon filter would take care of the taste, and most of the crap. I'm not sure I believe that İski report though. All the levels are suspiciously too far below international standards. And Bülent is right about the improvement since the pipes got redone. It used to be brown, red, or yellow shit used to come out of the faucet several times a week. Now it's just once or twice a month, and I'm told that's because of the pipes in our building.

Our water is very hard out in Beylikdüzü, which is probably not a bad thing for taste or health, but that shit really builds up if I don't deal with it every couple of weeks. I've discovered lemon juice gets it right off. "Kıreç" (sounds like 'kretch' and means limescale) is one of my favorite Turkish words. It's perfectly descriptive because it sounds just like what it is.

And actually, the worst city water I ever tasted was in Monterey, CA. It was slightly fishy smelling and salty. Ew.

Hee. Love the bozacı. Just last night I managed to change the DNS and get YouTube both on the computer and the iPhone, which now means I'm almost as computer savvy as a Turkish adolescent.

toastytoasty said...

Hey you mean the picture of Dağdalen mountians on the "bidon" is not true?

Beylikduzu what a slum. It has become like some town in bum fuck nowhere. Full of beggars, eskici and closed down shops.

I woke up the other day at 4am and could not work out why music was playing until I discovered that opposite my flat there is now a giant advertising screen the size of a minibus that plays crappy ads with music 24/7.

Jess said...

A new post from Stranger! Brilliant!

I know what you mean about ignoring the humanity of people. It's set up very differently here, no? Some of my absolutely favorite people on my job are the cleaning ladies and the cafeteria people. They are always so kind, and slide extra food on my plate and give me little gifts, but I feel like everyone else seems to treat them lie they're betas (I'm thinking Brave New World here.) And the way people talk about their cleaning ladies, my God. I cannot cope. I feel like I'm in the 1950's American south.

(Keep up with the digressions; they're great, really.)

Stranger said...

Toasty, those mountains are about as true as the ones on the Evian bottle. I don't feel too bad-- Americans actually spend extra money to purchase imported filtered municipal water from France.

I think I know which part of Beylikdüzü you're talking about-- I wandered into Büyükşehir the other day and was amazed. There were actually eskici and people walking around and stray cats!

Sometimes I feel like I need to figure this out one way or another-- move into the city proper and feel like I'm living in Istanbul, or just fuck it and head out to the country, like Çatalca or somewhere. Sure I'd be far from everything and there'd be nothing out there, but we're pretty much already there. At least in the country we could have a garden, outdoor pets, and LE could play football in the street.

Jess, I totally agree with you. My cleaner says she likes working for me because Turkish women can be so acımasız (cruel) and they really are. BE is always on my case because I don't ride the cleaner and make her work harder, like clean behind the fridge every week. What do I care? She comes, the house is spotless, and she puts everything back where she found it. He thinks I should be like his mom and have a big cleaning spree alongside her, making her do all the really heavy, unpleasant work. Right. Like I wanted a cleaner so I could clean more.

I know what you mean about the workers at school, too. Probably one reason I can speak any Turkish at all is from spending time with them-- they're usually the only people around besides students who speak zero English, and, as you say, they can be so kind. They even think it's weird I try to do stuff like avoid walking on a floor that's just been mopped.

That's something I've always really loved about BE. I've never seen him treat a service person like anything less than himself. Same for his father.

Bulent Murtezaoglu said...

Stranger, you're exactly right, in that context LE could be called ezanci. That's excellent understanding. Very nice. If you got that, you might also enjoy Suleyman Nazif's wise crack and understand his objection to the overuse of the suffix. (I'm easily amused by that kind of political/semantic nitpicking.)

toastytoasty said...

I came across a great idiom the other day:

ne şamın şekeri ne arapun yuzu

apologies for spelling

Bulent Murtezaoglu said...

Toasty, that's the censored non-rhyming version. I don't have an authoritative source to cite, but here's a search for the original.

Nomad said...

This isn't about the water delivery guy but the sound of people in the street.
One time I was sitting doing.. well, doing what I am always doing, working on my laptop and I heard this strange calling from below my window. It was in the middle of the afternoon. One of those slightly cooler days in an otherwise oven-baked early summer day.
The song made me stop and go to the window. There was a young boy- obviously very poor- leading a blind man by the hand-who looked even poorer. Now, I am a steely kind of dude, no bleeding heart I, but even I was touched enough to give some money. I could feel chills running up and down my spine. He had the voice of an angel- not beautiful exactly but mesmerizing. Later I heard another beggar with some handicapped person in a different part of town singing exactly the same song. It was spooky and moving at the same time.

The only other time I gave money was when two young guys came walking through my residential part of town playing accordions. It was such a happy sound and made a great magical feeling to an otherwise humdrum day that I handed whatever loose change I had on me.
People, after all, should be rewarded for bringing a little beauty and romance into this world.

Stranger said...

I asked BE what that saying meant-- the closest I can guess is something like "You're damned if you and damned if you don't" mixed with "You give him an inch and he takes a mile?" Not quite, but something like that maybe...

I think it's interesting that someone would get upset about the over-use of that particular suffix. Of course, we have such foolishness in the US too, but I can't figure out people judgment issues with language, unless it's about the deplorable grammar, spelling, and malapropisms of native speakers. Then I'm a total curmudgeon.

Nomad, you're right. I also miss the singing accordion players and beggars from my old neighborhood. It's stuff like that I thought I would have to wait for the invention of the time machine to be able to see.

Bulent Murtezaoglu said...

Ah, Stranger, you seem to have missed the word-play. Turkcu=a kind of nationalist that stresses Turkishness perhaps with some race/origin undertones. The fun begins when you consider the origins of some of the early pushers of this. Ziya Gokalp may have been Kurdish (at least there are rumors), and Munis Tekin Alp (Moise Cohen) was Jewish. Thus when you say (with folks like that in mind) that just like a sutcu isn't sut (the milk-man isn't milk himself), a Turkcu isn't a Turk, it is funny.

The contexts where 'ne Sam'in sekeri ...' (in the censored or uncensored versions) would be appropriate are situations like a great apartment that's a good deal otherwise that you don't rent or move away from because of an asshole landlord. That is you forgo something great because you don't want to deal with whatever else it inevitably comes with. That's how I use it, anyway. Perhaps other native speakers will chime in.

In some (rare) circles these days you get chided for saying stuff like that due to PC-ness concerns about Arabs. (Sayings like 'anladiysam Arab olayim' or the convention of naming black street dogs/cats 'Arap' are also things people get warned about. It is still very rare, though.)

Stranger said...

Thanks, Bülent. Looks like I was completely wrong on both. At least I got the "ezancı" right.

I was trying to figure out the "Türkçü" thing. I knew it means like nationalist, but after I read Ekşisözlük I started thinking maybe it also meant something like a foreigner who is an expert in Turkic studies, or a foreigner who's fascinated with Turks romantically, or something like that.

Thanks for clarifying the saying too. Toasty used it exactly right, it would seem! Maybe the closest in English would be something like "Don't throw out the baby with the bathwater," though that's not quite right either since the saying isn't giving advice...