Posted by: Andy | May 24, 2011

…and then I found 20 Turkish Lira

Over the past few days, we’ve been on a short vacation with some friends of ours from the US.  Our travels have currently led us to Fethiye, a town on the southwest coast of Turkey where you can find Turkey’s most famous beach, beautiful sunsets, the fantastic bloggers known as Turkey’s For Life and a lot of retired or vacationing British people. 

We have been to Fethiye before and we truly enjoy it, especially sitting on the harbor enjoying the view and the local food, all while watching people throw bread into the water for the fish to fight over.  The other day when we were sharing this very enjoyable activity with our friends, I saw something in the water and asked, “Is that money?”

We initially concluded that it was a piece of paper or plastic, likely a receipt or a bill from an adjacent restaurant.  However, three men at another table were watching this piece of paper rather intently.  As it drifted over we discovered that this piece of paper was sure enough, 20 Turkish Lira. 

I assumed that the men watching the bill floating across the water had accidentally dropped it in the water and despite the disapproval of our friends who feared we would fall into the water and be eaten by the fish, I helped Stephanie climb down a ladder on the harbor as she reached down and grabbed the 20 Lira bill. 

As she walked to the adjacent restaurant, the men who had been watching and very entertained by our escapades said it wasn’t their money and told her to keep the money, but an older man in the back of the restaurant claimed the bill and she handed it over, soggy though it was.  After a few minutes, this man walked over to our table and shook her hand, thanking her up and down for retrieving his money.

It reminded me of a time very early on in our time in Turkey when a woman knocked on our door speaking in rapid Turkish as she held an infant and a very naked toddler ran around pestering her.  She kept pointing to something in our house and I eventually just welcomed her in and she proceeded straight to our kitchen balcony where she picked up 20 Lira and marched back out the door again.

There seem to be a number of those types of experiences that bookend our time in Turkey.  My first extra lesson and my last extra lesson were in the same room.  My first real class and my last real class were in the same room.  A girl who was in my first weekend class as a beginner was in my last weekend class in intermediate 2

Life here is coming to a close and it is doing a very good job of reminding me of how life began here, how much things have changed since our arrival and how much we have changed since our arrival.

Posted by: Andy | May 17, 2011

Food File: Islak Burgers (Turkish White Castle)

It was a tradition in my college days to have a White Castle night once every semester with my friends.  We tended to gorge ourselves on these disgusting delicacies to the tune of how ever many we could eat.  Typically for me, this meant 10 of the tiny, 55 cent hamburgers.  I think I ate 14 once and I know some of my friends did better than that (or worse, depending on how you look at it).

Every time Stephanie would ask me where I wanted to eat, and I really didn’t want to decide, I’d say White Castle and she would veto and be forced to decide for herself.  Yet despite Stephanie’s detest of White Castle, she was the first of us to try what I deem to be Turkish White Castle burgers.  I got to try them the very next day.

Taksim Islak Burger

Islak Burgers in Istanbul. Picture courtesy of (Thanks guys!)

Islak burgers are made in a similar style to the infamous White Caste “slyders” that people either love or hate.  They are both steamed in some fashion so that the buns are a bit wet when you eat them.  Indeed the word Islak means wet.

The taste isn’t all that similar.  White Castle burgers have a prevailing onion taste to them, while Islak burgers are more meat based.  But they bother certainly hit the spot when you have a late night craving.

Stephanie dared to eat three Islak burgers.  I had four and could have certainly eaten more, but they’re a bit more spendy here.  One Islak burger cost me 2.50TL which is about $1.75.  That’s three times as expensive as the a White Castle burger!  Granted Islak burgers are a bit bigger.

So if you’re Turkish and love Islak burgers, remember the name White Castle if you ever make it to the USA.  And if you’re from the US and you love White Castle as much as I do, remember the name Islak burgers.  They will substitute nicely for your White Castle craving.

