Miscommunications in Istanbul

“No one speaks English in Istanbul. “

 I carry with me, everywhere I go, two pieces of paper I printed before leaving home. I would usually just use my guide-book, and speak english. But with so many people telling me about the Turks lack of english-speaking skills I though better be safe than sorry and printed two pages filled with useful words and expressions to everyday life.

I wasn’t however expecting to actually need said pages. And while I expected not to use them, after realising how bad their english is, I am surprised how little I did use them.

What the Turks lack in English, they make up for in creativity, and willingness to help. The pages have more often that not been more of an amusement than an actual help. Apparently the expressions I needed most would have been things like “Could you tell me to leave when we reach the bus stop [insert destination]”. Or maybe “Is this bus going to [insert destination]”, or even ” check please”

And instead I had numbers, and the various ways to say hello.


In turkey buying a mobile phone is extremely expensive. And what I mean by that is that a phone that would cost 20 euros in Portugal is here around 350 Trl which makes for about 150 euros. And this is the cheapest you get.

So obviously everyone buys second-hand phones.

In my search for a second-hand phone, I found myself in front of two guys trying to gesture my way into my future mobile.

There were two guys because the first guy thought the second guy spoke some english. He didn’t.

And I decide to take my paper out and figure out how to explain I want a second-hand phone. I uselessly decided to point at the number two and then my hand, but that only resulted in them thinking I wanted two phones obviously.

They took a look at my little piece of paper. Laughed. And then looked back at me confused.

I wanted a phone. And then I had another thought “phone.. UCUZ, Phone ucuz, Ben bir öğrenciyim, ucuz..” that roughly translates to “phone..cheap, phone cheap, I am a student, cheap..”

They only had second-hand blackberries, and unfortunately that was still a little bit much for me. But I thanked them, said goodbye and left searching for another second-hand shop.

I’ve had many encounters like this – more often than not, they just answer to me in turkish speaking slower and louder hoping that I understand. I don’t. But in the middle of all the speaking there as gestures and hands pointing at the direction I should take. And between all the loud turkish speaking I understand what they mean.


Moving in to my new home, I took a taxi. He was very nice and with his little english we got into the typical one-worded sentences

 “Where from? “


“Ronaldo! (laughing)”

“Yes, yes”

“Ronaldo, football”

“Yes, yes.. You? Istanbul?”

“evet, evet”

The friendly driver tried to tell me about the city – in turkish. He would point a speak and would put in the occasional english word in, what would get me left to use my imagination as I uselessly tried to guess what he meant.

As we stopped, because of traffic the turkish-speaking began – pointing at an old building

 “[turkish] old [turkish] many years…”

“the building?

“evet, evet”

“very old building?”

“evet, evet..” more turkish and pointing at the cars..

“Istanbul has a lot of traffic no?”

“evet, evet”

The taxi ride continued and between the silence we would uselessly try to communicated. We exchanged few words at a time, and after that he would laugh and offer me a cigarette.

[That is another thing all the smokers out there will enjoy about Istanbul – I have already been offered cigarets at least three times. Turks smoke and like to share their cigarettes.]

By the end of the ride I thanked him in turkish, he smiled and I smiled back. We had been able to have a conversation somehow- even if he didn’t speak much english, and I didn’t speak any turkish.

– Carlota

14 responses to “Miscommunications in Istanbul

    • I am afraid you might be right.. Afraid because turkish is really (really!!!) hard to learn! But yes – they are very nice and I feel they really appreciate the effort! Thank you, as always, for your kind comments 😀

  1. Oh gosh, that certainly sounds like an adventure! Hopefully it will get easier to communicate, though it certainly seems as if you’ve gotten a good amount of stories so far. The photos look gorgeous, what a unique city!

    • I think it will eventually be easier – especially because, hopefully, I will figure out how to go around in this huge city! But in the hopes of remaining positive about everything, I think it is always interesting to see how, sometimes, words are overrated.. And when they are actually needed, and non-existant – you will probably, (as long as you have a sense of humour) end up with a good story 🙂
      Thank you, as always for reading and commenting! 😀

  2. That is something I love about moving to a foreign place… All those moments :). Maybe you should have taken an unlocked phone from Portugal with you… I did when I left for Canada 😉

    • I should have – but I didn’t even think of that haha next time I’ll definetly will bring one unlocked phone!
      Anyway I am also loving it here! It is a really nice experience and everyone has been really nice! ( Turkish hospitality actually exists! …. 🙂 )
      Thank you for the comment!!

  3. there are some certain areas that u can’t find any1 who speaks english, and to be honest, most of the people can’t speak english. It’s also very difficult to learn Turkish for foreigners because it has totally different structure.
    I think it’s best for you to learn some basic and useful words in Turkish.
    Btw, I read your story, and it made me smile, I can understand its extremely difficult to communicate with the people that u don’t share the same language. Hope u’ll get used to it and enjoy ur time.

    • Turkish is very difficult -but I am trying to learn at least the basics!
      It is hard that noone speaks english – but at the same time everyone has been so nice and helpfull – getting out of their way to help out! I love the turkish hospitality!
      Thanks for the comment 🙂

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