Breaking Hearts in the Grand Bazaar

“You’re breaking my heart!”

Once again, I hear that lament as I pass yet another vendor in the Grand Bazaar, my eyes forward, shaking my head and pointing at my watch as I ignore their pleas for me to just take a look.

I am not a shopper at the best of times, seeing the inside of a mall only when absolutely necessary.  I like to be left alone to seek out what I need and if I find it at a price I like, then I’ll buy it.  Needless to say, the Grand Bazaar is not for me.

Covering almost 65 streets, Kapali Çaşi or “covered bazaar” was built in 1461 by Mehmet II (the Conquerer). It was ravaged twice by fire, first in 1954 and again in 1974 and quickly rebuilt in the traditional style.  The near 4000 shops are organized roughly by type – leather goods, gold and silver, ceramics, carpets, jewelry, inlaid wood, copperware,and souvenirs – offering something for every taste and ensuring competition is fierce.

The vendors are well versed in their pitch with the initial “hello lady” followed by “where are you from”.  Many speak multiple languages and will know a little about whatever country you answer if you choose to do so. A response, however, will be an invitation to take the relationship to the next level.

I admit I allowed myself to be wooed.  Curious about how the dance would play out, I accepted the offer for apple tea as a welcome to Istanbul, intending only to look for when I should be ready to buy in January.  After a few minutes conversation where I learned my vendor spoke Spanish, was in Kosovo with the military, and sold a scarf to Paul Martin, the sell began with “just let me show you . . .”.  My repeated insistence that I was not buying was viewed as a negotiation ploy and talk of  fabric and weave, wool and silk and the great deal he can give me spun my head.  When it became clear he wasn’t getting anywhere, a second salesman took over, this time using flattery to try to make the sale.  He had the perfect scarf to bring out the green of my eyes!

I finally had to be rude, a difficult thing for a well brought up Canadian girl, and finally just walked out of the shop.  As I left, I heard the vendor say with a hint of admiration “You’re not easy.”

No.  No I’m not.

And another heart is broken.


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