Istanbul: The Grand Bazaar


It was with mixed emotions that I ventured with my family to Istanbul’s famous Grand Bazaar. I really wanted to see one of the world’s famous places and learn about how it worked, but on the other hand, I detest shopping and I loathed the idea of a few hours of browsing and purchasing items. Would it be a glorified mall trip?

Upon reflecting the day, it was a mixed experience. The most positive aspect were the joy it brought to my wife and daughter, purchasing pillows (Nadia) and belly dancing outfit (Ocean). Ocean especially reminded me that I have a daughter and she loves shopping! She even came home and we watched belly dancing videos together for her to pick up some moves and then she performed for the family! I hope to post the video soon.

Taksim Square – Istanbul

The negative was the hassling we received as a family from vendors. I guess walking through the bazaar with an Indiana T-shirt on, three blond children, and carrying several large bags of stuff, would be a signal to vendors that they can make some money off of us! It is so foreign to me however, to sell and use a variety of offers to try to maximize the profits from an interaction with a visitor to my country, or anyone for that matter. For example on the way to the bazaar, we stopped at Taksim Square. The shoe shine men used a ploy on me to drop their brush and so I would pick it up and that would give them an opportunity to quickly start shining my shoes and asking for money. I did give him some Serbian money, but he was asking for 100 Lira $45. Another example was the taxi driver, wanting 50 Lira for a 20 Lira metered taxi ride. It gave me a very negative view of my trip because they try to get as much money from tourists as possible.

It was fascinating to watch the salesmen and their support people. I think it would be very boring to own a shop in the bazaar, attempting daily to sell the same wares to tourists. The vendors looked bored, playing solitaire on their phones, drinking tea, and talking with each other. This is the winter and off season, so business was slow, so I assume in the summer they are busier with sales. I wonder how much vacation time they get and how much do they make a year? Do they get insurance, pregnancy leave, and other benefits? Many were trying to avoid paying government and credit card fees and asked for cash so they don’t need to report their sales to the Turkish IRS. I wonder how many generations they have been working in the bazaar?


2 thoughts on “Istanbul: The Grand Bazaar

  • I really enjoyed living in Turkey. It took me sometime to work my way into the culture in Dyarbakir. I did finally become accepted in 1985 after 4 months of nearly daily going to town and sitting with different shop keepers and learning about their lives and stores. At least in all the places that I was at in the time I was there, the way to deal with vendors is to play the game and argue the price down. You gain huge respect from them if you show that you will just walk away if they do not agree to a fair price. A really enjoyable, humorous and insightful book is Scotch and Holy Water by John D. Tumpane. Worth the read especially after having visited Istanbul.

    My first wife and I were married in Adana though both of us were military. I believe we set a record for non-Turkish in that we started and completed the marriage process (minus the permissions required from the Military) in a single day, including getting in the consulate and getting our permit approved by the American ambassador (had help there he was acquaintances with my great uncle).

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