Thursday, March 22, 2012


I’ve been reading a book written by a woman who moved to India and she talks a lot about the trouble with learning the unwritten customs inherent in a culture different from her own. I was reminded of all the learning that Jerry and I had to do when we moved to Turkey for 18 months. His job was to set up a metal building business for a joint venture between a privately owned American company and a privately owned Turkish company.

We were met at the airport by two young men from the Turkish company. One, Melih, was to be the accountant for the new company. He spoke good English. The other was the driver that had been assigned to us. His name was Ahmet, and he spoke some English, though it was quite rusty from not being used for about 8 years. Ahmet had lived for a few years in London, where he picked up some English, but it took a while for him to understand us, and for us to understand him.

We were advised that the Turkish company was going to order a car for Jerry’s use, but until that happened, Ahmet was to use a company limousine, a Mercedes, to be exact. (See above) Now this sounds pretty prestigious, but it was old and beat up, with several of the windows being held in place by wire. But the engine was good so we had no complaints, other than we felt very uncomfortable being chauffeured everywhere. Upon leaving the airport on our way to the Hilton Hotel, where we would stay until we could decide where to live, we felt like we were the Astors, not the Titles sitting in the back of that 7 passenger limo!

Ahmet was much more impressed with the limo than we were. The car that was to be our ultimate “company” car took a long time to arrive – and we had no clue what the Turkish partner was going to provide. We spent many months using that old blue limo, even taking it on several weekend trips (driver included) out of the metropolitan area.

One day Ahmet phoned me to ask if I would take a picture of a new car that had just been delivered. I wondered if it might be the one we were going to get. Ahmet said none of the drivers knew who it was for, but he hoped it would be for us.

I walked the few short blocks over to the company and sure enough, there was Ahmet standing beside a shiny white brand-new limo. I could see the gears of his mind working to imagine how he would look in the driver’s seat….so I snapped a photo like he wanted. The next morning Ahmet arrived all glum and downcast; he told us that at the end of the day, the boss came out with his driver, got in the new white limousine and drove off.

It was hard to keep Ahmet the driver separate from Ahmet our friend. Constitutionally, Jerry and I do not think of people according to their rank. Ahmet helped us a great deal and we felt like he was part of our family. We had great fun together, the three of us. But during the working day, we had to allow Ahmet to be a driver like the other drivers. If we were out to lunch on a Saturday, we expected him to sit at the table with us and we paid for his lunch. During the work week, he always sat with the other drivers over in the corner of a restaurant.

Finally, many months down the line our company car arrived. Ahmet didn’t say a word, but I know he was disappointed. Even the driver of a rattle-trap Mercedes had more cachet than the driver of a little Ford, shiny and new notwithstanding. It was not so hard for us to sit in the back seat in this car. And it certainly made for easier conversation while we were out and about. But we knew Ahmet was disappointed.

We lived on the Asian side of Istanbul and Ahmet lived across the Bosphorus. He did not have a car. It was a long trip to and from work for him, necessitating a combination of busses, boats and dolmuses. There were only two bridges crossing the Bosphorus, with both before and after work necessitating a trip of at least an hour or so. It made for a long, long work day. But when the little Ford was turned over to us, we told Ahmet that we would like him to take the car home with him at night and pick Jerry up in it the next morning. We made sure he had insurance, told him he would need to keep gasoline in it, and to take care of it as if it were his own car. And he needed to be available for us on short notice. He agreed, and for the rest of the time we were in Istanbul Ahmet had a car. He never once inconvenienced us, and I’m sure he found it much more satisfactory than being able to drive a new limousine only once or twice a day on the job.

Jerry and I never did work up the feeling that we were deserving of some special kind of attention. I think perhaps Ahmet was left with a picture of us that was not really who we were. But I also think that we probably made those two years for him as different and as exciting as he made them for us. It was a good swap, and in spite of a few little snags now and then that we never did understand (and which we considered par for the course because it certainly must have been a cultural thing), we were sorry to go home when our time there was over.

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