Posted by: Stephanie | May 12, 2011

More Turkish Idioms

Andy inspired me to ask my class about Turkish idioms. Here’s what I got:

“After you drink hot milk, you’ll blow on your yogurt.”
If you burn yourself, you will have an over-exaggerated response to not hurt yourself again. I think this can be true for relationships with others, as well.

“A grape is looking at another grape, they are getting darker.”
Evil corrupts good, rather than good bringing up the evil. I’m not sure how I feel about this one.

“If you plant wind, you’ll harvest a storm.”
They explained this one in terms of arguments – if you say something mean, the other person will respond even meaner. It will only get bigger from there.

Posted by: Andy | May 12, 2011

Turkish Haircuts, the story continues

I’ve had six haircuts in Turkey, admittedly not very many.  Somehow, the experience is different every time.  The first time I went with a friend who helped translate and we bumped into someone my friend knew who was also getting his haircut.  For whatever reason, this friend of a friend decided he had to pay for my haircut.  Despite our refusal, he insisted and I got a free haircut.

The next time, I went alone to a different barber.  I didn’t know what to say, but it worked out rather well.  The guy gave me his business card and I returned there for two more haircuts, one of which involved witnessing a man who was getting wax rolled around on his face answer his cell phone and in answering it, got his phone full of wax as well.

Then we moved and I went to a new barber.  I had learned essentially what to say to get the haircut I wanted, but my new local barber doesn’t have any guards for his clippers, so he just used a comb and it worked out fine the first time.

Well, yesterday I went to that barber again and the guy who cut my hair initially wasn’t available so another guy cut my hair.  The hair cut was pretty typical, until the end.

Usually, they just wash your hair, offer you gel and let you pay and leave.  Not this barber.  After washing my hair, he got out some lemon cologne.  This cologne is used in restaurants after a meal on your hands and it’s normal; I got used to it.  So I put my hands out, figuring he would just squirt some in my hands, no big deal.  The guy puts his one hand on my forehead, blocking my eyes and proceeds to dump tons of this cologne into my hair!

I had no idea what he was doing, but he just mixed it around until he was satisfied.  Then, he took a bottle of normal men’s cologne out of one of his drawers and squirted no less than ten squirts on to my shirt, then continued by squirting himself with a few.  I stunk.  Then he finally offered gel which I refused and was on my way.

I wondered if they were just playing a joke on the foreigner or something, but I asked my students if this was normal.  The 24-year old guy said that had never happened to him, but the 40-year old guy in my class reassured me both uses of cologne used to be common practices.  They are simply rare nowadays.

So my last Turkish haircut was just as interesting and awkward as my first, if not more so.  I wonder if German haircuts will be this interesting.

Posted by: Andy | May 8, 2011

Turkish Idioms

In any language, idioms are incredibly difficult to learn.  Let me be the first to say that while they are difficult to learn, they are extremely fun to teach.  Usually I teach these in our extra lessons, an hour of lessons that are free to any student from the school who wishes to come.  I usually choose a general vocabulary topic and just think of as many as I can.  Food idioms tend to work well.  Calling somebody ‘the big cheese’ is for some reason really funny to Turks.  Also, saying that something is their ‘bread and butter’ is a favorite.  I’ve also done animal idioms and body part idioms with great success.

Today, I ventured into new territory.  I always try to ask students about Turkish idioms, but they think of one and they don’t know how to translate it very well and I just give up, but today, I told my class of four that they needed to come up with as many as they could while we were on tea break.  So they sat, chatted together and came up with more than 10 beautiful Turkish idioms.  Nearly all of them expressed the same sentiments as an American idiom, so here are a few of my favorites:

Turkish idiom: Trees bend when they are young. 
American equivalent: You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
Explanation: The Turkish idiom is a bit more about character than about ability.  People develop their character very young is essentially the idea.  If a person is good when they’re young, they’ll be good when they’re old.

