Grand Bazaar in Istanbul

Follow the Herd

Most tourists like to think they’re different. I like to think I’m one of those tourists, even though I clearly carry the characteristics of a typical tourist (on that alliteration game)—not excluding taking too many pictures and overpaying for just about everything—I’ll get to this soon.

If I’m not traveling with my mom, who loves to book tours as if they’re the only way to get around a foreign city, then I refuse to follow the crowds of tourists who somehow don’t mind the idea of being dragged around for hours by a washed-up tour guide waving a metal stick attached to some semblance of a flag, while we all strain to hear whatever history you could learn with a simple Google search.

No, I like to think I don’t possess that kind of herd-like mentality. Especially when it comes to bargaining, if you know that you can bargain and maybe have even had experience elsewhere, you’ll try to do it.

I’m not going to be scammed. I’ll bargain my way to the lowest possible price.

Grand Bazaar in Istanbul
Grand Bazaar madness.

Of course, that’s what I thought going into the Grand Bazaar yesterday. My friends buy a few things immediately and—with one exception—don’t even bother bargaining! The absurdity! Two mini mugs for 25 lira, the shopkeeper tells my friend. OK, she responds enthusiastically. WHAT?! No! It isn’t until we approach a shop that sells scarves that I mention my observation. Yeah, you guys didn’t even try to bargain. I admit, it was a bit of a rude, offhanded comment, but I get pretty passionate about bargaining, as you’ll learn in a minute.

Grand Bazaar in Istanbul
You can’t help but feel like a bull in a China shop.
Grand Bazaar in Istanbul
Bowls on bowls on bowls.
Grand Bazaar in Istanbul
Great ceilings!
Funky tea names at the Grand Bazaar
Funky tea names at the Grand Bazaar.

Soon, I spot the scarf. (I didn’t even try for that alliteration this time, I promise.)

This scarf is the second one of the wall of half-body mannequins lined along the top back shelf. I hate the murky brown color but love the style—it looks like a cashmere scarf lined with abundant lace material at the ends, instead of the annoying strands you typically see at the ends. While my friends pick out their favorites from stacks below and easily receive 10 lira off from two scarves after just asking, I inquire about the scarf.

Oh, that scarf is very special. He goes on to describe the material. 500 lira.

Keep in mind—my friend literally just bought two from this same store for 40 lira. This man now asks for 500 for one. I could feel my eyes widening as I outright refused to believe it.

WHAT?! No. No way. I can’t bargain that down to 100, which is the maximum I would pay.

Would I even pay for 100? I think to myself. He takes it out for me to see, but it’s in that murky brown—also known as poop—color.

No. I hate this color. (Hey, where else can have the freedom to be as direct?)

After I ask for more options, thinking that I clearly would not buy it anyway, he rushes to another stall (again, like in Shanghai!) to bring over a selection of more colors, including obnoxious purple and birthday party blue. Immediately, my eyes gravitate toward the subdued, classy color—beachy sand (my names are wonderful, I know).

I throw it on, checking how it drapes over my shoulders at every angle.

Oh, so beautiful. Too bad I would never spend this much on a scarf.

I put it back on top of the pile of “500 lira” scarves and resolve to forget about it as I help my other friend choose her much more reasonably priced scarves.

But I guess this inner (insane) desire to prove to myself that I could haggle to get what I want at the price I wanted provoked me to look longingly (pathetically) at the scarf before leaving.

I really like that scarf.

He insists on 500. Or maybe he went down to 450. Either way, he was being ridiculous, and I kept shaking my head. At some point, he pulls out another scarf that “normally costs 250” but will throw it in for 600 total. He has got to be kidding me, I think. 600 lira is about $260. $260 for two scarves? I would have to be out of my mind, on drugs, drunk, and a billionaire to even consider agreeing to that. Plus, did I even have half that in cash?

After some intense bargaining, I walk out.

Sorry. I really was sorry. The second shopkeeper who had come in in the middle of all this said he was sorry, too, because this was a family shop and 450 lira would only make him 50 lira and this was a deal you couldn’t get anywhere else and especially using a credit card 450 was the best you could get and I should feel sorry.

If you’ve ever bargained before, you would know how draining the activity is. The failure you feel after not getting what you want is real. It hit me hard.

But as fate would have it (at least that’s how I like to think of it), my friend took a particular liking to some shoes outside another shop. I look up at the shopkeeper standing outside. It was the second shopkeeper from the other place!

Hi! You still want the scarves? 450 is a great price! Really! Let me get them for you!

Oh, gosh. I mean, how can I refuse? This must be fate, I tell my friends as he rushes back to his other stand for the two scarves.

We walk in to this much larger shop, and my friend picks out her shoes to try on. The shopkeeper returns, and my friend asks for 400 in cash. We end up settling on 430, and I openly groan as the shopkeeper proceeds to package the scarves.

Why ughhhhh?!

Because this is too much!!

And yet, I whip out 430 in cash, literally the exact amount I had left in cash. What the hell. So much for being a great haggler. Another day, another scam?

Post-scam smile at Grand Bazaar in Istanbul
The “I totally just got gypped but you have no idea how hard I tried to bargain for two extremely expensive scarves” smile.

In the end, I took a photo with said shopkeeper, because when you blow $164 on two scarves, you need to document the painful memory.

Next time you see me wearing a luxurious-looking, beachy sand-colored scarf (yes, both are the same color but different styles), don’t forget to compliment me, or else my scars from this experience will reopen.

I’m only half-joking.