Even if you’ve never been to Turkey, I’m sure there are a few things that you already know about: Turkish kebaps, Turkish ice cream, Turkish delight, and of course Turkish carpets. But maybe you’re unfamiliar with Turkish friendliness and curiosity. Walk down any street in Istanbul and you’ll be greeted cheerfully by almost every man, woman or child… if they’re selling something, of course. “Hi!” “Hello!” “How are you?!” “Come inside!” … See? Friendly.
I even got a “Nice hair!” once. Noel and I laughed so hard after that one. Not because of the compliment he made to my day-old greasy locks, but to the look of absolute shock and horror on his face when I turned around to look at him. As if the compliment had startled him as much as it had me.
Most of these conversations would occur around the touristy places and would go something like,
“Hello, where are you from?”
“Oh, welcome to Turkey!”
“Do you like Turkey?”
“Yes, very much!”
“Good! Would you like to buy a carpet?” …. ah… and there it is.
Of course some were quite a bit more pushy, although many times a conversation with a stranger would start in a similar way and you’d be standing there waiting for that sales pitch that would never come. This happened on our way into the Blue Mosque. We’d just bought a snack that should be called ‘diabetes on a stick’ but was probably something more like ‘sugary fruity flavoured sticky sugar on a stick with sugar’. We were feeling the effects almost immediately and getting extremely giggly, when a would-be carpet salesman witnessed our hysterics and asked if anything extra had been put into our snack. Naturally, this made us laugh. He then told us to hurry up and finish because prayer was going to start soon in the mosque and we wouldn’t be able to enter. He offered to show us the way and with our dulled senses we agreed, even with the risk that he might try to sell us something. Our apprehensions were put to rest almost immediately after he asked us where we were from. “Oh you’re American! Great! …oh no, here it comes…. I would normally try to sell you a carpet, but I can see that you don’t have money for one even though you are American”. He was right, we didn’t have money for one, but I think he was saying we looked poor. Maybe it was the pit stains, or that hole in my jeans, or the smell of 6-days-in-a-row-unwashed undies wafting up to his nostrils that gave us away…
We’d finally caught onto this conversation pattern and could ward if off almost immediately although one managed to get as far as putting a business card into Noel’s hand in case she met someone, or had a friend who wanted one of his carpets. Almost immediately after we escaped him, another man approached:
“Hello, how are you?”
“Hello. I’m American, where are you from?”
“I’m from here, Turkey”
“Great! Would you like to buy a carpet?”
Total and complete confusion covered his face like the carpet he would not be selling. Noel slipped him the business card and we walked away before he could recover himself. Noel and Stephanie: 1 – Carpets: 0
If this kind of reeling in doesn’t appeal to you, I’d avoid the Grand Bazaar like the plague. Or do what I did: pretend you’re Russian. It’s not likely they’ll know your language so you can get by with a nod and a smile. This works especially well if you’re blond and alone, which I was. Row after row after row with stall after stall after stall of ‘hello! where are you from?’s. Not answering and just continuing on with a smile worked for a while. I didn’t get sucked into buying even one over priced souvenir, not one….. not even that one I really, really wanted since I didn’t know how to ask the price in a believable Russian accent, and I wasn’t about to blow my cover. Word would get out. They’d come after me.
So I walked on, until I found myself between two warring salesmen in stalls across the way from each other. The man on my left began, “Hello, where are you from?” no answer. The man on my right, ” America?”
R: Do you speak English?
L: Parlez vous français?
R: Are you from England?
R: South Africa?
This banter continued back and forth across my path until,
“Oh no no no no no, wait!…. she’s from paradise!”
My cover was blown with an explosion of laugher. I turned the next corner to escape their ‘ha! I knew it!’ look. I composed myself as best I could and thought, ‘well maybe I’m a Russian who can understand a little English… OR, even better, maybe I’m a Russian who can’t understand English but has uncontrollable boughts of well-timed laughter…. yeah, this can work.’