Turns out I don’t speak Turkish

One of the more disheartening things about having an unusual first name is the variety of pronunciations people use to address you with. Over time, I’ve learnt to respond to Ferrar, Faye, Faya, Fairer, Freya, Sarra, Tara, and Fa-rur. None of which are my actual name. Sometimes, people don’t believe that Kelly is my surname, so refer to me as that instead, and are indignant when I don’t immediately respond.

So it’s a nice novelty to be in a country where the name “Farrah” is actually not all that uncommon. It’s spelt differently (Ferah), and the /r/ is more of a trill (phonetics friends might dispute this, I was never any good in phon&phon), but it’s my name nonetheless. I was pleasantly surprised how easily the staff remembered it- whenever I’ve met second language-English speakers, I’m known as anything but my actual name. When I worked in a Chinese restaurant most of the staff got my attention with clicks or hand gestures. The rest didn’t bother to learn my name. I’m loving this temporary honour.

Short of this bemusing highlight, the language differences have, naturally, been a pain . I rely on confusing hand gestures and interpreting mimicry to gain my instructions, which you’d think would be easy enough. But, no. Pointing at a chair and miming sitting down and opening a book, does not in fact mean, “go and sit down and read a book”. It means “wait here while I mop so you can put the floor rugs down after I’ve finished”. Obviously. Which I learned the hard way- and managed to get told off, like a child, for innocently finding a book and seat and doing what I thought I was told. 

  It’s  pretty hard to not use phrases and culutre references- offering to brew up is met with confusion and comparing a hotel guest to Cheryl Cole charcter draws blank looks. Most of what I say, whether to the Turkish or Germans here, is replied to with polite-I-don’t-know-what-you’re-talking-about laughter, or ignored all together.

Not having any difficulty in understanding when they tell me I can “sit down”.

We’ve developed our own little quasi-language, a pidgin, if you will. “Make it work” means “turn the washing machine on”. “Hep” means  ”follow me”. A high pitched hum means I’m doing something wrong. My communication is surviving on half sentences and  Turkish and English words mangled together. 

The upshot of this whole language barrier is that I’ve basically forgotten how to speak like a normal person. I find myself awkwardly imitating their accents when trying to ask them for the next job- “Me mop?” “Where this?“. It’s pretty hard to not feel like I’m patronising them. It’s even harder not to laugh at their botched attempts of English “You shut up” for “Empty the dishwasher” was a personal favourite.


So no, I’m not fluent in Turkish. I’m holding out for another hidden talent.  Statistically speaking, if I’m so crap at everything else, then I’m logically bound to stumble across something I’m blindingly brilliant at. Eventually.

Farrah Kelly

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