Going Native

It’s starting to feel like fall here and I’m starting to feel more and more like hunkering down and nesting. A couple of funny things happened this week that made me feel a little bit more like I live here and a little bit less like a visitor, although of course I’m sure that no matter how long I stay I will always be somewhat of a yabanci (foreigner).

I spent a few hours yesterday, on a gray Sunday afternoon, sitting outside in my new writing cafe drinking hazelnut cappuccinos. I come here often because I can sit outside when the weather is nice, and they have good cheap coffee and free wireless. I have a regular table in a quiet corner and I am strangely comforted by the fact that my regular waiter knows I want a hazelnut cappuccino and a water, and that I will need a second cappuccino later. When I went inside to buy some chocolates as a gift a few days ago the cashier said he sees me working here all the time, expressed his amazement that I type so fast without looking (it seems this is a rare skill in Turkey because I get comments about it all the time) and wanted to know if I am a writer. I told him I do some writing and have a blog and he said maybe one day I will mention them, so here is his plug: Kahve Dunyasi, or “Coffee World” in English, is a Turkish chain which competes with Starbucks. The stores are big and clean and the coffee is really good, on par with any I’ve had elsewhere. And I get my two cappuccinos and my water for less than I pay for a latte at Starbucks.

I walk the same route to and from my apartment every day, often passing an older gentleman who runs a car park in a small lot on a side street. For weeks we just kind of looked at each other, but soon we starting saying hello, and after the day I walked past with Chloe he started giving me big smiles and trying to talk to me. Of course I don’t know enough Turkish for us to have a real conversation, but it’s nice to walk past and get a big smile, a hello, and a “good morning” or “good evening”. And he always manages to ask how my dog is. There are some things that don’t require a common language.

After I pass the car park man I often come to the homeless man. He made me nervous my first few weeks here because I couldn’t tell if he was drunk or a little crazy. He would often be talking to himself, often quite loudly, and the fact that I couldn’t understand what he was saying made it even more disconcerting. But I never saw him approach anyone, and everyone else in the neighborhood seemed to take him in stride so I decided he was harmless, which a neighborhood friend later confirmed. I passed him Sunday afternoon on my way to the café, and for the first time he made a point of nodding at me politely and then held out his hands and made typing motions! I was amazed because I thought he was always in his own little world, and my café is nowhere near his usual haunts so I don’t know how or when he saw me working away. Later in the day when I walked past with Chloe he made a beeline for her and I picked her up so he could pet her. He was a little rough, but nice enough, and after a few pats retreated to his chair by the side of a building. This morning heading through the quiet streets I heard a loud “merhaba” (“hello”) from across the street and there he was, greeting me as he made his morning rounds.

I have also managed to get to the point where most of the guys in the restaurants on my usual route don’t harass me to come in and eat or drink. Some of them are really very sweet once you get to know them so I stop and chat with them and it’s kind of nice when they ask “how is my hocam (teacher) today”, or especially to hear, “my hocam looks beautiful today!” Even if it is part of the usual flattery it’s still nice to hear now and then.

So, these are my neighbors: the car park man, the crazy man, and the café guys. And I am probably the crazy American with the funny little dog.

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