Where are you from?

When I meet a Turk for the first time, they inevitably will ask me where I am from.  This is not the case for most Europeans.  They always know from my [insert adjective] accent that I am American.

Most Turks though aren’t trained in distinguishing the English speaker’s accents as easily (not that there aren’t a million of them in the States to confuse them.)  I think they are usually trying to tell whether I am British or American.

Often, when the question comes from a shopkeeper or hotel personnel, I will give them a smile and say, “I am from Ankara.”  I guess my attempt at humor doesn’t translate so well because they never laugh and ask me in another way (as I would do.)  They always just politely smile.  I then laugh and tell them the near-truth, I am from Philadelphia.

Philadelphia.  I can read their thoughts.  Where the heck is that?  It’s not New York or LA, so it must not be so exciting.  Then I go through the demonstration with my hands: “New York is up here.  Washington DC is down there.  Philadelphia is in the middle. ”  I get a slightly bigger smile.

Then I add, “It’s 1.5 hours from New York with a car.”  Nowwwwwww the big grin comes.  New York!  She’s from New York!  They’ve heard of that.  Makes me feel almost glamorous.

I love telling Turks that I am American.  I love it because 9 out of 10 times it starts a conversation, in Turkish.  That gives me good practice.  “My cousin lives in America.”  “My cousin married an American.”  “My cousin goes to university in America.”  “What’s the English word for kuzen?”  Cousin.

Then I really try to get the ball rolling.  “What city does your cousin live in?”  I rarely get an answer to that unless it’s New York, LA, or sometimes, San Francisco.  I do like when the answer is “Texas” though.  Aaaahhh, Texas.  A country all it’s own, and now it’s a city too.

Often there will be warnings, usually from the U.S. Embassy, that there may be trouble stewing in this part of Turkey or that, and Americans should keep there identity on the down-lo.  I appreciate that and I abide by it.  But as a general rule, I will proudly flaunt my Americanisms no matter where I am.

Let’s face it, I’m a foot taller than most Turkish women.  Turks will never think I am Turkish at first blush.  I’m going to stand out.  (Another poor attempt at humor.)  I can pass for a German Frau here.  But why?

I’ve proudly answered this question in my neighborhood, in tourist locations, from salesmen at the corner store and family friends, at work and at school, in big cities and in little villages.  Except for one run-in with a terribly behaved 7-year-old boy, and a questionable speech I heard given by a female Imam,  I have had no issue whatsoever.  It’s as if there are invisible signs hanging everywhere, “Americans Welcomed Here!”

I’ve been treated worse by a ticket salesman in Munich who wanted me to speak German, a waitress at the Hofbrau Haus  who was extremely un-Bayerisch-like to my American friends, and just this morning, by a Frankfurter hotel clerk who seemed disgusted to answer my questions on the telephone.

I even take this a step farther.  On Turkish holidays, I hang the Turkish flag from my balcony.  When German visitors come, I hang the Turkish and German flags.  But on an American holiday, the U.S. flag flies proudly – and solo!

Call me stupid – but it’s not like we’re at war with Turkey.  Safety first, yes.  Pretending I’m Canadian?  I understand, but that’s just not for me.

This post reminds me of one I wrote back in December 2010, I Know You Are, But What Am I?  You may want to check that out.

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Contact information for the U.S. Embassy and Consulates in Turkey:
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12 thoughts on “Where are you from?

  1. I get the “pretend you’re Canadian suggestion a lot too. I understand the sentiment behind it, and I am thankful for the concern, but it’s a bad piece of advice for anyone who is going to be in an area for more than about three minutes. There are few faster ways to destroy your credibility than to be caught in a lie, and you owe it to the next American who will be passing through to not make him fight an uphill battle against the perception you would create, which is “Americans are liars.”

    • Interesting perspective Matt. I get the same thing about my profession, “Lawyers are liars.” I was taught by one of my favorite professors not to lie. “As a lawyer, you have nothing to sell but yourself. Once you tell a lie, no matter how small, you will always be seen as a liar. And then you will have nothing to sell.”

  2. hehehe. love this one! but hey, Turks ask Turks where they are from. That’s the cliche, that’s the ice breaker, the conversation starter. “So where are you from? From the center? Do you know such and such?” As if 76 million must know each other. My dad is the king of “where are you from”. He can guess without asking, knows all the villages in every city and town, knows all the important last names or tribes and then gets the best discount! So when someone asks you where you are from, be careful, next thing they may ask for a favor. 🙂

  3. You are tooooo funny Beyza! Would love to meet your Dad. I could use some tips!

    I was thinking your hubby might chime in first on this one. First to tell me that Canadians are Americans and then to perhaps question whether I have some kind of a problem with Canadians! 😛

  4. Unfortunately for you, “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia” is on TV here now. It might ruin your credibility as “glamorous” haha.

    Of course, no-one watches anything but dubiously acted super-dramatic-dramas about a girl in a village that a bunch of rich boys from Istanbul fight over, so I shouldn’t worry too much.

  5. Ah I’m so glad you’ve seen it. Because describing it would have been impossible!

    I did get some advice about your “female imam” long ago, which I forgot about. Apparently they absolutely don’t (and can’t) exist, but there is some kind of ‘assistant role’ (the name given to which I have, of course, long forgotten) that women can do.

    Anyhoo.. most bars here sell some variation of “cheesesteak” sandwiches. You can tell them your hometown invented those. Go Phillies!

  6. Turks assume that all Brits come from England. In fact, they generally think of Britain as England, even in the media and in government. This irritates the hell out of the Scots, Welsh and Irish (particularly those from the Republic of Ireland). I tried to explain the difference to a young well-educated Turk. It was a pointless conversation.

    • “İngiltere” really is taken to mean the UK here. Hearing someone say “Büyük Britanya” or the even more bizarre sounding “Birleşik Krallık” is very rare. As an English Brit I find it highly amusing 😛 but I can see why a Scot might be a little (..) miffed by it. You just have to accept that they are not saying “England”, even if that might be the translation.
      “İrlanda” is deemed different enough to get it’s own word though, at least.

  7. I really enjoyed this; we Turks love to ask where each others from and I loved the way you converse with folks, such an ice breaker. My children are multi national – proud Turks, proud Texans – born in Austin – and proud Brits! We celebrate all holidays, and my heart melts when they speak Turkish with grandparents in Istanbul or in American accent when they visit their friends in the States!:) world is a small village.

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