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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 February 2007, 13:39 GMT
Mehmet Dikenli - Turkish in London
Green Lanes, London
A woman in a headscarf in Green Lanes, London
When I was in the sixth form one of my tutors told me: 'Well done, you've learnt a lot of English this year.'

Of course, he meant it as a compliment. But it was a bit of a shock.

It was only then that it really hit me that my language skills were not great. I was born here, English was my language, but my vocabulary was poor because of the environment I grew up in.

The Turkish community in London is populated with a lovely bunch of hard-working, friendly people. But they have suffered from not really integrating.

My father, Hassan, came over in the 60s, a grill chef just looking for work, not really wanting to stay.

In London, all the Trabzon Turks are clustered around the Green Lanes area of Haringey
But time passed, his wife, Emine, came to join him and they ended up in Haringey in north-east London, running a fish and chip shop that also did kebabs.

A few of his cousins came over at the same time as him. Every year others joined them - all from the same fishing village in Turkey - all to the same part of London.

Over the years they travelled back to visit their village near Trabzon on the Black Sea. And they used money earned in foreign countries - England, Germany and others, to invest in the land of their fathers.

Turkish cafe
Men outside one of the cafes that lines Green Lane, London
I've been there and I've seen the changes that pounds, deutschmarks and euros have made.

In London, all the Trabzon Turks are clustered around the Green Lanes area of Haringey.

The main road is a typical Victorian London street, lined with Turkish shops, food stores, jewellery stores and restaurants.

If you visit one of the many cafes you'll find Turkish men - and unfortunately it is mainly men - gathering. They drink 'chai', play 'tavla' - that's backgammon - and discuss their lives.

Unfortunately, the community is quite inward-looking.

The most important thing for immigrant communities is to learn the lingo
One reason may be that they have a different culture, tradition and religion. Some of these values are good - hard work, respect for elders. But their values are those of 1960s Turkey. The UK has changed a lot in that time, and Turkey has changed too.

They also see the worst of British life.

Many of them run in kebab shops. They see drunken teens pouring in after a night out on the town, shouting at staff, girls with tiny mini-skirts showing off their knickers.

They don't want to see their children like that, and it makes them guard their values more closely.

A sign in three languages in Green Lanes, London
A sign in three languages in Green Lanes
And language is a big issue. I believe the most important thing for immigrant communities is to learn the lingo.

With language comes an understanding of culture and tradition. Even if you don't like something, you can understand it better if you know the language.

But many in the Turkish community haven't learnt English, leaving them isolated.

My parents were typical. My dad learnt a little English and he encouraged my mother to do the same. But she was shy, and found it difficult to carry on.

So, like many women in the community, my mum learnt a few words to to shop and get by. They don't need to speak English in their daily lives with friends, relatives, neighbours who speak Turkish.

Growing up in that community, I had a few more restrictions than the average young kid here. There was never any alcohol in the house. I didn't stay out clubbing until two or three in the morning, until I went to university.

There were no girlfriends for me or my brothers nor boyfriends for my sisters when we were teens.

I feel British. My past and my future is here.

But I guess many of my parents' generation don't think of themselves as English. They are Turkish and just happen to be living here, they long to go back to Trabzon.

Sunset in Trabzon, Turkey. Photo: Nicole Jilbert
Trabzon on the Black Sea, Turkey
Even some people of my age say they don't feel British.

And I argue with them. I believe the ones who venture out win. I've gained much more by being with other cultures and traditions.

And maybe my experience of venturing out of the community can be inspirational to some.






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