Shopping in Turkey is a full-time occupation with close links to the old system of bartering of sheep for beer. It’s a full-time occupation because:
a) you can’t speak good enough Turkish to describe waterproof primer paint and instead have to use any number of gesticulations picked up from all the mime artists in Paris;
b) copious amounts of tea must be drunk before even asking the proprietor what it is you want to purchase from his establishment;
c) after drinking all the tea in China you discover that actually he doesn’t have what you want and you have to go through the whole process again in the next shop.
In this feature we take a light-hearted look at shopping in Turkey. We examine the customs, the expectations and the heartache. Somewhere in the article are a few tips, but don’t take it too seriously.
Ikea and B&Q haven’t hit Turkey yet. Actually, they have, but there are about three stores across the whole of Turkey and the concept of a one-stop shop doesn’t really exist. Each shop specialises in different items, meaning that what could take you one hour in B&Q will take a whole morning in Turkey… if you know where you are going. Relish this feature though. Shopping in Turkey is really good fun if you are not in a rush. You should expect to do quite a bit of walking.
It is not uncommon for one shop keeper, having admitted he doesn’t have what you are looking for, to direct you down the road to the next shop. Indeed I have frequently been walked down the street from one shop to another, such is the keenness for the Turkish shopkeeper to ensure you walk away happy. This kind of altruism stems from Turkey’s Islamic roots, something our Christian shopkeepers back in the UK could learn a lesson or two from.
I’ve noticed some price-fixing going on in places like Gocek, where every one of the ten snorkel and flip-flop shops sells lobster pots for 25 lira. If you suspect either price fixing or being taken for a ride then shop around. It does get very tedious but some vendors do have two prices: one for the locals and one for you. I was recently stung on a purchase and I only wish my Turkish was good enough to explain that not only would I never browse in his crappy shop again, but I would be telling others not to go there too and that I would write an article on my website about just how rubbish his shop really is and then spit as I left his premises and curse his family to hell. I didn’t do any of this of course; I just shuffled out of his shop looking forlorn and sheepish.
So, take your time when looking for products…
Turkish time or English time?
…and get your head around Turkish time. If you thought ‘manana’ was a Spanish word for ‘when I can be bothered’, then you’re half way to understanding Turkish time. It is not only normal but completely acceptable for workers to just not turn up. If they say they will be on your boat or at your house by 11am, try and clarify exactly which 11am they are referring to: tomorrow or next month. If you are a fastidious, schedule-keeping and organised person then expect to gain 10 years or lose all your hair in the space of a week.
Striking up a conversation
Quite often you’ll hear market stall holders calling ‘burun’, which literally translates as ‘it is here’. That last sentence was a lie. ‘Burun’, according to my dictionary, means ‘nose’ and ‘buruntu’ means ‘spasm of the colon’, but it sounds like they’re shouting ‘burun’. It’s an invite to look at their wares and they will shout it out at whoever happens to be passing. The more adventurous, those who can speak English (or German, or Russian), will attempt to engage you in conversation. If they are selling something you are interested in, don’t be afraid to chat to them. Because many shops sell the same items quite often my choice of shop comes down to two things: price and whether I like the vendor or not. If you have time, accept their offer of a cup of tea. Sharing a pot of freshly brewed tea is normal, accepted and expected. Get to know the shopkeeper and if you become a regular customer just watch your bills drop on each visit. Sometimes.
How big is your knob?
Turks ask very personal questions. It is normal for them to begin a conversation with “how much did that cost?” or “how much is your boat worth?”. Just lie. Lie like hell. Lie out of your arse, that’s what I do. I tell them my full-suspension mountain bike, which cost £1,400 new ten years ago, is actually worth twenty euros if I treated it to some new wheels…
Alternatively go the other way: I was in our fave restaurant in Fethiye, an establishment where the waiters are professional and conduct themselves in a manner only expected of a high-class eatery. After paying the bill and putting on my Musto sailing jacket all professionalism was dropped as I was surrounded by four waiters, all picking and pointing at my garment, asking excitedly how much it cost. “Two thousand euros”, I told them, straight-faced. They believed me, so I corrected myself and told them that was the second hand price. “Five thousand new” I added. The very cheek of it!
How much? How much?
As mentioned, conversation is important. Don’t just pick something up and ask ‘how much?’ because that’s rude. I was in the market only this morning and a tourist picked up a big packet of Saffron and asked ‘how much?’, to which the stall holder replied ‘five lira’. ‘Bargain’, I thought. Instead, the tourist starting bartering in a very abrupt way and barked ‘four lira’. The stall holder looked at her, reflected for a moment, and replied ‘for you, six lira’. I laughed out loud.
