Problem of Turkish Toothpaste
by Philip MADDEN
My first days
in Turkey were fast, confusing and exciting. Everything
and everyone was new and different, so different from
home, and I was loving it. I was getting used to my new
flat and my flatmates (all English like me) I had been
showed around the language school were I would be working
for the next year, and most importantly, I was finding
out about Eskisehir, the city I was going to live in.
We all need to do shopping, some of us love it, others
do not mind it, while others still hate it. The experience
of being a foreigner and not knowing the language coupled
with the chore of going shopping, is not so much a job
rather than a battle. When a foreigner enters a shop in
Turkey, he or she is immediately recognised as one, from
now how you survive this ordeal is controlled by the shopkeepers
personality, if it is nasty then troubled times are ahead.
Sometimes that is not a problem; the problem is not being
able to read the labels or properly identify what it is
that you are looking for.
It was my second week in Eskisehir, and I had found a
small supermarket at the bottom of the road, which sold
everything I needed, whenever I entered the shop all of
the assistants would smile at me, and then at each other
after I had walked past them. So far everything had gone
well, when I needed to buy milk I could find it because
it is marketed the same in England ie;in a glass bottle
or in a carton with a picture of a cow on it., when I
wanted cheese or vegetables they were there, in front
of me and recognisable as what they were.
I was doing well because things had been easy, my confidence
was high and I thought I had conquered the problem. I
was enjoying my new life in Turkey, my classes were friendly
and responsive and my flatmates were agreeable. I had
discovered the bars and pubs of Eskisehir and was spending
perhaps a bit too much time in them. Everything was fine
until I ran out of toothpaste and needed to go to the
supermarket to buy some more.
The first thing I should say here is that it should not
have been so difficult, in fact it should have been the
simplest thing in the world, walk in, pick up the colgate
smile at the assistants, pay for it and leave. Ideally
it should have gone like that but this was a Turkish supermarket
that stocked cheap and domestically made products and
I was a naive Englishman.
I entered the supermarket smiling at the girls who I am
sure now thought I was a bit crazy walked past the checkout
area and into the supermarket proper. Now all I had to
done was walk around until I found the personal care area.
I walked past breakfast cereals, chocolate and biscuits
until I came to the end of the aisle, so I turned the
corner and in front of me stood a shelf with deodorants
and razors, I was getting warmer I thought, I walked past
it and there it was the shelf I was looking for. There
were white rectangular boxes with big, yellow Turkish
words on them and a picture of a man, bare chested and
I supposed performing his morning abolitions. I wanted
colgate but I’ll have to settle for the Turkish
made stuff instead, I thought to myself.
So thinking I had done it, I went to the cashier, paid
and went home. Easy.
The next morning in the bathroom, I opened the tube of
toothpaste and squeezed it. Out came a thin yellow substance
that neither smelled nor even looked like toothpaste.
Well, this is Turkey I thought, standards of production
are lower. I applied it to my toothbrush and put it in
my mouth. It tasted awful; it felt like I was eating soap.
I stopped for a moment and wondered whether or not I should
continue, well I couldn’t use my flatmates toothpaste’s
because they kept theirs with them in their bedrooms,
so I had no alternative but to press on.
I brushed my teeth in that sickly, slimy soap tasting
stuff all the while cursing the toothpaste makers of Turkey
and trying not to be sick.
Some people might have gone out and found another brand
of toothpaste to use, I thought about doing that but I
was brought up poor and I knew that it would be a waste
of money if I bought another tube of toothpaste now, and
threw away the other one, no I would wait until I had
finished this one before I spent money on another one.
I had growing up struggling in South Yorkshire to thank
for my continued suffering.
So the days went on with me using that vile stuff that
did not seem to freshen my breath, all the while I thought
it is because it is basic Turkish toothpaste it cleans
your teeth but does not freshen your breath!!
One day my flatmate brought one of his Turkish friend
home for a meal. He was a medical student at Osmangazi
University here in Eskisehir, very pleasant and well spoken.
They had their dinner and afterwards they joined me in
the sitting room where I was watching BBC prime on the
TV. At first the conversation was about what was on the
TV and then it moved from TV to football, politics and
so on and so forth.
- "What are you studying", I asked
-"I am studying to be a doctor," he answered.
there are two in the bathroom."
I nodded my head simply because I had nothing else to
say, and so the conversation died. After a few minutes
our Turkish guest excused himself and went to the toilet.
My flatmate and I sat in silence watching the TV and waiting
for him to return. Not longer afterwards he returned and
He sat for a few moments before he could refrain from
asking the question no longer.
-"I saw two shaving creams in the bathroom, one is
Turkish and the other is a foreign make. Who is using
the Turkish one?"
My flatmate answered that he never leaves any of his personal
care stuff in the bathroom, and so they must belong to
Some cold and horrible realisation was starting to dawn
They both looked at me. The clammy fingers of understanding
were tapping my shoulder but I could not stop myself from
asking in a meek voice.
One of them is toothpaste Turkish toothpaste."
My guest, who up until this point had been the model of
politeness, stared at me for a few seconds before turning
to my flatmate with a smile and widening eyes and said,
"Toothpaste!! He thinks he was using toothpaste!!!",
before bending double and exploding into a series of rapid
guffaws that hammered my shame deeper into my soul with
every laugh he shot out.
- . -