Sunday, July 10, 2011

Carpet sellers

The carpet sellers in Istanbul are a plague.  They’re smooth operators who will milk you for money if you aren’t on your toes.  Initially it’s hard to distinguish them from regular locals who are friendly enough to say hello and help you find your way.  Turks throughout the country are friendly and welcoming, but you’ll quickly come to realise that those who approach you in Istanbul will generally help you first (“What are you looking for?”), make conversation next (“Where are you from?”) and then ask you afterwards to come to their shop (“It’s very close.”)  It’s at first disarming, but soon tedious and annoying.

The first one of the day got me.

At eight in the morning in Sultanahmet, the touristy part of old Istanbul between the Blue Mosque and the Aya Sofia, fresh off the plane, sleep-deprived and completely unaware of the carpet-seller phenomenon, I was approached by a friendly bloke who asked me where I’m from.  “Oh,” he said.  “I have family in Sydney, in Liverpool.”  He showed me the two entrances to the Blue Mosque (one for tourists, the other for locals) and the Sultan’s balcony, and then uttered the line I would subsequently hear more times than I could count: “I have a shop.  Would you like to see it?”

I naively thought, “okay, this bloke has helped me out. The least I can do is look at his shop.”  On my first day after eighteen months back on the road I forgot how wary the traveller has to be in a big city.

I’ve heard it said before that in Middle Eastern cultures it’s unlucky not to make a sale to the first customer of the day.  This may be folkloric but is also a likely sales ploy (“You’re very lucky; we will give you a discount to make the sale.”  The line that “you’re lucky” for one reason or another regularly pops up in the sales bargaining).

It was clear he did not intend to let me out of the shop without selling me something.  I did see a rug which I commented was nice so I thought, all right, he wants to bargain but I’ll give some ridiculous price that he won’t accept.  And that’s how I wound up with a US$1200-priced rug for US$400 (A$375).  It seems I underestimated how vastly the prices are inflated.

The guy said afterwards that he didn’t make a profit just so he could make the first sale.  Perhaps.  I did apparently get a good deal, according to the other sellers who asked me the price of the carpet I was carrying.

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