Liam and I were sitting in Kahve Dünyası, a superior coffee shop in Bodrum. We were with magnificent Murat, a handsome Brit of Turkish Cypriot extraction. Murat is blessed with a cheeky smile, dreadfully naughty eyes and buns you could bounce a penny off. Murat’s not gay, but healthily gay friendly and a diverting companion. A waiter approached to take our orders.

‘Sütlü americano lütfen,’ I said in my best Turkish (I realise only two of these words are actually Turkish). The waiter stared at me quizzically. Murat intervened. The conversation, in Turkish, went as follows:

‘What did he say?’

‘He asked for an americano with milk.’

‘I know.’

‘So what’s the problem?’

‘He’s got a foreign accent.’

‘Yeah. He’s foreign.’

‘What does he want then?’

‘You know what he wants.’

‘An americano with milk?’


‘So why didn’t he say that?’

‘He did say that.’

‘Huh! Bloody tourists.’

I don’t know why I bother. I should just shout loudly in English.

The serious point to this tale is that the British are more forgiving of people who speak bad English. Maybe we’re more accustomed to the weird pronunciations from first generation immigrants. Globalish, the reduced vocabulary version of our mother tongue, is prevalent at international conferences, on the streets and in many social situations. Of course, just to confuse people, the British have developed a countless number of regional British accents to baffle people everywhere.

Language can be such a barrier to communication.

You might also like:

Just Shout Loudly in English

Swearing in Turkish

21 thoughts on “Qué?

  1. have you ever noticed that when one is not understood, he or she repeats the same stuff .. shouting? as if it would make a difference;)) thanks for this post!


  2. Jack. You zero in on a real paradox of life here. Common in many cultures but infuriatingly strong among Turks. I am a Turkish Cypriot Londoner, sadly rusty of native tongue. Attempts to polish my raw, broken Turkish with more fluent Turks in London or Cyprus are too often met by rolling of eyes and sour contempt. At last, I see the light! Quit lamenting the mean spirits of other people. Enrol in a Turkish language school – never too late! Thanks Jack – your sharp, tart observations make for tantalising tales. Ismail


  3. Grrr…this is what gets to me sometimes. They do know exactly what we are saying but can be so intolerant just because we are foreigners. I won’t make excuses for the fact that after almost 14 years my Turkish isn’t fluent, but I sometimes wonder why I bother and don’t just carry on shouting in English.
    To be fair though, it doesn’t always happen. Many Turks do appreciate our attempts at their language.


  4. perhaps you should move sideways (away from Bodrum) to where the ‘natives’ are more tolerant and appreciative. I can’t recall a single incident of this type of behaviour in 15 years – other forms of intolerance from time to time; yes, but never over trying to communicate in Turkish.
    Qué? was also the last word of Billy the Kid before Pat Garrett murdered him – not many people know that!


  5. I know what you mean – they see a blond woman of a certain age so don’t expect Turkish to come out of their mouths – I actually see their eyes glaze over. I know I am saying it correctly but I may as well be speaking Chinese!!!


  6. You hit the nail on the head alright. English speakers (Brits that is) are generally far more tolerant of others mutilating our language. I had exactly the same trouble as you in France and Germany. Although it must be said whilst they failed to understand me the majority of Germans were helpful and polite and tried to communicate. In France, well another story! I spent many hours educating them on the subtlety of linguistics and giving examples of how English originates from their languages hence many similarities. The Germans delighted in this new found language, the French…. not so much. I have to add that I applaud both you and Liam’s efforts at learning a language not related to English. I have given up. Now I find that no one can understand me back in South Wales where I started this journey of life! Shazbot.


  7. Grrrrr very frustrating!! – On a similar note, anywhere I go solo or with friends, I speak Turkish, Its understood and normally continues into a bit of chit chat about how long iv’e been here, where am I from etc.. etc.. and I normally end by saying Iv’e got a Turkish husband. I’m now on excellent footing! Iv’e become ‘Yengi’ and the world is my oyster!. However, on occasion, when I’m out with hubby and I dare to order for myself, the waiter will look at Murat for confirmation and he then reiterates what I have said all because I’m female – grrrrrrrrrrrrr!!


  8. I know what you mean Kym it’s so frustating, I experience the same when I’m out with my Türkish husband.
    My friend and I were only talking about this the other day and said exactly the same, we understand any manner of English when they attempt to speak to us. Why can’t they do us the same curtesy, it’s so annoying and then I feel like I can’t be bothered because my confidence has been knocked.
    I wished a waiter I know well happy birthday as I knew it was that day, he looked at me puzzled, I knew I had said it correctly. I then said again in Türkish it’s your birthday today isn’t it, he thought for a second and said sorry yes I just didn’t expect you to speak Türkish! Can’t win!!!


  9. I have been told many times that the regional accent here on the peninsula is so strong even Turks from outside can not understand it and they too are referred to as Yabancilar .
    When I started to learn the language I told my tutor I wanted to speak Turkish with the equivalent of ” BBC / London accent ”
    ” Just pronounce every letter and its their problem if they don’t understand you .” Most people are very pleased when you try . This advice stopped me from thinking I was speaking gibberish . .My theory is they think we are using english words that they don’t understand and it confuses them .


  10. Squealing with laughter over here! Never heard it explained in quite the perfect way as this – I feel your pain! Been there a million times. Vetpats – does this ever end?


  11. Not long after I moved to Turkey I used to go into the bakal next door but one to our house to shop for bread or whatever, always in Turkish. You can imagine my astonishment when the bakal owner asked my husband when I was going to learn Turkish? What did he think I’d been speaking and he understanding presumably?!


Share your thoughts

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.