|Creative Commons Source|
Like many other countries, post offices in Turkey are also where people pay bills and conduct other business. Stamps are one of the last things on the list when folks visit the post office.
But I have a bad habit of hoarding post cards and ending up with 20 cards from 4 countries. And so it was that day.
Arriving at the post office, I knew it’d be a long wait. I took a number, hoping it was for the right service, and stood with the couple other dozen people.
Finally my number was called. One of our roommates had told me how to say stamp (pul); I figured I was ready to rock. I approached the window and pulled out the postcards.
“Pul?” I asked. In Turkish, this is not a question, which I learned later. Interrogatives are signified with a “mı” at the end rather than inflection, so I thought I was asking, “Stamp?” and instead I was saying, “Stamp.”
The clerk looked at me, said something kindly in Turkish,and pointed to a window at the end of the room. Apparently I had waited for 20 minutes for nothing. I could have just walked to the other window and bought it without the queue. This is one of the myriad of reasons why it’s super helpful to learn the language of the country you visit–it can save you time!
Postcards still in hand, I whipped out one of the few verbs I knew in Turkish: “Pul istiyorum.” (“I want stamp.” Gettin’ crazy up in here, y’all!) The young man behind the counter grinned and, I think, asked how many.
I was really proud that I had learned how to say a bunch of numbers. I needed twenty stamps, and although I didn’t know the word for “twenty,” I was excited that I knew the word for 10. I figured I could say “beş ve beş“ (10 and 10), which would be 20! Basically, I felt like a genius. I went for it.
“Beş mı?” The clerk looked confused. I nodded emphatically and held up ten fingers. “Beş ve beş,” and flashed my hands twice to add up to 20. I didn’t understand why he was so confused but I gave him the stack to count out.
“Yirmi,” he said with a smile, and brought out 20 stamps.
“United States?” I asked with a hopeful lift of my eyebrows (body language usually helps, right?).
“Evet,” he said, nodding his head. I knew the next part!
“Ne kadar?” (How much is it?) I asked, sure of the accuracy of this one.
He replied with some number and I pretended to understand. Pretending helps with communication, too…I think. I handed him 50 lira and expected to be handed a huge bunch of stamps; I was fully prepared to hunch over a stray counter to adhere all the stamps, as it had been in every post office I had ever been. Instead, the images of London and Dublin disappeared under the desk.
“Umm…,” I started, wondering how I would voice my question. “Will you send? To America?” And I moved my hands in a sideways motion, which is obviously the universal sign for air mail (not). He laughed and said yes. I thanked him and touched my hand to my heart, hoping my postcards would make it to their recipients.
A few weeks later, I got notice that they had. MISSION: STAMP—COMPLETE.
I found out a couple days later that the entire time I thought I was saying “Ten and ten” to make twenty, I was actually saying “five and five.” I had been confidently and foolishly asking for ten stamps. No wonder the poor guy was so confused!
At the home goods store
This is a little less exciting, because it involves less linguistic skill and more mime skills.
For the past five weeks I’ve been living with three boys. Luckily, they are no more untidy than I am, but there is one thing the kitchen is missing that drives me nuts: a drain catch for the kitchen sink.
Having a mission always makes things more exciting, whether you‘re traveling or just finding something new at home.
I popped into the home goods shop down the street and decided to take a thorough sweep of the store and see if I couldn’t find it myself. I managed to find a bottle opener, which we needed, but a drain catch was nowhere to be seen.
Here’s where my years of training on the stage kicked in.
Me to clerk: “Uhhh…istiyorum…hayir. Bilmiyorum,” (Uhhh…I want…no. I do not know.”) I was trying to say I didn’t know the word. I‘m pretty sure that was already clear to her.
Me: Tamam, su [mimes opening a water faucet]. Shhhhh (that’s supposed to be water. Water shushes, doesn’t it?). Dur. [waves hands to mimic stopping]
Clerk: Ah. [points to trash can]
Me: yok, yok… [walks to bathroom, opens door and points at sink drain.]
That did the trick. More success!
And now, we have a pretty sink. Huzzah!