Shop ‘Till I Drop in Istanbul – Istanbul, Turkey

Shop ‘Till I Drop in Istanbul – Istanbul, Turkey
Istanbul, Turkey

Why does anyone travel? Why endure the strange madness of sleeping each night in a strange bed?

The ancients went on long journeys because it was good to visit the Oracles or get blessings from saints, a likely excuse for a holiday.

The strange fascination of seeing other lands draws us too, of course. The justification for travel in these modern times is that it is educational.

And while we did more than our fair share of cultural events during our dream trip to Turkey: the Hagia Sophia, Tenth Century churches, evening concerts at Ephesus – the real reason we went to Turkey was to shop ’till we dropped.

I hate shopping in America, I never go to malls, but give me a market bazaar to work around, and my hunting/gathering instincts just flash into the RED ZONE. I adore bringing back “Cool stuff” from my travels. From my last trip to Egypt it was a Bedouin rug and stone cats to use as doorstops. My French Provence tablecloths are worn thin and I dine on English pottery from the Cotswolds. So not only do I love the exotic luxury of travel, I adore even more the madness of bringing back heavy, fragile, and often expensive objects for my house.

Belly Dancing Costumes
Belly dancing costumes
Turkey is NIRVANA for the die-hard shopper. Everyone everywhere had cool stuff to sell. Now that Christina, my belly-dancing sister, has dance classes and an online vendor business selling silk, I got to shop for her students, which was a life time experience for a woman hunter gatherer.

In Istanbul, we stayed a short tram ride from the center of the tourist district and landed in the heart of the tourist area, across from the Blue Mosque. Browsing with awe-struck gaze on the amazing ethnic jewelry in our faces, hundreds of handmade rugs dangling from hooks and balconies, cotton clothes, all sorts of incredible stuff met our bedazzled eyes. We found a store with a great collection of tribal jewelry, but Christina doesn’t dance that style, so all we did was admire, which was a foolish action and one we regretted. (The next trip she will buy a lot from that store, she has my order for that special bracelet and earrings.)

Shopping for Musical Instruments
Shopping for musical instruments
Bargaining is the event that makes most Americans unhappy in Turkey and vendors very happy. Understanding the Art of Bargaining makes Turkey so much more pleasant and affordable. Delores, my mother, became very uncomfortable with any bargaining, so she just quietly indicated what she preferred and left me to get on with the details. Christina always fell in love with the product, which ruined my leverage. With practice, my skills picked up, and then I realized how much fun the bargaining process was. Bargaining is such a fun game, a flirting game between the vendor and customer.

Justine’s Simple Rules For Bargaining

  1. Stay calm, don’t panic, there is plenty of stuff to buy.
  2. Pick out half of the amount you wish to buy, lay it on the counter.
  3. Discuss the price, smile nicely and shake your head sadly at the offered vendor price. And wait. Silently.
  4. Leave objects on counter, go chat with your friends or family, stay calm.
  5. Nod and agree to the third or fourth price offered.
  6. Put more of the desired object on the table; ask for a greater discount, nicely. Have your mother shake her head and talk about “No more baggage space”.
  7. Consider the final price, and the object carefully, there is no rush, drink tea and think.
  8. THE MOST IMPORTANT RULE IS, THE MINUTE YOU AGREE TO A PRICE, YOU MUST PAY IT.
  9. Pay, and start worrying about the room in your baggage.
  10. After you get home, wish you had bought more.

So I started sending Christina and Delores away to buy ice cream while I worked on price negotiation. I fell in love with bargaining; just tell me what you want and I can shake my head, look sad, drag you away from the store, and get an OK price.

The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul is the Mother of all shopping malls and covers over fifteen acres – an overwhelming place for an amateur “Shop till you dropper.” As we set foot in this magnificent Bazaar my ten rules for bargaining fled like a terrified sparrow before an onslaught of hawks.

First thing Christina tried on a red sequined dance outfit, she wanted to dance in it in America and while the vendors praised her beauty to the stars, I laughed hysterically and fumbled with my camera, she was only 7-10 inches too small and too short for the dress, besides being a shade of red that made her hair look orange. This is a good reason to go outfitting with friends that are in the habit of telling the truth to your face regardless.

Spice Market
Spice Market
Next shop stop was the Egyptian Spice Market. The minute we walked into this cavernous shopping mart the aroma and colors of the barrels of spices overwhelmed eyes and noses. Christina kept pointing as I kept buying, “What is that? Why do you need it?” to the amusement of the vendors who just kept nodding and piling the stuff into baggies. By the time we rounded the next aisle everyone knew we were coming!

Did you know that if you try to leave Turkey without a rug the official rug patrol at the airport will refuse to let you board the plane? Well we didn’t know that either. So I had to buy a rug…but that is another story!

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