Sunday, July 10, 2011

How to Not Shop in Turkey

Lesson #1: Don't even stop.

Like many women, I'm attracted to jewelry.  The sparkle of a faceted diamond or ruby from a jewelry shop window has the ability to catch my eye and bring my walking to a screetching halt.  Such was the case this afternoon when my Fulbright friend and I decided to spend our free day here in Kusadasi walking and shopping along the road that parallels the harbor.  The sun was scortching, so the shade under the awning of the shop was as appealing as the jewels themselves.  We were among the shops along the harbor walk, right where the cruise ships dock.
Lesson #2: Don't comment about the merchandise.

One piece in particular caught my eye.  The piece might best be described as a pendant--something that dangles from a simple black cord around the neck.  But the pendant was anything but simple.  It was unique in its design, truly creative and artistic.  The piece was a replica of one of the ceramic pitchers that I had seen dozens of times in Cappadocia.  I believe this style of pitcher was popular during the Ottoman time period.  Essentially the pitcher is constructed with a hole in the center of it, so that a person could pour its contents while the pitcher is slung over his shoulder.  This style ceramic pitcher would make a lovely decoration in any home.  Below is a photo of such a ceramic pitcher.
Can you see how his arm is right through the hole in the middle of the pitcher?  Another such pitcher is on the far end of the table.

The pendant was solid gold, designed like the Ottoman-style pitcther.  "Pouring" out from the spout were precious jewels: diamonds, rubies, sapphires suspended from delicate golden chains.  The piece was approximately the diameter of a U.S. quarter, but three dimensional of course; it was a pitcher, after all!.  The necklace was NOT your run-of-the-mill deep blue Turkish turquoise (where do you think that name came from?!).   This pendant was a stunning piece of art.
Lesson #3:  Never forget that someone from the shop is always standing at the door, ready to begin the negotiation process.

There was Ali.  "Ah!  I see you have chosen a beautiful necklace," he began.  Actually, that's not what he said at all.  I don't have any recollection of what he said, because without warning Ali had slipped into easy conversation with us, drawing us in with his charm.
Lesson #4:  Early into the process (like the second sentence) expect to hear, "Where are you from?"

I still haven't figured out exactly how to answer this question.  During a shopping adventure the other day I was asked if I was from Australia.  At another shop, the owner actually thought I might be from Turkey...until I got past "Merhaba, nasilsiniz."  (In Greece I was never mistaken for a native!)  When asked where I'm from half the time I answer, "The United States." To which the reply is always, "Ah, America!"  (Side note: this was a topic of heated debate on the bus one day.  Why do those of us who live in the U.S. claim to be "Americans" when, in fact there are other countries in the Americas?)  Or I answer, "From Boston, Massachussets."  Today I chose the latter.
Lesson #5: The shop owner will then tell you about 1) his travels to the U.S.; 2) his travels to your city; 3) his friends or relatives who live in your city, or; 4) some random fact he knows about your city.

At IBM sales school, we would call this "establishing rapport."  Ali had recently been in Boston.  He does business in New York and Dubai (at this point he pointed to the sign in the window announcing this fact), and during his last trip to New York he did the 4 1/2 hour drive up to Boston....despite the snow at the time.
Lesson #6: Don't try to be cute and engaging, thereby keeping the conversation going.

"Wow!"  I exclaimed.  "You made great time, especially in the snow."  Before I knew it, the conversation moved east...from Boston back to the gold pitcher in the window.  My friend had been looking at another piece in the window, and for a time Ali's conversation went back and forth between the two of us and the items we were eyeing.  The pitcher was a custom design (of course).  More conversation transpired about the design of the pieces.
Lesson #7:  Be aware of the question that will be the hook to lure you from the street front to the inside of the store.

For us it was an "innocent" remark: "Just pick any piece, and I'll tell you the price."  Of course I was curious about my jewel-flowing golden pitcher.  What the heck, I reasoned.  That item is so far out of my price range it's humorous; I'm just window shopping.
Lesson #8:  The water (or apple tea, or wine, or raki, or any other offered beverage), is really just a way to ensure that the customer spends more time in the shop while negotiations ensue.   The beverage is part of the process and is impossible to refuse.

It was about 100 degrees outside.  I must say that the chilled water tasted refreshing.  But now I was seated across a jewelry case from an attractive, well dressed, eloquent Turkish man who knew how to close a sale.  He had no trouble looking me straight in the eye as he talked.  I found myself wondering how I had ended up in that chair.  The bejewelled pitcher was put around my neck.  The charm was about the size of the Italian medallion that my niece had given to me from her travels to Italy, which I happened to be wearing at the time.  Both charms were suspended by simple black cords.  The gold was warm, the jewels glittered.
Lesson #9: Salesmanship entails solving a customer's problems.  Even jewelry has problems.

The pitcher with its spilling jewels was lovely; I felt like a princess with it around my neck.  But, conveniently enough, the piece's design allows it to be worn as a ring as well as a pendant.  So, if I don't want to wear it around my neck, it can be worn on my hand. " Look," said Ali, as he slipped the ring on my finger.  He actually asked my permission to do so before proceeding.  See how the jewels shimmer as your hand moves?  Very, very elegant.  One of a kind.  Eighteen karat gold.  And the brushed finish can be polished smooth and shiny if that is a look that I preferred.
Lesson #10: It is unlikely that the shop keeper will actually give you a price, even a starting price.

