11 February, 2010

Foreignity

It started as a joke - a play on words, really. Foreignity - like virginity, innocence - something you arrive with but, as you grow, inevitably lose.Conceptually, the two have something in common, but the losses are different. Though your perspective with foreignity is a limited resource, you can renew it by traveling someplace else, someplace you're still a foreigner. What makes you a foreigner, though? That question is one i have been mulling on since i arrived. Can't say as i have a good answer yet, but i'll give it my best.

It all begins with language, of course. The first thing you notice about a place isn't the architectural styles or the clothes people wear. It's the fact that, aside from the occasional brand name, and the multinational corporations peppered here and there, you can't read any signs. The thing that alienates you the most is hearing conversation all around you, and not being able to understand a word of it.

And when you've been there a few weeks, and learned the basic words - hello, what's your name, goodnight, numbers, colors - it turns out that language is a lot more than words. By that i don't mean grammar. Grammar goes right out the window; it doesn't matter one bit. Around my Turkish roommates my English grammar slips, and they don't care; i have no sense of Turkish grammar whatsoever. You string together words any way they make sense, and come up with expressions like "wife of spoon" when you forget the word for fork. I say "sweater" when i mean "squash" (kazak instead of kabak). What language is, you discover when you communicate even though nothing makes sense, is the meaning that transcends words, the words that mean too many things to have a direct translation.

So language makes you a foreigner - and then there's custom. There's knowing all the little things that locals know: where to find the cheapest clothes. Neighborhoods to avoid. Which futbol team to cheer on.

As we walked the streets of Ulus, i mused aloud to Emin - i wonder what it would be like if one of the local children found an old videocamera? As a premise for a short film, what would it look like? And Emin replied, "as a foreigner, you see the landscape like a child". Learning a language certainly brings you back to - grammar school, at least. If not kindergarten. Perhaps foreignity could be an advantage, a resource to conserve?

After a few days mulling, I'll let nature take its course on this. As interesting as it would be to see the landscape through a child's eyes - to use whatever perspective foreignness provides - there are things i need to know.