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.