A world of wisdom from two kids on the transit desk
DAVID JUDSONIf only I could get some advice on the latest identity wars from those two wise kids on the Lufthansa transit desk in Munich.
I’d ask them about the “us-and-them’ism” in the wake of the recent earthquake in Van. The insinuation of the false “Turks vs. Kurds” dialectic into a natural disaster was depressing to be sure. I suspect they’d agree, though, that it was hardly more so than the headlines from Leeds or Leon on “Muslim youth.” As if there was a “Christian youth” out there waiting in juxtaposition.
My Munich friends would understand the pie fight that is the preliminary to a U.S. presidential election. They’d laugh at the famous commentator who last week compared Republican Herman Cain to Democratic President Barack Obama as follows: “Our blacks are smarter than their blacks.”
Back in the real world is where one can meet folks like the duo on the transit desk two years ago. I was returning to Istanbul from San Francisco but missed my connection. Off to the transfer desk for a hotel voucher and a new ticket for the next day’s flight home.
The duo was speaking German when I reached the counter and addressed me in that language. I apologized in English, explaining that despite a Bremen-born grandmother, I didn’t understand. The young woman responded in kind: “May I see your passport please?”
I surrendered it, but she wanted to see my visa. I explained I didn’t have one, owning instead a Turkish residency permit.
“So,” she said, shuffling through the little booklet. “You’re an American with a Turkish green card. I’ve never seen one of these before.” I laughed and said I’d never thought of it quite that way, but yes, that’s basically the situation.
“I was born in Istanbul myself,” she said. Then quickly she added: “But I’m not Turkish, I’m Armenian. Now I’m German. Like your grandmother.”
“So, that means you were born in Kurtuluş,” I suggested. Came the response: “That’s right, how did you know?”
We both chuckled as it was just a lucky guess given the large number of Armenians in Kurtuluş. She asked if my wife was Turkish. “Sort of,” I said. “She was born in Kars. Like many there, her family immigrated to Kars. She’s Azeri.”
“Ooooh,” came the response this time. “Then she’ll want to know why you’re late.” She plopped her phone on the countertop, explaining this was courtesy of Lufthansa: “Münih’ten selamımı söyle.” (Pass my greetings from Munich). Which I did.
The paperwork was quickly completed. She gave me my hotel voucher. Then I remembered it was the evening of an important football match in Bursa, between Turkey and Armenia. The topic seemed relevant to our odd conversation.
“I’d forgotten, tonight’s the big match,” I said. “You know the score?”
“That’s right,” she said, turning to her co-worker on the adjacent stool and this time addressing him in English: “Ahmet, you know who’s winning the football match in Bursa?”
Ahmet swiveled toward both of us: “Who cares? They’re both lousy teams. None of them will make it to the finals.”
Ahmet’s was the final goal in our little private tease of assumptions about identity. Two kids in Munich can figure out the world, what is important and what is not. Too that bad politicians and journalists can’t do the same.