I live here in Sevastopol, Ukraine. I moved here in 2008 to continue to learn and master the beautiful Russian language. Due to Ukrainian law, foreigners have to cross the border every few months, so my latest trip took my and my girlfriend Dasha on a boat, across the Black Sea, to Istanbul.
Here’s what happened…
The center of Istanbul is its Grand Bazaar — a labyrinth of tiny shops, all selling variations on a few main themes: Jeans, jackets, jewelry, rugs, lamps, scarfs, ceramics and handbags. When I say tiny shops, I mean tiny. Ten feet long and ten feet wide, at most. Some bigger, some even smaller. And virtually all the salesmen stand outside their little shop and — to be blunt — they accost you. Here are their standard openers, and my usual response:
SELLER: Yes, please!
ME: Fine, thanks!
I still don’t get why they open with “Yes, please.” I actually took a moment and gathered a few of the sellers around to explain to them that it’s the wrong way to open. A simple Hello is much better. Anyway…
SELLER: My friend, we have carpets.
ME: If I’m your friend, then what’s my name?
It’s a good comeback and they never follow up after that.
SELLER: (re; Dasha) How about some jewelry for your wife?
ME: My wife?!
SELLER: Your second wife?
I love that one. He’s not even joking. Remember, Turkey is the land of harems and multiple wives.
SELLER: Hello, can I help you spend your money?
ME: Yes, I have three Turkish lira (about $2 US)…show me your Rolexes.
The two shops we bought from were the two that didn’t accost us and didn’t give a hard sell in the least. We bought a nice handmade Turkish lamp, and a pair of jeans for Dasha. As for the bargaining process, let the seller tell you the price. Then, offer half. He will moan about it being less than his cost, etc, etc. Prepare to settle on the halfway point between his first price and your 50% offer. So, I asked how much were the jeans Dasha wanted…
“Ninety Turkish lira.”
“Fifty,” I said.
“Fifty? My friend, that is less than the 24 Euro’s I buy them for. Usually I only take off five lira, but you’ve been nice today, trying to get her to buy a pair. How about 75?”
“That’s more money than I actually even brought with me today. I can go to 55.”
“Fifty-five? You see how we’ve been here thirty minutes and no one has come in. If I sell them for 55, I make such small profit, this is very difficult. Did I mention my wife and our newborn baby, Little Akmet? How about 60, so I can at least make a small profit?”
Bear in mind 60 lira — about $40 US — is what we were originally prepared to pay. Maybe still a bit pricey, but they were good quality jeans. I hem and haw, looking as dour as possible. “Hmm, 60. I suppose that will do.”
Our first day here, I thought I was being very clever when — as the first few sellers accosted us in English, “Yes, please! You want to buy my rugs?” — I answered in Russian, “Ya ni ponimaiyu!” (Which is Russian for, “I don’t understand.”) But they would immediately switch to Russian! Dasha explained that Turkey is a prime getaway for Russians because it’s no problem to get a visa. And thus, it’s very profitable for these shop owners in the grand Bazaar to speak good Russian. I’d say 90% of the salesmen speak English AND Russian. Pretty impressive, when you consider that both English and Russian are totally unrelated to Turkish. And these guys probably have functional Arabic as well.
Read Part 2 here and… I wonder what Nike shoe co. will have to say about these knock offs…