Sunday, October 29, 2006

Back again

We're back in Izmir, after 10 days in Geneva. So how was it? Being home was, well... a bit unlike being home.

Of course, we we're in Geneva and it was great to see friends and family and just, well, be in a place you know, and have not been in for a few months. Familiarity is sometimes so wonderful.

It was appeasing to understand all that was going on around us; it's as if my brain, having muted all the incomprehensible conversations around me for four months, was suddenly fully "on", bordering on overload, like being solicited from all directions because it could grasp the meaning of every word around me - luckily this did not last long! I loved every minute of being able to fluidly and quickly maneuver through minor traffic and get anywhere in less than 20 minutes, appreciated being serviced with a smile and helpful attitude, enjoyed a delicious week-end pizza at our usual week-end hang out, walked about in the sun on the lake side, basked in the beautiful greens of the fields and trees... Yet, it felt different than when we were living there. My perspective had changed. I observed people in the streets, new cafés and shops, and noticed things I hadn't paid attention to before. I had not participated in Geneva's life for four months, but it felt like I had been away for at least a year.

It was not exactly like being home 'cause after a day rushing around seeing friends and family, we didn't have our home to go back to, not our car/scooter, nor our noisy neighbor Jean to mumble about. (I do not miss his yelling against his kids, but still, it was part of our life during our last months in Vandoeuvres). I'm not complaining. It was wonderful to stay with A. and her hospitality and kindness were absolutely first-rate. Wonderful to have dinner with the girls, and I enjoyed every lunch, coffee, dinner, and walk... but it was weird being home and yet feeling that home was no longer truly there.

Izmir from the plane

I guess, this is actually a good thing; while we don't yet feel 100% at home here, arriving at the airport and driving back, certainly felt less foreign. I even had a few people to call this time and some who called me. It was nice to pick up Balou in great shape and find our home with all our things in it, spotlessly clean, as Hamide, our wonder-cleaning lady had come by. I actually enjoyed doing a big food shop and filling our fridge knowing that there are a few added ingredients and spices I brought back with me, which will make for enjoyable more-like-home meals. My mind filled with fresh Geneva sights and impressions and finding Izmir practically as green as Geneva, now that the sun is less scorching hot, was a rewarding reminder that home is where you make it.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Quarterly random bits

Before heading back to Geneva for 10 days, and since we’ve been in Turkey for four months and a bit, I thought I’d share a quarterly review on random bits and mysteries that remain to be resolved:

  1. The average Turk is generally rather laid back in terms of timeliness (yavaş, yavaş), quite gentle and soft-spoken… Except behind the wheel. Watch out! Bye bye Dr. Jekyll, Welcome Mr. Hyde! Honk-Hoooonk! The relaxed Turk turns into speeding lunatic who has to overtake the car ahead even if he'll be turning off the main road 20 meters later anyway. Huh? It's like: "Hurry up so I can go home, lay back and relax!" Still a mystery to me!
  2. Turkey is a control freak’s paradise; you’ll be able to let your controlling instincts run wild and no one will get offended when you remind them to come/go finish the job/ - in fact it’s the only way to get things done here.
  3. When speaking with locals or ordering in a restaurant, remember Greek salad is not Greek, nor is Moussaka. And Baklava is certainly neither Greek (μπακλαβάς) Serbian (баклава), Romanian (baclava), nor Lebanese (بقلاوة).
  4. Do the sales people realize that helping and encouraging you to buy from the shop is part of their job?
  5. Luckily, the ones that are helpful really go out of their way to give you a hand!
  6. Any given supermarket or market has at least 300 different white cheeses which are totally indistinguishable from the outside (all square blocks in saran wrap)
  7. Petrol is the most expensive on earth!
  8. When stopped by the police, or by an annoying promotion-person just say “turkçe konuşmiyorum” (I don’t speak Turkish) and you’ll instantly get an apologetic smile and a wave to move on.
  9. Advocating the use anti-perspirant /deodorant that promises 7 day efficiency is a very near sighted strategy... (euh, gross!)
  10. Ataturk is never a subject to joke about
More, with a fresh perspective, when I return!
I'm so happy to be going home!!!!!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Turkish tax strategy

Turkey, like many countries was having a hard time getting their tax money in - and they came up with a pretty innovative strategy in my opinion.

Because they didn't have the trusted manpower to check the country's businesses' bookkeeping, they implemented a pull strategy by encouraging the consumer to pressure the business.

