So even though I don’t know much of the Turkish language yet, I did learn a couple of things that I shouldn’t say or do.
First, Americans have a bad habit of saying “um”. We do it all the time. A similar sound, “om”, is used by people when meditating. In Turkey, “um”, spelled “am”, has a completely different meaning. Let’s just say that unless you really mean to call a woman the most vulgar four-letter “c” word in the book, you shouldn’t say “um” in her presence. You shouldn’t meditate in her presence either. And perhaps, you should just stay out of her presence altogether if you have either of these habits. Lucky for me, I learned this before I actually did it.
Another faux pas can be easily made by Americans but is more likely made by Germans. While I am not in the habit of using the name of the Lord my God in vain, I sometimes do it in German. So once in a while, you might hear me exclaim, “Ach mein Gott!” “Oh my God!” I recently learned that a similar Turkish word, göt, is a vulgar way to call someone an a$$. Worried about receiving a punch in the nose, I think I will stay away from that one!
Words I learned quickly were niceties, hello, goodbye, how are you, and so on. Of course, I also learned yes and no, evet and hayır. These words come pretty easily to me. I have not had the expereince of mispronouncing the latter as hıyar. Imagine, finishing your first glass of hot tea at a very nice restaurant. The waiter offers you another glass on the house but you have an early appointment the next morning. So you politely say, “hiyar”. After a good punch in the nose from the waiter, you may just learn your lesson, look it up, and find that you called him a four-letter “c” word of the male genitalia type. OUCH!!
There are also hand gestures that one should avoid while travelling Turkey. In our Turkish family, there are two new babies. In about a year, I would have certainly started playing the “I got your nose” game with them. You know the one where you put your thumb between your pointer and middle fingers and claim, “I got your nose.” A big shout out goes to my husband who taught me, against his better judgment, that this hand gesture is the equivalent of giving one the finger. He saved me from a most embarrasing future situation with the family. And still hip on avoiding punches to my nose, I am only going to use this one from a moving vehicle!
Finally, yesterday I learned that the international hand gesture for “OK” is not so international. In Turkey, it’s a nasty way of calling someone gay in a derogatory manner. Somehow, I think my gay friends might like this gesture. Okay? Okay. But straight men in Turkey may want to punch me in the nose. Of course, this gesture thing goes two way: in Turkey, men walk arm in arm with each other. So they might want to think twice before punching me in my nose!