English for Turks – Translation Faux Pas: I am waiting for you

Turks use many terms that I like to call “niceties.”  They have something nice to say for almost everything.  It’s not just the sayings that I like, it is how they use them.  For example, when you enter someone’s home you will hear “Hoşgeldiniz!” Welcome!  You can enter the home every day and they will not miss the opportunity to welcome you.  In addition, everyone in the household at the time will usually come to the door to welcome you.  But what really stands out to me in how they use it is the fact that each of those people who would greet you at the door says it — even if they themselves are a visitor! (By the way, the proper response to this greeting should be “Hoşbulduk!”  Loosely translated, it means “Happy to be here!”

Another great term is “Geçmiş olsun!” or “Get well soon!”  It seems simple enough.  The difference, again, is how the Turks use it.  In the States, we say it to the person who is sick.  In Turkey, they will say it not only to the ailing person, but also to the friends and family members.  I just love it!

Sometimes, however, poor translations have a way of making it in to our daily speech.  Unfortunately, the regular use of the poor translations become ingrained and it is difficult to “unlearn” them.

Today’s lesson is the saying, “Bize de bekleriz,” “We are waiting for you.”

I have heard this often over the past four years.  Here is the situation:

A friend invites me to her home.  We set the time and place.  Then, in English, she says, “I am waiting for you.”  While the literal translation is correct, in English the meaning slightly changes.  It almost has a negative connotation.  “I am waiting for you” infers that we have made an appointment, the time has now passed, and I am late.  You would pick up the phone and say, “I am waiting for you.  Where are you?  You are late!”

In reality, I am not late.  My Turkish friend is just trying to say something nice.

This saying is also frequently heard when an exact appointment is not made.  For example, a friend has given me an open-ended invitation to visit her.  She came to my house and in return, she has invited me to visit her sometime in the future.  “I am waiting for you.” A U.S. native might wonder, “Why would she be waiting?  She hasn’t even set a date yet.”

Consider this business situation:  You have written an email to an international business client, a first-time visitor to Turkey, and English is the common language.  You have set the date for your meeting and the client agrees.  You then write, “I am waiting for you.”  Your client can not see your face or hear your voice in the email.  They are not familiar with Turkish sayings.  They may be wondering what you meant.  They may take time to read through all of the emails again to determine your meaning.  “Am I late for something?  Why did she write that?”  The point is that in email, sometimes what we write, even in our own native languages, sometimes seem rude because they are taken out of context without the tone of voice or facial expressions.  In this case, one would not want to risk insulting the client!

Translations are rarely perfect, especially between such drastically different languages as Turkish and English.  As adult language learners, it is often difficult to throw away the translations and learn the true meanings.  But that is exactly what we have to do sometimes.

So what’s the answer?  What is a better way to say “Bize de bekleriz” in English?

  • A better translation would be, “I will be waiting for you.”  This is the future tense and just has a nicer sound to it.  It does not infer that the guest is now late.

Other more frequently used phrases would include:

  • “I look forward to seeing you,” (more likely used when the date and time are set);
  • “I look forward to seeing you again,” (regardless of whether the meeting is set or not); and,
  • “I can’t wait to see you again,” (used in a more informal situation).

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