Being New in a Foreign Country
courage, first impressions

Being New in a Foreign Country

June 22, 2010

Day Three here. Arrived on Sunday, and within an hour and a half, Sankar and I were at the downstairs neighbors’ apartment for tea. Seme and Pinar are a couple about our age, and had run into Sankar and extended the invitation earlier in the week. Meeting them so soon answers my question about friendliness and helps me feel optimistic about life here.

My first day was full of confusion as I unpacked, bought a few groceries, and got to know our new apartment. We are up on a hill surrounded by trees including cypresses and magnolias; I want to learn the names of others, as well as those of our bird neighbors, including one that has a white chevron on each of its wings.

Inside the apartment, it seems like every building material is unusual. Our kitchen is sleek and white, with diminutive appliances that communicate using icons, their temperature settings displayed in Celsius. The windows are German and take on interesting positions: you can get them to lean toward you, open at the top. Floors look like oak but are actually made from some high-tech compound, not unattractive. Landed and cellular telephones as well as an intercom system all make strange sounds and I am learning to distinguish one from the other.

Ventured down the hill to the Bosphorus on Tuesday morning. A shady, cobbled road and then 110 steps to the shore. Walked south to Arnavutkoy, a charming village crowded with wooden Ottoman houses and a surfeit of fish restaurants. Then turned around and headed north into downtown Bebek, where I bought a chocolate croissant at a bakery called “Paul.”

As I walked, I noticed what people were wearing. I saw men in dress shirts and slacks, men in sport shirts and shorts, and from a distance two men that appeared to have been bathing in the Bosphorus. One was old, pale and hefty—and naked except for wet, white underpants.

The women were interesting. I passed perhaps four with skirts down to their feet and long-ish headscarves, their faces uncovered. A woman jogging with a male friend wore black running capris and a yellow T shirt. An older woman with dyed blond hair walked by sporting a low-cut pink T shirt and dark shorts. A young woman in a green striped mini dress spoke on a cell phone. An elderly woman was dressed just like my mother: a loose button-down top and polyester slacks.

I didn’t feel conspicuous, but with my knee-length navy shorts and short-sleeved T shirt, I wondered where I fit along this continuum, or more likely, dichotomy. Alongside the mini-dressed girl, I suppose. The concept of modesty, something I believe is relative and situational rather than absolute, seems to be a women’s issue here, associated with political party membership as well as theological conviction, and also, perhaps, beliefs about the feminine ideal. I will continue to write about this fascinating topic.

In the late morning, a climb back up to a quiet apartment and an afternoon nap to try and shake jet lag. I am finding much-needed continuity in following the World Cup matches, but feel the need for bravery as I face many quiet days before my plans and ideas kick in and before any friendships are made.

Thanks for reading this.

4 thoughts on “Being New in a Foreign Country

  1. So where is day 4 and 5 and 6…..your audience is waiting…and living vicariously through you! Wish I was on this adventure with you too!

Comments are closed.