In a restaurant or shop, it was common practice not to receive the bill, to keep income off the books. So the government decided to refund a percentage of the VAT to individuals at the end of each year -provided they could show proof of expense- for purchased clothes, food, medical goods and school supplies among other things.

By asking for the bill and claiming a refund on part of the VAT she had paid on goods during the year, a friend of mine in Izmir was refunded about 400 YTL (about 200 Euros) per year. Not bad. I can think of a few things I'd rather do with that then spending it on VAT. And it's all in the interest of the country.

The system worked well, and so gradually the state has reduced the percentage of VAT they refund - perhaps a bit quickly in my opinion, for it will take a while for the tax evasion process to "un-become" the norm.

Now-days, although you still get asked if you want the bill or not (and get offered a discount in shops if you don't want it) a larger proportion of the population has gotten into the habit of automatically pressuring the business into good bookkeeping simply by asking for the bill.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Greatness is...

I'm all for cities marketing their historical or cultural attributes.

Although a commercial pole, Izmir, for example, attracts tourists on the way to the ancient city of Ephesus (about ninety minutes drive away). Izmir itself, allegedly one of the oldest cities on the Med, looks anything but ancient with its concrete bay and mushrooming hill side houses, since it was reconstructed after the "great" fire of 1922. But greatness (or would that be grandness ?) is often associated with historical heritage... So how could the Grand Efes Hotel, in its perfect early 70's style (currently being revamped) be anything less than at least 100 years old ?
(Click on pic to enlarge)

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

A brave new world

Waking up this morning, I still wasn't sure whether what I was about to do would make me feel like a cowardly drop-out, or a braver, more in-touch-with-myself-person; the kind that can be a good friend to herself.

A month ago today, I started Turkish classes at state language school here in Izmir with a group of foreigners. From the start, I found the schedule too intense (4 hours a day, 5 days a week plus 2 hours a day getting there and back) and the general rhythm not to my taste. The fact that everyone but me was actually living with a Turkish boyfriend, husband, father, mother, aunt, or had a doctorate in Turkish lit. didn't really help.

The first week was exhausting as they always are. After that, most afternoons I felt so tired and heavy with indigested novelties that by the time I got home, the last thing I felt like doing was getting my head around more Turkish and doing my homework. Some days, I actually took afternoon naps I was so tired! Why is this so hard? Has my brain reached it's maximum capacity of foreign languages? Frustration at constantly trying to keep up was brimming and sapping ever more energy. Why am I doing this? Yes, I want to learn the language, but can I keep a minimum of a life too?
I hung in there.

At the end of September, I took the oral and the 4 hour (!!!) written exam, which completed level 1 and enabled me to continue on to level 2. I passed it with a pretty good score and felt almost disappointed.

On Monday, level 2 started. The size of the class had doubled but was one person short for them to split the class in two. I found myself even more frustrated due to the lack of time for each of us to practice speaking and ask individual questions. With an even larger number of people whose knowledge of Turkish way surpassed mine, keeping up was more than a headache. I felt totally miserable at the perspective of going on with the "up at 6 to enjoy 4 hours of running after comprehension before trying to figure it out at home" routine.

Waking up this morning I thought: "I've got to make learning Turkish a bit more pleasurable and find a format that's more in tune with my current level and pace or I'm going to end up hating the language".
The little devil on my shoulder piped up immediately: "You drop out. How do you expect to learn if you give it up after one month?"
I felt queasy. I'm really shite at letting go/ giving up/ leaving. Like a dog with his bone. Somehow a part of me still adheres to "you go on no matter what". Even if it's stupid, fruitless, bad for me, whatever. Up bringing, has a strong hold no matter what you learn later in life. Plus I'm stubborn.

I went to school but not to class. I waited for the break at the end of the first hour and spotted the teacher.
Couldn't you find the class? (Ouch!)
Actually, I was waiting for you. Can we talk?
Off we go to an empty class room. I explain that I'm feeling really frustrated while constantly striving to keep up with people who practice Turkish all day long, that he's a great teacher but that the format is not working for me, that I learn better when I'm happy and comfortable, and does he by any chance give private lessons?
Hurrah! He does. And he will. And he lives not far from us, so there's a no-more 2-hour-traffic-jams bonus.

Here's to making things easier on yourself 'cause you can, and 'cause it's OK.

Thanks to my honey for knowing the devil on my shoulder and helping me make the good guys win.