My command of foreign languages has never been … how would you say? … strong. After roughly seven to eight years of studying Spanish, I still get flustered right after the “Estoy bien. ¿Cómo estás?” part. I’ve always blamed this slow comprehension of the language on the fact that studying it in the suburbs of Connecticut doesn’t quite classify as “cultural immersion.” I’ve been told time after time that the only way really to learn a language is by actually going to the country. I am, of course, usually told this either in the middle of my fourth hour of studying for a Spanish exam or following the exam as a means of comfort.

But when I came to Istanbul I was extremely determined to pick up Turkish. And so now I’m here in Istanbul and anxiously awaiting the morning I wake up and my roommate tells me I was speaking Turkish in my sleep (and hoping that whatever I said was about foreign policy … because, seriously, how cool would that be?). Until then, however, I have to stick with going out in groups no larger than five because six through 10 are tricky numbers, I have trouble speaking with verbs (“Pen blue!”), and I frequently wow the man at the place I buy breakfast with my natural ability to say the word for “cheese.”

Once I step outside the gates of my university, English is scattered and not always guaranteed. Other than the so very common, “You look like Angelina Jolie!” of course. (Honestly, I’m convinced Turkish men have never seen a picture of her.) So, frequent and full immersion into the heart of Istanbul is vital to my Turkish learning experience. My mere survival in this city rides on my comprehension of simple sentences. This “I AM AMERICAN HEAR ME ROAR” stamp I apparently have on my forehead, however, has recently become an obstacle in my attempts at practicing Turkish.

You know how oftentimes prior to studying abroad there are seminars and discussions about how to “blend in and not stand out as an American”? Well, don’t go to them. Ever. I can assure you, without a doubt, that no matter what clothes you wear, how quietly you speak or how well you can say “thank you” in the country’s native language, they will always know you are American. Always. Maybe it’s my rounded face and blue eyes, or maybe it’s because I ask for ketchup with everything, but they have me pegged.

Every now and then I come across a waiter or residents of a new neighborhood and think, “Yes! Here’s my shining opportunity to practice Turkish with someone who must not know English.” I’ll walk into any Turkish dürüm shop, pastry store or waterside cafe and offer my most sincere “Merhaba” and, without fail, the pleasant man at the door will respond with a fantastic, “Hello.” There are, of course, the other pleasant reactions such as: “Merhaba. Bir çay lütfen.” (waiter giggles) “So, you’d like a tea?”

But just when I’m ready to give up, three o’clock in the morning rolls around and there stands “The Wet Burger Man.” Now if I were to explain to you now what a wet burger is, you simply would not understand. If you were to bar hop for several hours and get a serious case of the late night snackies, then nothing would be clearer to you. But I digress. The Wet Burger Man stands there proud and smiling at the top of Taksim Square every Friday and Saturday night serving these mystery wet burgers to rowdy Turks and the four American girls who have embarrassingly become regulars. He (for a reason I’m sure he has tried to explain to us once) wants nothing more than to “shoot the Turkish breeze,” exchanging simple pleasantries with us smiling all the while. The same pleasantries, I’m sure, he would exchange with a six-month-old who just learned his first word. I have quickly learned (other than the fact that a mini-burger dipped in tomato sauce is one of the most incredible foods ever) that this man will be the key to my Turkish success.

Some have told me the best way to learn Turkish is to find myself a Turkish boyfriend. I say … become a weekend regular at a low-grade, fast food shop and become friends with the elderly man behind the counter and you’re on your way to fluency.

Meagan Kelly is a junior in the College and is a former photo editor for The Hoya. GRANDMA GOES TO TURKEY appears every other Friday in the guide.

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