Bribe, buy and more

Many of our Today’s Zaman readers are learning English as a second language. I try to bear this in mind when I write, since I was an English teacher years ago and have also been a student of foreign languages. Let’s consider briefly the word “greasy” and its uses:

The other day while having lunch with a couple of friends one of them said to the other that their mutual friend’s ascent up the greasy pole of academic advancement was impressive.

Of course, another interpretation of the word grease is when it is used meaning to put a lot of elbow grease into cleaning something, such as a place (e.g., kitchen) or waxing a car. It infers that you worked hard.

When I was going to university, there used to be a national brand name restaurant, which was more like a diner in size, which specialized in pancakes and waffles. It was a popular place, even though it was a bit of a greasy spoon. If you are not familiar with that expression, it implies a small hole-in-the-wall food establishment that literally serves greasy food — i.e., fried food. Some places like this can have a good meal, but the ambience is questionable.

When greasy is used about a place or a person, it infers that they are repulsively slick or oily.

Perhaps you have heard the idiomatic expression “grease the skids.” It means to help prepare for or ease the way of the success or failure of someone or something.

A fun murder mystery that I recommend to any bookstore customer is “Baksheesh” by Esmahan Aykol. It is great read. Being a foreigner who owns a bookstore myself, I enjoyed reading about the female character, Kati — a German with a Turkish boyfriend who is a lawyer. She lives near the famous Galata Tower and owns a bookstore. The story is told from Kati’s perspective. Finding herself in the wrong place at the wrong time, she becomes the first suspect in a murder that is committed in a property that she has just tried to view. Here is one example of how Kati explains the situation: “You’re no doubt expecting me to rant about people taking commission for real estate or about parasites making money for doing sweet nothing, but I’d said all I had to say about this to my lover and friends, so now I’ll just say that I was feeling on edge.” It seems a little greasing of sorts was going on… bribing, buying off and corruption. Common acts in these parts. To grease one’s palm in English means to make illegal payments in exchange for favors or influence.

The story of “Baksheesh” is set in one of my favorites parts of Istanbul. Though I do not visit the Galata area very often, when I do I love strolling around and admiring the architecture and quaint shops. The Galata Tower — called Christea Turris by the Genoese — is a medieval stone tower in the Galata/Karakoy quarter of İstanbul, just to the north of the Golden Horn’s junction with the Bosporus. I always tell my visitors to İstanbul that it is the skyscraper of the Genoese.

Of course, it later fell into the possession of the Ottoman Turks when, at the age of 21, on May 29, 1453 Mehmet II rode into Constantinople and conquered it. Another book I love is Jane Taylor’s “Imperial Istanbul.” Taylor points out: “Byzantium, Constantinople, Istanbul — its three names span more than 2600 years, nearly 1600 of them as the capital of two of the greatest empires the world has ever known, the Byzantine and the Ottoman.”

Some things have not changed. If you have ever had an experience with official paperwork in Turkey, you know that different officials may require different sets of documents for the same task. Just do what they say and bring them the paperwork they want.