Vicissitudes of Language – Asia

In Turkey as well as in India, perhaps even anywhere in Asia, one should never ask a leading question or a question that requires only a "yes" or "no" answer. It took us a while to figure that out, even longer to rid ourselves of this treacherous habit of asking, "Is this the way to the Shanti House?". Of course, the response was "Yes, sir", communicated with a gracious smile. Off we'd go in the wrong direction.

Often, a cordial response would come with an affirmative repetition of the question. For example, in Istanbul, the following is a fairly typical language exchange.

Do you have vegetarian dishes?

Yes, sir, vegetarian dishes.

Which ones are they (pointing)?

He (the small restaurant keeper) vaguely directs attention towards a few dishes, displayed at the counter.

Is this one vegetarian (guvetch, a traditional Turkish meat stew)?

Yes, vegetarian, this one – vegetarian.

What about those pieces of meat?

Meat? Yes, meat, this is meat.

Not vegetarian (we begin to lose our bearings here)?

Yes, not vegetarian, with a charming smile.

We try another route.

Do you have guvetch without meat?

Yes, guvetch without meat, no problem. "No problem" is another common phrase in Asia. Often it means that it is no problem if you have a complaint or you miss your bus, or you have been overcharged.

Fifteen minutes later a waiter brings our plates with nice and steamy vegetarian guvetch. After digging our forks into it, we discover suspicious pieces of – meat. When we point at these pieces, the owner seems genuinely surprised. Reading our exasperated faces, he regroups, "No meat, not good". "Yes", we say, "not vegetarian".

He takes our plates back and concocts some strange salads which were not even on the menu (his restaurant serves basically meat).

Read more of Misha's travels here.