In the US, sticking up your middle finger
is an extremely rude gesture. To do the same in England, hold
up your second and third fingers. In Brazil, connecting your index
finger and thumb together (meaning “okay” in the States)
is calling someone a jerk. We've learned that the subtleties of
gestures are sometimes as important as learning the language and
unfortunately, these are sometimes only learned the hard way.
The day's drive was longer than we anticipated;
instead of reaching Cirali as we planned, we decided to spend
the night in Finike, a small town not listed in our guidebook.
It was late and things were shutting down quickly so we decided
we'd better find a place to check-in soon if we were going to
get any dinner.
We pulled in to what looked like Turkey's version
of Motel 6 to begin the task of bargaining for a room. Usually
this is handled by Grace, but he was really tired, so I popped
out of the car into the lobby. This town caters to Turkish tourists
so the man at the desk spoke no English and when I tried the little
Turkish I had picked up he looked at me as if I was speaking Alien.
Worse, the barren entryway had no signs or brochures to reference,
and everything I did was met with a blank stare. Finally, combining
a hotel key from his desk, plus some cash from my pocket and pointing
to our luggage at the door, he understood that we wanted to rent
a room. The next task was figuring out how much.
"$?" written on a piece of paper
meant nothing, but the New Turkish Lira (NTL) sign did evoke a
response, albeit a somewhat crazy one. He wanted 50 NTL! Since
we hadn’t just arrived in Turkey yesterday, we knew it was
too much for this place. But it was getting late, and we were
without other options. So I bargained, as is the custom. I drew
a big circle with a line over the “50” (a la ghostbusters)
and wrote “35” next to it. He responded by writing
“45,” so I smiled and wrote “40.” Things
were going well; we weren’t going to get a great price,
but at least we weren’t going to pay 50 NTL. Then the strange
thing happened. He just smiled, gave a slight nod and raised his
eyebrows the way Joey on Friends does when he says, "How
you doin’?" Confused, I pointed at the number again
and said, “Ok?” Again, the smile and the eyebrows.
So I wonder, Yes? No? Is he picking up on me? Does he know what
I did last summer? If none of these, then what?! So, I go back
to the paper, point at the number and say, “Ok?” combined
with a nod, then “No?” while shaking my head, hoping
he'll pick one. He's still just nodding, smiling, and raising
his eyebrows, but I can somehow tell he's not agreeing to a price
of 40. This must have looked quite strange to Grace and I explained
the situation as he approached. Grace then had a go, trying variations
of my tactics, but to no avail. Still eyebrows and smiling. Finally,
Grace goes back to pen and paper and writes: “50”
crossed out, “45” crossed out, then “40”
with a big circle around it. The man writes “45.”
We give up; at least we have an answer. We give him a thumbs up,
pay, get a key, and retire to the room having missed dinner playing
charades with the front desk guy.
Weeks later I was reading a book about Turkey
called Bright Sun, Strong Tea by Tom Brosnahan and he
explains that the Turks raise their eyebrows as a polite gesture
to say NO instead of saying their word for NO. Ah, it all clicked.
If someone had only been so polite to us a bit earlier.