Turkish idiom: If babies don’t cry, mothers won’t give milk.
American equivalent: The squeaky wheel gets the grease.
Explanation:  The Turkish variety is more positive, meaning you must say what you want or you won’t get it.  I feel as though the American version is more negative, as in complainers get what they want.

Turkish idiom: It will come up like olive oil.
American equivalent: What goes around, comes around.
Explanation: Essentially, if you do something wrong, it will come up again.  When you mix olive oil in something like soup, it separates and you can see it rise to the top.  It does not blend in.  So it is with our lies and bad deeds.  They stand out.  They don’t blend in.

Turkish idiom: Say uncle to a bear until you cross the bridge.
American equivalent: None.
Explanation: This one is brilliant.  In Turkish, there are two words for uncle.  Your father’s brother is known as amca while your mother’s brother is known as dayı.  A bear is called ayı.  The word amca is used as a term of endearment and familiarity.  The term dayı is now used as a term of respect for a dangerous person, typically in the mafia.  The words dayı and ayı are obviously similar, so when it is said in Turkish, it sounds quite nice.  The cross the bridge part has to do with being a safe distance away.

Turkish idiom: Don’t pull up your pants before you see the water.
American equivalent: Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.
Explanation:  This is the one I most commonly here.  They’re slightly different in that the Turkish speaks of preparing for something before you need to while the American version speaks of depending upon something before it is certain, but they express a similar mentality.

Turkish idiom: Small drops make lakes.
American equivalent: A penny saved is a penny earned.
Explanation: These both have to do with saving money over time.

Turkish idiom: Grapes become black (or ripe) by looking at other grapes.
American equivalent: None.
Explanation: I couldn’t think of anything similar to this that we would use.  It essentially means that as people, we only can mature by observing others who are already mature.  We can only know how to be by observing those around us who already know how to be.

Turkish idiom: I will fight you until the donkey comes from the water.
American equivalent: None (though ‘when hell freezes over’, ‘until the cows come home’ and ‘when pigs fly’ come close).
Explanation: This one is my absolute favorite.  Apparently, donkeys don’t like to come from the water.  This means I will never give up.  My students said it was often used by father’s when arguing with their sons, letting the son know that the father is right.

Posted by: Andy | May 2, 2011

Finish Strong

If you haven’t heard, Stephanie and I are moving to Germany this Summer.  After a short vacation with friends in Turkey and a visit to the USA, we’ll be living in Frankfurt, Germany for a year, hopefully beginning in July or August 2011.

I counted before I went to work today, then posted it on Facebook.  I had 10 days, 14 classes and 44 hours of teaching left.  Now, you can cut that to 9 days, 13 classes and 41 hours and 20 minutes.

After approximately 2000 hours of teaching, I’m down to less than 42.  Wow.  It is rather surreal.  Be assured (especially if you were my student at any point) that I am going to miss teaching and I am going to miss the students, their questions, their ideas, their jokes and their smiles.

After I posted the countdown of days, classes and hours remaining, an old friend and former vocal and spiritual advisor of mine gave me the following advice: “An old coach’s wisdom…Finish strong.”

Finish strong.  Traditionally, I haven’t been good at that.  When I was a kid, I participated in Hershey’s Track and Field programs.  Indeed, my athletic prowess peaked at age 10 when I won the state championship in the 200 meter dash (for 9 and 10 year olds) with a time of 31.63 seconds, a time I barely improved on into high school and college.

While I won the 200 meter dash, my preference was for the 400m dash (which I placed third in that year).  I ran it very differently than everybody else though.

At age 10, having the stamina to run 400 meters at a dead sprint is rather difficult.  Most kids would start at a jog develop into a run and sprint to the finish.  I did the reverse.  I started as fast as I possibly could, gained a big lead and then just tried to hold on, using all of the energy I could find to finish the race.  Oftentimes, I won by intimidation.  I was so far ahead coming into the home stretch that catching me wasn’t possible unless I fell over.  At the state meet I turned the corner heading into the last 100 meters and discovered one kid was right next to me and we battled to the finish and I beat him.  Unfortunately two guys in another heat ran faster than us both.  That boy made me run my fastest time ever.  He challenged me to be better; he made me finish strong.

