One of the cliches of Istanbul (all of Turkey, for that matter) is the skill and persistence of carpet salesmen. In the main tourist district of Sultanahmet it’s hard to walk far before finding a friendly salesman sidling up to you to urge you to come to his shop to look at his wares. Some prove virtually impossible to shake and you end up either getting angry and losing your temper, remaining implacable and having an uninvited guest along on your sightseeing walk, or going to his shop all the while insisting that you will buy nothing. You then sit through a presentation of undeniably exquisite carpets and drink cup after cup of apple tea and either break down and buy something or accept the hospitality with a smile and emerge, some indeterminate time later, a bit dazed by it all.

If you play the game right you can avoid losing time or money, but you have to be prepared to present your most earnest self. You must engage the man as if he were a long lost friend. Treat him as if you are positively delighted to see him, telling him about yourself and your travels and asking about him and his family and telling him about yours. Often this line of defense will disarm him and he’ll loosen his resolve to sell you something and let you go on your way. It can be taxing, but it’s less taxing than losing your temper or sitting through a carpet presentation you have no interest in. And sometimes you get an unexpected response: you discover that you like each other.

On my current visit I was surprised to encounter something different in Gihangir, in the Beyoglu district where I’m staying. Walking the streets I’ve been pleased to find that my unwanted companions are missing. Block after block I’ve wandered and no one has harassed me, no salesmen, no touts, no merchants eager to sell their wares to tourists. My only companions apart from the local people going about their lives are the cats - dozens of them - that live in the streets and are fed by the neighborhood residents who look out for them. There are lots of cafes and restaurants and galleries but not the Blue Mosque or Aya Sofya (Hagia Sophia). For them you need to head to Sultanahmet (not to be missed, despite the hustlers).

Filed Under Feature, Istanbul, Travel, Turkey


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