I’m the only customer in the breakfast room at the hotel, and the chef comes from the kitchen to nod at my arrival. I cut straight for the coffee and greet him, “Günaydın! Nasılsın.” Panicking as soon as the morning greeting and question of his well-being comes to a close: “Nasılsınız?” I trip into the proper form and blush. He nods, “Iyiyim, iyiyim.” Since he is fine, I admire his beautifully maintained buffet. I take an egg and put it in one of the small ceramic cups next to the silverware, then set it at my table. He laughs and comes from the kitchen to show me that I’m using the jelly cup for an egg, when there’s a very obviously-made-for-eggs saucer nearby. He makes the switch and smiles.
I am a child of chit chat. My mother has befriended people on every flight in her life. She meets people in line at the store, even the DMV. So it’s my first instinct to want to speak, and I came here to speak, after all. But as a rough beginner, it’s still hard to find a route past shyness. This morning’s catalyst is the television. It is on CNN and the anchors are being particularly annoying, so I offer in Turkish that we can watch the local news, that I am learning the language, and that this news must be so boring to watch. He explains that the tourists usually want to watch something in English, but he gives me the remote nonetheless and pulls up a chair.
I came to a city where I knew no one, hoping to enlist strangers as teachers. So I construct a likely-grammatically-awkward question about whether he has children. He has five. He shows me with his fingers to confirm the answer. I ask if his children live in Izmir. They do, they all do.
When I take a long pause, when I dig through my vocabulary and lunge for the word “grandchild,” I get to watch the breakfast chef beam under his paper hat and white coat. “Evet. Dokuz.” He holds up nine fingers. This proud grandfather look could have been closed to me if I didn’t do the work of hunting for new, elusive words. A mere solitary breakfast becomes a chance to smile with another human and feel the sheer luck of being alive.