Ali finally asked me, "How much do you think is the price?"  I have absolutely no clue how to value many products.  Like the Turkish rugs that our group was privvy to peruse at a weaving shop the other day.  One small (say, 1 x 2 ft) silk on silk rug was priced at $6,000.  (I didn't buy it.)  But jewelry pricing often comes down to weight of the metal and stones.  I've scoured Tiffany catelogues enough to know that metal alone is one thing when it comes to price; add precious stones and the prices leap off the page.  In response to Ali's question, I was thinking in my mind $10,000.  But I hesitated to say that number.  Instead I said, "A few thousand dollars."  I was still just window shopping, wasn't I?  I wasn't lobbing an opening salvo in a negotiation game.
Lesson #11: A smile and more conversation on the part of the salesman means the game is on.

Ali took my response as a lob.  He grinned and responded, "You are right."  He punched several keys on his hand-held calculator, squinted, tilted his head, and finally wrote a number down on a piece of paper.  $5, 470.  To myself I was somewhat satisfied.  See?  I told myself.  I wasn't so far off.  I really am a smart cookie, especially to have restrained from saying "ten."  But, really.  Like I'm gonna spend five grand on a blob of gold.  I politely told Ali that the piece was lovely, but I really wasn't going to be buying any jewelry.  Ali persisted.  What would it take?  The piece is clearly speaking to me, he said.  It is a unique item that will always remind me of my travels to Turkey.  More water was poured into my glass.  I noticed that the door to the shop was closed, and my Fulbright friend and I were the only people in the store.  Polite shakes of the head were meaningless to Ali.
Lesson #12:  Chipped nail polish doesn't seem to be a clue to a jewelry salesman that his prospect doesn't really have as much money as she appears to have.

I had tried the golden pitcher on as a ring several times.  In fact, Ali placed the ring on my finger; didn't he see my ragged nails?  Remember that manicure I got back in Athens?  Well, I got another manicure in Ankara a week later.  But the standard manicure in Ankara entails just a base coat and one coat of color for polish.  You can imagine how chipped my nails have become in the seven days since getting my hands done.  If I can't afford to keep up my hands, how could I possibly afford that glob of gold?  Ali changed his tactic; instead of waiting for me to name my price, he started lowering his.  $5,000.  I shook my head.  $4,000.  More punching on the calculator.  $3,000.  Such a deal.
Lesson #13: If you do this kind of shopping with a friend, arrange a secret code that means "time to go" between the two of you...before you begin.

When you travel with someone, you really get to know that person.  I've been traveling with this Fulbright crew for 4 weeks now.  We know more about each other than many of us care to.  But we still don't know everything about each other.  For instance, my Fulbright shopping buddy had no idea that I was really starting to get uncomfortable and just wanted to get the heck out of that shop.  I kept looking at her, pleading telepathically, "Save me!"  But she was looking at some pieces Ali had thrown her way.  I seemed to be his big fish; he was reeling in and I was running.  My friend didn't know me well enough to know that this was becoming a game gone seriously awry.
Lesson #14: Even when you lay every last card on the table, the game is not over.

"Look," I finally said, ready to get up and go.  "We are teachers," I explained.  "Think of a teacher's salary.  There is really no way I can pay that kind of money for a necklace.  Yes, we have been traveling for a month, but we are studying with the Fulbright Foundation.  And back home I have 3 children to put through college, and that ring represents 1/10th of a year's tuition."  Whew!  Got that off my chest!  Now I can walk out the door.  No.  Instead, a conversation about college and college tuition ensued.  More water was poured. Then Ali asked me how much money I wanted to spend.  I didn't want to actually purchase a piece of jewelry there!  I was just window shopping!  Ali brought out several rings that hovered in the $300-500 range; before I knew it, several rings were adorning my fingers.  Beautiful.  Unique.  Trinkets to remember Turkey.
Lesson #15: The hardest question to answer is this--"Why?"

Money is a weird thing.  Actually, it's not the money that's weird.  Rather, it's the fact that money has such power over us.  Money influences our behavior, attitudes, sense of self or satisfaction, our world view.  When I walked up to that jewelry shop I was captured by the artistic element of the pitcher necklace.  I marveled at it as I had marveled at the solid gold diadem of King Philip II in the museum in Vergina, Greece three weeks earlier.  But, truly, I had no more interest in actually owning the pitcher as the diadem.  "Why?"  Ali asked.  Why NOT own something beautiful.  I am a beautiful woman.  (Ooops, that last sentence should have been in quotes, because this is what Ali said to me.)  Ali had much to say along these lines.  He had a valid point.  Then the final question:  "What kind of credit card so you have?"  Ali was quite disappointed when I explained that buying a piece of jewelry was not something that I was going to do.  My friend and I moved to the door.  Even that last step across the threshold to the exterior was delayed by a handshake and a piercing look into my eyes.  Ali wanted to see that pitcher walk out the door around my neck much more than I ever did.
East meets west, "window" shopping.


  1. Always remember.... WWLD (What would Lisa do). Actually no, maybe that's not such a good idea.

  2. This experience is SO much like mine in Athens. I am not as strong as you!! My sister-in-law and I both walked out with items of jewelry.

  3. Katie, that day comes back so vividly with your post. I do remember the shop and the piece of jewellry. You're right about me not catching your clues. I really thought you were in the game so to speak. I just wanted out as fast as possible. Sorry I wasn't more help at the time.

    Thanks for the memory. I had no idea you were blogging. I have to spend some time reading the rest.