Water, please.

I was having a conversation with Mert one night about his experiences going to grad school in New England. He told me that for months he and the six or seven other Turkish men in the program huddled together, overwhelmed.

“We would go out to a restaurant together- to a diner or whatever- and one person who was feeling brave would order and we’d all say we wanted the same thing so we wouldn’t have to speak. And we weren’t really sure what a lot of stuff on the menu was, so sometimes we’d all wind up ordering something we all hated.”

“Good lord,” I said.

“And for some reason we couldn’t order water. I would say ‘water,’ and the waitress would have no idea what I was saying. It was really difficult.”

“Say ‘water’ again?”


“That’s clearer than they usually say it in Baltimore. That’s weird.”

“Well, I speak better English now.”

“I still don’t understand how you can screw that word up enough that the waitress wouldn’t understand you.”

“Americans were like that. Sometimes I think they would pretend not to understand.”


We had this conversation sometime during my first few weeks here, when the language still sounded strange to me. I’d never heard Turkish spoken before I came to Istanbul, and I just couldn’t hear it, where words began and ended, the vowel sounds… It took a few weeks to work up the nerve to say anything in Turkish, but when I finally started speaking I discovered that…

I couldn’t order water.

“Su,” I’d say,


“Su. Su.”


“Su!” I’d eventually start frantically miming drinking, which half the time led to me getting a glass of milk. (Süt). One memorable night I tried to order three glasses of water, and I wound up with three glasses of wine (şarap.) (Yes, you may call me Jesus.)

I thought of this when I read Que?, a hilarious post on the delightful Perking the Pansies that you have to read right now.



Filed under Daily Life

3 responses to “Water, please.

  1. Hi there. Thanks for the plug! The issue was explained to me by a Turkish friend. Because neither Liam nor I look Turkish, we’re not expected to speak Turkish. When we do (even when pronounced correctly), it throws people completely. I call this the Qué? Phenomenon.

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