Into high school, I ran the 800 meter run in the same way.  I’d run the first 400 meters in 58 seconds, then get so tired that my second 400 meters would be 80 seconds.  In college cross country, it was the same.  My first mile would be six minutes.  My second would be seven minutes, and my last three would be eight minutes.

It’s how I live.  I start fast and get tired.  I can’t tell you how many novels and short stories I’ve had ideas for, written a few thousand words and just ran out of steam.

Pacing and balance have never really been my strong suits, so my friend’s advice could not have been spoken to a person who needed to hear them more.

We are certainly in the last 100 meters of our time here in Ankara.  Preparing for lessons, coming up with new ideas and giving the students a good lesson still have to be my top priority.  Despite my ever-growing to do list, I came to Ankara for the sake of relationships and what message would it send to fracture those relationships by being a bad teacher in my last two weeks.

I pray that the relationships I have built will continue and that my predisposition to finish poorly will be disposed of and not affect those relationships which are so very important to me.

May I encourage you to finish strong in every aspect of your life as well.

Posted by: Andy | April 26, 2011

Children’s Day and Goalball

April 23 is Children’s Day in Turkey.  Children celebrate with a program at school involving dancing, singing, flags and costumes.  Last Saturday I saw an abundance of children with balloons and painted faces wearing mini sultan’s outfits.  Children from all over the world are invited and attend festivities in Ankara. 

This year, Ankara’s mayor or governor or something of the sort, decided to hold the first annual Children’s Games in Ankara.  For the past two or three weeks, posters have advertised a variety of sports competitions that are currently being held throughout the city.  The mascot for these games is the Ankara (or Van, depending on who you ask) Cat.  A cat famous for having two differently colored eyes.  We had a great time trying to figure out what eskrim was (it’s fencing).  But one sport we were completely befuddled by: goalball. 

The posters for goalball showed the Ankara Cat with a blindfold on, holding a ball with a bell inside of it, making a bowling type motion.  At first, I literally thought that this was simply soccer with a blind folded goalie who could only tell where the ball was based on the sound. 

I asked all of my students in every single class and none of them had any idea what I was talking about.

Finally, Stephanie found this:

Some research has shown that this sport is played by blind people and was created in 1946 to help World War II veterans suffering from blindness to rehabilitate.  It is now played at the Paralympic Games.  Blindfolds are used to create an equal playing field since partially blind athletes are of course eligible to play. 

You’ll see in the video, teams of three take turns bowling the ball with a bell inside toward the other team’s goals.  The opposing team’s players then dive on the ground, covering as much area as possible so as to stop the ball.

Goalball matches started today.  I don’t think we’ll be able to view any, but it sure sounds interesting.

Posted by: Andy | April 24, 2011

Paskalya (otherwise known as Easter)

Easter Egg Hunt // photo credit:

Today in Turkey is known as Paskalya, that being the Turkish word for Easter.  While some Turks have a pretty good idea about what Paskalya is, most know one thing and one thing only.  We paint eggs.

And they’re not wrong.  Many people paint eggs, do Easter egg hunts, get an Easter basket from the fictitious Easter bunny or have a contest to see who can kill the Easter bunny…oh wait, that’s just my family.

When all you know about a holiday is that people paint eggs, the obvious question that follows is “Why?”

