I’m not a big shopper. I typically am dragged through markets, trying to make the best of them, but for the most sake, I don’t love rummaging through little knick-knack stores looking for gifts or tokens or trinkets or chotchkies or whatever the hell you want to call them. And here on our travels, we’ve been through a lot of markets.
So it says a lot when I claim that I had the best shopping experience of my life in the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul.
We were casually walking through the Grand Bazaar when a man with a beaming smile approached us and asked, “Are you Americans?”
“Yes, we are Americans.”
“Well I’ve got a secret about Americans. But I can’t say it out loud. Come here, I’ll tell you the secret.” He grabbed Giulia’s arm and led us to his shop, and with an even broader smile and a wide flourish of arms, displayed his tea sets. “Americans love to buy tea sets. That’s the secret.”
He was balding with his hair greasily pulled back, his face was dominated by a big crooked nose, and he had just enough lump and sag through his mid-section to give him the exact appearance of what I would expect a merchant in the Grand Bazaar to look like.
“Which one will you buy?”
We had no intention of buying anything.
“That one looks pretty nice,” we pointed out together.
“That’s because it is very nice.” He immediately took out one of the tea cups, and exclaimed, “very durable. Very strong!” and then proceeded to bang the tea cup against the floor. He then propped it up and stood on the tea cup, holding onto our shoulders for balance. “Very strong!”
We were all laughing by this time. He knew he had us hooked. He had us hooked from the first minute.
“How much is this?”
(I’m going to invent prices because we are planning on giving the tea set as a gift, so bear with me on the fictional numbers)
“200? No way!” Giulia crossed her arms stubbornly. She has become a good bargainer over the last few months. In her estimation, she has become the world’s greatest bargainer. I wouldn’t go that far, but she definitely has gotten us some good deals. “We will only pay 80.”
Charlie, as we discovered the merchant’s name to be, was already putting the tea set in a bag for us. “80? Get out of here.”
But he still was preparing the set. He went and got us a set of spoons–”no extra charge for the spoons, you’re getting a good deal!”–and even a box of Turkish tea, and placed them all in a bag. “200,” he said proudly as he handed us the bag.
The conversation went into the rapid-fire of just numbers.
Now for those who are offended by indecent language, I apologize for what follows. I am only trying to accurately portray the experience.
“85. That’s it. Just give me the fucking money, honey.” In reading this, Charlie might sound hostile. But he was giddy like a school boy through the entire exchange, obviously delighted by how much we were delighted by his sales methods. At this final declaration I truly lost it, bent over, full-on guffawing, which is an awful sounding word but a great description of what I was doing.
“Done. I’m sold. This was fantastic.” I took out the money and handed it over, happily. We were getting a nice tea set and had a fantastic experience.
Giulia was still insistent. “80.”
“Honey, he’s giving me the fucking money. 85.” Charlie’s smile had shifted to one of triumph–he had made his sale, he had earned my enthusiastic support, and his confidence was through the roof.
“Let’s have some tea.”
He walked over and buzzed a buzzer and ordered 3 teas. There are tea porters that scurry through the market to keep the vendors well caffeinated, and apparently, to occasionally seal a successful transaction. Within moments we had piping hot tea, and pulled up three stools in front of his shop.
Charlie took out a tall stack of looseleaf paper. He wasn’t done with us.
“You are nice people. I need some help. This guy gave me these English sayings and I don’t know if they are right.” He handed us each a stack, and looked through some of the sayings that were particularly bothersome for him.
“Oh, for example, this one. ‘Do you have enough balls to buy this?’ Should I say, ‘do you have enough balls to buy this?’ or should I say, ‘do you have the balls to buy this?’”
“‘Enough‘ is definitely better,” I offered quickly. He made a few corrections on the paper, then looked up and asked earnestly, “What about a woman? Can I ask a woman if she has enough balls? Because, you know, she does not have balls.”
I did in fact know that women do not have balls.
“It depends. Young people like us would find that very funny,” Giulia explained. “But be careful if you are speaking to older people.”
“Thank you honey.”
Pause as we sipped our tea. The tea was very good.
“What about this one. ‘Are you looking for a piece of shit?’”
“Charlie, why would you ask someone if they are looking for a piece of shit?”
“Because if they are looking for a piece of shit, I will send them to another store. I only sell quality.” He was entirely serious as he made this declaration.
“Ok, well then yes, that question makes sense. ‘Are you looking for a piece of shit? Then go somewhere else.’”
“Perfect, thank you.”
Meanwhile, Giulia was flipping through the newspaper that Charlie had in his shop. Our host, our wedding photographer, was cousins with an actress who the night before was up for the award for the Best Actress in the Turkish Oscars. No kidding. We went to bed before Goknur (our host) got home from the after-parties, and so Giulia was dying, and I mean literally dying, to find out if she had won. (The paper was written in Turkish, so we had to wait until we got home to find out that unfortunately, she did not win the award.)
We went through another few memorable phrases, phrases I can’t imagine an American shopkeeper ever using, and tweaked the grammar. Phrases like, “You don’t look like you have enough money to shop here,” “Don’t get stressed out by little things like the price. You are on vacation!” and “Don’t worry if your wife doesn’t like it.”
We finished our tea, laughing heartily throughout. When we were done, Charlie jumped up and started walking away. “Come with me!” he called over his shoulder after he was halfway down the corridor. Not knowing where we were going, we hurried after him, to find ourselves in a carpet shop. “This is the best carpet shop in Istanbul. You buy here.” Charlie shook our hands, took a bow, and walked away, carrying his smile with him.