Solo Traveler: Lost in Translation

Solo Traveler
Lost in Translation

On my first day in the Cappadocia region of Turkey, I went to Ürgüp to buy some hiking boots.

It was well after lunchtime when I found a nice restaurant with an outdoor patio. I ordered grilled chicken on salad that came, in the usual Turkish fashion, with a basket of delicious fluffy white bread.

The restaurant had a powerful Wi-Fi signal, and since I was the only person with a device, it was screaming fast. Sometimes I’m glad I splurged on an iPad, but at other times I have been disappointed in it. It never quite did all that I expected, but I may have been expecting too much.

Sherry Hardage, right, with Turkish cook Aylin in Akyurt, Turkey. Courtesy photo

Apparently the young cook expected too much as well. When she brought me more tea, she pointed at the iPad and chattered excitedly. I shrugged, indicating that I didn’t speak Turkish, so she simply said the same thing over and louder, as if she thought I couldn’t hear.

I recognized a couple of words: fianza and fransia. I knew, from my time with Aylin in Ankyurt, that fianza meant fiancé, because Aylin talked about hers all the time. And fransia might be France, but I had no idea what the connection could be.

Before going to Europe, I downloaded a translator app that included Turkish. I typed two sentences saying I didn’t understand and asked if she would write her questions on a piece of paper for me. 

The translator worked quite well. She wrote a sentence and I typed it in. Unfortunately, the iPad touch screen didn’t provide the oddball Turkish letters and the app wouldn’t translate when it wasn’t spelled correctly. Only one word in her sentence came across in English, engagement.

The English-speaking owner of the restaurant came by, presumably to see if his cook was bothering me. He listened to her go on and on, then in mid-sentence he just turned his back and walked away to join some men who were smoking on the patio.

The owner’s wife came over to the table and chatted with the cook for a while but she didn’t speak English. So there we were, on both sides of an insurmountable wall of words.

I showed the cook how the translator could listen to my words, and then translate them into Turkish. I encouraged her to do the same but she spoke way too fast and she wouldn’t stop talking!

I asked her to say just one sentence, but she didn’t understand, and chattered hysterically again. I’m not sure how well the translator would have worked listening to clearly spoken Turkish. We never made it that far.

When I paid the bill, I asked the owner what it was that she wanted so badly. He knew, of course. Her fiancé was working in France. She had seen customers in the restaurant speaking to people whose animated faces appeared on the iPad screens.

Seeing me with the same device, she was hoping desperately to see and talk to him. Without any understanding of computers, she couldn’t know her fiancé would need to have a similar program and device, plus be online at the same time. She must have thought the iPad was magic, and I was the genie who could grant her heart’s fondest desire.

Sherry Hardage lives in Los Alamos and has been traveling solo in the U.S., Mexico, and Europe since she retired from Honeywell in 2009. She is a photographer, writer, and guide who organizes tours of Chiapas, Mexico through her website: Hardage welcomes comments via email:



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