As the secular and religious mingle inside of a holiday’s goings-on, it’s rather difficult to say why we paint eggs.  Having some sort of contrived answer that relates to Jesus isn’t really helpful in my opinion.  Let’s just say it’s festive and fun.  Not that I’ve painted an egg in the last decade to celebrate, but I have certainly eaten my fair share of chocolate.  It’s easy to explain the candy.  In Lent, many people give up candy, so we celebrate by eating way too much of it.  Turks understand that.  They fast for Ramazan (or Ramadan) all month, then comes Sugar Bayram, where children knock on your door like it is Halloween, kiss your hand and demand candy or money, while adults go around visiting relatives for three or four days, eating sarma, dolma, mercimek kofte, baklava and whatever else is offered to them.

But what is Easter really about?

Inside the Turkish word Paskalya we can see the word paschal.  Now what is that?  What does paschal mean?  According to the customs and traditions of Passover, there was a lamb that was slaughtered for the meal, a paschal lamb, a sacrificial lamb, a victim.

The Turkish word for sacrifice or victim is kurban.  Indeed, Muslims celebrate Kurban Bayram (or Kurban Eid) every year by sacrificing a lamb, a paschal lamb.

Today I showed my students the connection between Easter -> Paskalya -> paschal -> kurban and they got it.  They understood.  But the question appropriately followed.  Who or What is the victim?


The celebration of Easter is more than painting eggs, receiving chocolate from the fictitious Easter bunny or simply welcoming the warmer weather of Spring.  Easter celebrates the resurrection of Jesus.

On the previous Friday, we remember His death.  On Sunday we celebrate and remember Jesus’ victory over death.  His being raised from death to life again.  We celebrate His being made alive again through God’s infinite and unlimited power.

So why don’t we continue to sacrifice lambs in celebration of this remembrance?  Because the old way is over.  In the old way, people sacrificed animals as offerings in order to receive forgiveness for their wrong-doings, for their sins.

To paraphrase Hebrews: We have been made holy and right with God through the offering and sacrifice of Jesus’ own body.  Once for all. 

According to the old way, sacrifice occurred at least once a year if not more frequently.  People kept sinning and had to keep sacrificing again and again to remove sin.  Under the new way.  Jesus was sacrificed once for all.  His sacrifice is enough so that we don’t have to keep on sacrificing animals to remove sin.  Jesus has removed all of our sin.  We are forgiven.  Jesus has taken our sin away, atoned for it all.  Jesus has been sacrificed, been made the victim, been made the kurban for us.

Paskalya is very much our Kurban Bayram.

Posted by: Andy | April 21, 2011

What’s in a name? – Turkish Boy Names

While men perhaps won’t care to hear this, I find Turkish girl names much more natural and beautiful than Turkish boy names.  It seems as though the girl names have become more modern and have more variety than the boy names.  The boy names seem to remain a bit more traditional, but there are still a few that I rather enjoy.

Said exactly like the English word typhoon, Tayfun means…typhoon!  While I find it funny that there is such a name for a child, I’m not sure we could use it at any point.  People would try to pronounce it more like tay – fun, as in tay: rhyming with pay; and fun: rhyming with one.  That being said, one of our greatest Turkish friends here is named Tayfun, so we’ll keep it as a possibility.

The Turkish version of the name Abraham is a solid name.  The first and second ‘i’ are pronounced with a long e sound so it sounds like ee-bra-heem.  It’s usable, but I think people would be confused as to why we didn’t just use Abraham.  Turkish first names are seldom shortened into nicknames.  I’ve literally heard less than five examples of a name shorted to a nickname and Ibrahim is one of them.  The nickname?  Ibo.  I personally prefer that over Abe.

The s with the squiggle underneath makes a ‘sh’ sound, so this name sounds like Bah – rish.  It means peace, so it is rather pretty.  We would probably have to spell it as Barish if we wanted to use it and people would probably pronounce the first syllable as ‘bare’ instead of ‘bar’.  I once, in all seriousness had a student whose first name was Savaş and whose middle name was Barış.  In English his name would translate to “War and Peace”.

