Backstory: 'Don't Break My Heart!' ; the Bazaar Sales Pitch - It's the Chattering Art at the Crossroads of Serious Shopping in Istanbul

By Amelia Thomas Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, May 31, 2006 | Go to article overview

Backstory: 'Don't Break My Heart!' ; the Bazaar Sales Pitch - It's the Chattering Art at the Crossroads of Serious Shopping in Istanbul


Amelia Thomas Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


The streets around Istanbul's central Grand Bazaar seethe with a heady, colorful mixture of Turks, tourists, and touts. Huge reinforced brassieres flap sternly from the awnings of lingerie shops; cheeses, dried fruit, and writhing fish plucked fresh from the Bosphorus share space on crowded grocery stalls; hawkers selling cheap plastic children's toys, spinning tops, and pendants to ward off the "Evil Eye" vie for the public's attention, while an army of corncob broilers, chestnut roasters, and cucumber peelers, call to the hungry shopper.

Women in full black chadors - only their painted toenails peeping from glitzy sandals beneath - brush up against British backpackers in skimpy shorts; men in shabby traditional dress sell aftershave to up-and-coming Istanbul gents in cheap three-piece suits.

This is one of the greatest shopping cities in the world, the gateway between Europe and Asia, where you can buy a fur hat from a former Soviet soldier, an emerald direct from the mines of Afghanistan, or unearth a dainty antique armoire in a backstreet junk shop. There are no less than a dozen markets to entice shoppers of all kinds, from Byzantine scholars looking for rare books to stout headscarved housewives in search of a new plastic fly- swatter. In the center of the maelstrom, the highlight on every tourist's itinerary, is the Grand Bazaar, billed as a labyrinthine warren of 4,000 individual establishments, a place where you can pick up exotic bargains to help tip your luggage over your airline allowance. At least, that's what the tour guides tell you.

Entering the Grand Bazaar is a peculiar experience, a Las Vegas version of the "Thousand and One Nights." The Kapali Carsi is one of the largest covered markets in the world. Parts of its lofty domed structure date to the 15th century, though much was rebuilt after an earthquake shook its foundations in 1894. Divided into distinct districts that specialize in pottery, jewelry, lamps, leatherwear, and carpets, the market's main corridors are the singular domain of tourist hoards seeking an "authentic" shopping experience in their baseball caps and shepherded by harried, umbrella-wielding guides.

Its smart shop fronts and shiny marble floors feel like a sanitized version of what it once must have been. It now serves up mass-produced souvenirs to anyone willing to be beaten down by relentless sales patter.

So, what's there to do after you've seen your 20th kilim carpet and your 50th belly dancing outfit, if you're not in the market for a fake Versace T-shirt or Gucci bag, or if you don't have a sudden urge to collect Ottoman ceramic tiles and teapots? Well, there's one thing any visitor to the Grand Bazaar can collect, without spending a single Turkish lira: sales pitches.

Grand Bazaar workers are consummate salesmen, employing myriad tactics to implore shoppers to buy, in an attempt to distinguish themselves from the shop selling exactly the same stuff next door. Here, perhaps more than anywhere, the art of enticing the shopper has evolved into an art form, with an array of techniques as distinct as the shopping districts themselves. Using only pencil and paper (rather than paper and plastic), the casual browser at Kapali Carsi can easily compile a list of pitches pages long during a leisurely afternoon.

The first category of pitches are, of course, the most direct. Those courteous first attempts that succeed, or fail, across-the- board, no matter the gender, age, or nationality of the potential shopper: "Come in, my dear friend, and see my carpets/ceramics/ leather suitcases." "Be my guest, my old friend, only looking - no buying." "No obligation, sir, but cheap price guaranteed. …

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