I was dreaming some high-tech magic would move my luggage automatically from Turkey to Washington, the way the Star Trek crew is beamed from their ship to a planet, when I woke to my mom calling: ``Don't forget to keep your diary. I am sure you're gonna see a lot of interesting things to record.'' I heeded her and therefore have some duly recorded impressions to share from my first few weeks as a visiting journalist here in the US.
First, the weather. When I arrived at Dulles airport, I took my heavy coat off and wrote in my diary, ``I felt like Steven Spielberg's E.T. at the airport: On a typical summer day I appeared with winter clothes as if coming from another cosmic system.'' But the day after, I woke to crashes of thunder.
I then recalled that my questions about weather had been answered very strangely by people who had visited the United States. They didn't agree with one another. I got, ``You should take your winter clothes,'' and ``do not forget to take your shorts,'' at the same time. Now they were beginning to make sense.
Next, the pitfalls of language. My first day in Washington gave me a lesson in the problems of American English. In any English-Turkish/Turkish-English dictionary, the word ``Negro' refers to black people. Trusting my vocabulary, I was talking to a group of black people about discrimination. I observed that most of the people in the capital are black and added my impression that US administrations are putting more emphasis on the Negro community. ``Why do you keep saying `Negro'?'' one of my listeners asked. The word was quickly deleted from my vocabulary.
How to pass a driver's exam. On arriving in Boston, I decided to get a drivers' license. I wanted to expand my knowledge of the city beyond what I had learned from the movie ``The Boston Strangler.'' Still, it took a while to decide to apply for the license, especially after watching discouraging morning TV programs about Boston ``traffic jams.''
When I finally went to the government office, there was an unforgettable moment: I was asked if I wanted to take the written test in Turkish! I couldn't believe my ears, but it was true and I was handed the test. I thought nothing was more exciting than having a Turkish test in Boston. But I could hardly answer even seven in the long list of questions. There was nothing wrong with my knowledge of traffic rules - it was my own tongue! The translation into Turkish was not good.
I very much appreciated the idea of having a test in Turkish, but asked for the English version. I passed!
How do you get to the what? It did not take long to realize that every city has its own jargon. The electric underground railway suddenly became a serious point in my English knowledge. I had been taught that the railway system is either called subway or tube. But in Washington, it's the ``metro.'' New York, which seemed to me the world capital, suited my vocabulary; I happily turned to the subway. In Boston, nothing worked. When I mentioned ``subway'' or cautiously ``metro,'' I received the reply, ``You mean the `T'?''
Haldun Armagan, a reporter with Gunes, a newspaper in Ankara, Turkey, recently spent a month in the Monitor newsroom as a participant in a scholarship program sponsored by the Turkish Government.