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
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. …