This name is the Turkish version of the prophet Jonah (who was swallowed by a whale) and strangely enough means dolphin.  I have always thought dolphins were a bit more feminine than masculine, but whatever works.  One of my former students named Yunus is a man who enjoys sailing, so I always thought that name worked well for him.  Pronounced Yoo-noos, it could work.  It’s also the name of our local grocery store.

Does this name remind you of any particular English word?  Yeah, it means volcano.  While I like it, I think people would believe we were nerds misspelling the word Vulcan from Star Trek, so we probably won’t use it.

Onur or Onurcan
Onur (oh-noor) means honor.  For males, the suffix that has become trendy lately is -can (pronounced like John).  While Can is a typical male name, the suffix has become a recent development for the latest generation, so say my students anyway.  So old Turkish names like Mehmet, Emre, Berk and Onur have now become more popular as Mehmetcan,  Emrecan, Berkcan and Onurcan.  I think Onur is ok, Onurcan less so because of the Turkish C making that pesky J sound.

Posted by: Andy | April 15, 2011

What’s in a name? – Turkish Girl Names

One of the most interesting things about Turkish culture is their use of names.  The majority of Turkish names can be found directly in the dictionary.  While there are a few names like this used commonly in America (Hope, Grace, Faith, Joy) it is nowhere near the majority.  Most commonly used names in the US have some etymology to them.  My name, Andrew, comes from the Greek word meaning strong or manly.  Stephanie’s name comes fromFrench and Greek roots meaning crown or princess.

As we continually meet new people here, we tend to assess whether their name would be usable in the US or not (No, we are NOT expecting a child). 

When I say usable, I mean the letters all make the same sounds.  For example in Turkish, the C makes a J sound and there are six letters in the Turkish alphabet that don’t exist in our alphabet.  So here are some popular Turkish names that we like, what they mean and an assessment of their usability.

When we first arrived in Turkey, the first Turkish woman we met was the secretary at our school, her name being Melek, which means angel in Turkish and strangely enough, king in Hebrew.  This is closely related to another Turkish girl’s name, Melike which means queen.  While Melek is perfectly usable, Melike may be pronounced as two separate words, ‘me like’.  No, I don’t like that. 

Pronounced ‘ya-MOOR’ the g with a squiggle over it is essentially silent.  It usually serves to elongate the previous vowel.  Yağmur means rain and while it is extremely beautiful, having that silent g would make most Americans looking at the name say ‘YAG – mer’.  Leaving out the G so that it is simply Yamur, may be an option, I suppose.

As I previously mentioned, the C in Turkish has a J sound, so this name is pronounced, ‘JER-en’.  It means gazelle and despite the beauty of the name, if it were used in the US, people would simply think it an alternate spelling of the name ‘Karen’ and that’s no good.  It is perhaps usable with the alternate spelling ‘Jeren’.

Pronounced just like the large brass instrument, Tuğba is unusable on two fronts.  Firstly, there is the possibility of people saying ‘TUG – BA’ and who would like that?  Secondly, even if it were pronounced correctly, it would be strange to name a child (in other people’s eyes) after an instrument.  I’ve never met anybody named Flute, Euphonium or Timpani, have you?  Tuğba means pleasant or enjoyable.  It also seems to have connections to a special tree in heaven. 

It always makes me happy when I meet a person whose name fits their personality and their hobbies.  For example, my little brother’s name is Isaac, which means laughter and it is quite fitting.  Ezgi is a musical term meaning melody and I’ve met more than one musician named Ezgi, one was even a professional violinist.  But beyond that, Ezgi sounds just like it looks, and that’s important for usability in the US.

Again with the C pronounced J thing.  The name ‘Can’ is a common boy’s name meaning life, pronounced exactly the same as ‘John’ or ‘Jon’.  ‘Su’ means water; therefore, Cansu means life-water.  Isn’t that lovely? 

My students informed me the other night that it has become popular in the last 30 years or so to add two specific suffixes for girl names.  One is ‘-su’ (water), the other is  ‘-nur'(light).

Older Posts »