Isiyorum” I yelled into the phone “isiyorum.” I’d had to leave a conference to answer this call. Things had not been going well with me and Ikea. I had decided to order some furniture online and have it delivered to my house. Smart move, you might say. I’d do the same, you might say. So thought I.

Unfortunately, I had forgotten to include a major force into my calculation of the events to follow, I was living in Istanbul and my Turkish was, as they call it, “az” aka barely existent.

Now, Istanbul is, in most parts a, breath-taking city, beautifully situated at the sea and built on the obligatory seven hills of ancient history. It has since then grown into a city of 16 million people, give or take. It all started out rather modestly, Istanbul was a city of a mere one to one and a half million about fifty years ago. Since then it has grown to such large proportions that it is impossible to see the borders of the city.  If you are standing on a skyscraper in the middle, or even very far to one side of it you will not see the end of it. It is a never-ending field of suburbs and town-centres that have merged together. It is quite a breath-taking view, I’d even say ungraspable, for an Austrian coming from a city of a mere 10.000 inhabitants. Why is this important, you may ask? Well, fast growth often means chaos. Roads had not been built well because they had been built in a hurry. This means that there is “trafik”, the word is used for traffic jams and traffic in general. Traffic jams occur at certain, if not all times of the day (the Istanbulites even have an app telling you which roads are open or not (Cep Trafik) that’s how far it goes, seriously). You can have long conversations about trafik with strangers consisting mainly of clicking your tongue to indicate that you find something bad and hear the four words “Trafik cok kötü, değil mi?” (the traffic is very bad, right?), that’s how upsetting and true to heart this topic is for many people.

Second, there are the streets. I live in a narrow, dead end street that one may or may not find with google maps (I haven’t yet figured out when it works and when not). Strangers that have to deliver something to my house therefore have to ask other strangers for the way. [1] This leads to long detours, several cases of driving up a hill backwards and of course racing down a hill in a general forward movement. It is not considered polite to not know the way. So the way is given, even if it’s wrong.

Where was I? Oh yes, Ikea and a delivery in Istanbul. Ok, so we know some geographical circumstances now, back to my initial plan. So I ordered everything I needed from Ikea’s Turkish website, having looked up the names of the particular items on the international site first. I ordered them, followed general logic and was actually able to pay and place the order online. That was quite an achievement but little did I know…

It seems that Turkish delivery services do not consider the circumstances of a single woman at all.[2] But, and I really need to say this in defence of Ikea Turkey, I have the suspicion that they were trying to deliver the stuff at times when there was less trafik. Anyways, I had almost zero reception where I worked so when I saw a strange number on my phone I assumed it was Ikea and tried to call them back. They answered but when they heard me speak English they ended the call. I had seen this before, I knew what was coming. For example, upon entering a shop speaking English, people disappear as if you are the personification of the seven plagues of the apocalypse. I therefore called IKEA again and explained, I have to say that I tried to explain, in Turkish where I lived and at what times they could come. The phone call ended with a cheerful “tamam” on both sides. The next day, we have an important conference, my phone rings and it’s the guys from Ikea. They insist that they are here now (at least that is what I deducted at that time), and that they will deliver the goods now. I tried to say that I was in a conference and yelled at them that I was “Isiyorum” (I am working). It got a little heated and I was loudly yelling “isiyorum” in the schoolyard of the school I work at. I was confused about a few smiles and smirks I got from my Turkish colleagues and I was really confused about the cheerful attitude of Ikea’s drivers. I had yelled at them that I was at work, which meant their delivery would not take place, why so cheerful I asked myself.  

Later, a friend helped me out and we sorted out a time for the delivery, she even explained the way to the guys, bless her. That was really great of her. In the evening, when they were showing up, I was genuinely happy to finally have furniture for my really empty apartment. I was especially looking forward to finally having a frame for my mattress, to be able to sleep in a bed. Unfortunately, you guessed it; my bed was not part of the delivery.

So the guy wants me to sign a sheet that says that all was delivered, I refuse and say I want all of it, then he gets the signature, so it goes for a while. Since we don’t really understand each other and both can only assume what the other person is saying, we end up yelling at each other. Not out of anger, but because we both think that yelling the few words you know in a foreign language makes people understand them better. [3] So we stand in the sokak and yell at each other with a smile [4], he waving a pen in my face, me trying to signal that no, under no circumstances would I sign anything. We left it there. To this day I still don`t know what he really wanted me to do. Fortunately, he came with my bed the next day and I assembled it and I slept well again.

Two weeks after the incident I went to my Turkish class. We were having a great and the patient teacher was, again, explaining all the verbs to us and we were discussing them. Since we were all teachers at the same school the word for work came up every now and then. We were, of course also sharing our experiences with her about how, being a foreigner, and not being able to speak a language well means that you end up in strange situations all the time. When I told her about the Ikea delivery, and that the delivery guys didn’t want to understand that I was “isiyorum”, she broke down in laughter. She was grasping for air and her eyes teared up. Of course I was confused. She then, still laughing, explained to me what “isiyorum” means. It means “I am peeing” or “I am peeing myself. So I had yelled that I was peeing at the poor unsuspecting delivery guys. I have to say that they behaved very dignified towards me. I`m sure they always have to deal with “yabanci” like me; yelling that they are peeing.



[1] Note that Turkish men, and delivery guys are still, I dare say, all male, are quite proud of their driving and navigational skills. Now if a man asks a man for the way and the man being asked doesn’t know, he will tell the stranger the way that he believes the street is in. These men don’t mean any harm, they just want to show that they are knowledgeable and competent to the person asking. One can argue that this behaviour is not merely a thing Turkish people do; it might be a peculiarity of the male gender in general. Just an assumption based on private observation.

[2] Surprise, surprise!!! Not that that is any different in Austria.

[3] We have all fallen into this trap.

[4] Happens quite a lot in my road I assure you, I wonder what all those fights are about. Are they also just normal conversations between strangers who don’t share the same language? Just louder?

By Birgit Metzle

Birgit a 34 year old English teacher at St. George Austrian High-School. she been teaching here for three years now. Before that she worked in Vienna.