Expect to be followed around a shop as if you were being shadowed by a store detective. A hovering shopkeeper is normal so don’t be offended by their presence. They are there to assist. In England we often go into a shop just to browse, so is it any wonder the market stall holders in Fethiye are frequently overheard shouting “just looking, just looking” at the tourists? Clearly they have heard this line many times!
Yes Means No & No Means Yes
A shop assistant is not just there to make money. They are there to satisfy you and your purchase. If you ask for something in broken Turglish that they don’t quite understand they’ll start taking things off the shelf, assuming that it is this object you are asking after. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I have gone into a chandlery asking for a 3cm Philips screw and being offered anchors, fenders, anti-foul paint and anything else the assistant thinks I might be interested in.
Know Your Turkish
With the aforementioned point front of mind go into a shop knowing exactly what it is you want in Turkish. This means making the extra special effort of looking in a dictionary for the Turkish word, writing it down and then trying to pronounce it correctly. Expect howls of laughter at your efforts. What did you expect? You’re in Turkey, make an effort. To assume they speak your language is arrogant. My opening line in these situations is ‘Türkçe az’, meaning ‘little Turkish’, or ‘Forgive my following pronunciation of this difficult Turkish word but at least I’m trying’. They’ll appreciate it.
Now you have engaged the shopkeeper in conversation or made some polite small talk, ask how much the item is. If it is too much, say so: ‘çok para’ (translates as ‘lots of money’ but can mean ‘too much money’). Look hurt too. Now get into negotiation mode. Think of the price you are prepared to spend on the item and then suggest a figure considerably lower than it (not unrealistically low, mind) and expect the vendor to look even more hurt than you did and decline. He should then suggest another price, lower than the original that, if still doesn’t match your price, you should decline again, looking so pained now that you appear to be in mourning. And so on. Don’t be offensive or rude; be firm if you really believe it to be too much. Ultimately you are aiming for the classic ‘win/win’ situation where the shopkeeper still feels he has ripped you off and is smiling gleefully but where you’ve just bought a genuine leather wallet for pennies that would have cost many pounds back at home from Argos. And don’t be afraid to give it a go! It’s good fun and quite often expected. Negotiating I mean. Not Argos.
Despite knocking off five naughts from their currency recently it still amazes me how little shopkeepers have in the way of change. Expect raised eyebrows if offering a 20 lira note for something that cost two, and expect small change to be paid in sweets and chewing gum if the shopkeeper is short. I am not sure if it works both ways though and I have yet to try purchasing an item at the local corner shop with said chewing gum.
If you make a purchase and the shopkeeper throws your money on the floor, do not be offended. He is not showing his disgust at the infidel, he is celebrating his first sale of the day and is a commonly-seen Turkish tradition. You could join in by throwing your piece of chewing gum on the floor as well.
Special Offers In Supermakets
Talking of supermarkets, which I wasn’t, look out for the 1 lira aisles in Tansaş. Many Turks are still quite poor by western standards so much is made of the bargain isles.
A taste for it
There are some basic rules when it comes to buying fresh food in Turkey. Follow these guidelines and you’ll do well:
Buy veg and fruit in season and get used to a seasonally adjusted diet
Taste samples in the market. If they have ten types of olives on offer, try them all!
Don’t have breakfast on a market day. Just spend your morning filling up on food samples
Make the most of the whole plant. For example celeriac leaves, unseen in an English supermarket, make for excellent seasoning
Getting pissed cheaply
Possibly due to its Islamic roots, wine making in Turkey isn’t as big as it could be. There are many wines on offer but the cheap ones taste of wee and you have to pay 15tl (seven euros) for a half-quaffable one. Its Islamic roots, however, don’t explain why its national beer, Efes, is only 2.5tl a large can. These are supermarket prices.
Sadly for us the restaurants serving the tourists make their money on the alcohol, so that 15tl bottle of wine just got inflated to 40tl on the menu. Of course this is normal across the world but sometimes I resent spending that much on a very average wine, where the wine menu in different restaurants is always the same. Beer seems to inflate to 5 lira on the menu and some establishments only serve the small bottles. Don’t get me wrong, though, apply the ‘shop around’ tip and you’ll still find bars serving a large Efes for 3tl, especially the municipal cafes.
If you are a money-pinching liveaboard like us then buy from the supermarket and drink on the boat. At least then you don’t have to mingle with the hoi polloi and you can bitch and moan about the price of alcohol without boring everyone… like what I’ve just done.
Use the ‘next post’ button to continue reading our features on Fethiye. The next article profiles a little photography project I’ve been working on called ‘Fethiye At Work’. We then look at shops and restaurants in Fethiye and use a Google map to illustrate our recommended shops and eateries.