Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Do I look Turkish to you?

The first guy approached me thirty seconds after I got out of the cab at Taksim Square, at the top of Istanbul's famed Istiklal Caddesi. He fell in stride beside me and said something in Turkish. When I replied, "I don't understand," he laughed and switched easily to English.

"Oh, I'm sorry, I thought you were Turkish. You look Turkish," he said happily.

Yeah, right.

If you look around on the internet for things to do in Istanbul, you're likely to come across warnings about scam artists. The word is out: They strike up a conversation, offer to show you around, then buy you a cup of tea or a drink. All this is a prelude to luring you to either a rug merchant's shop, where you get the hard sell, or worse, into a bar where the two of you end up buying drinks for lots of new "friends," after which the bartender presents you with an exhorbitant bill – we're talking $2000-$3000 – and demands payment.

Armed with this information, my scam radar was on full alert, and I quickly brushed the guy off. I continued walking down Istiklal Caddesi – an incredible three-kilomometre-long pedestrian avenue of shops and galleries and cafes and clubs, with hundreds more tucked away on the side streets -- wondering if I had been too hasty. I mean, what if I had just been rude to a friendly Turk?

Those concerns disappeared about two minutes later when another fellow appeared at my side, and also said something in Turkish. "I don't understand," I said again.

He had exactly the same gambit. "But you look Turkish," he insisted. "Isn't that funny! I thought you were Turkish, so that's why I addressed you that way." I let him get as far as the invitation for tea and a tour before convincing him that no, really, I would be OK on my own.

This happened twice more within the next 15 or 20 minutes, and each of them used the same lines. You'd think they would come up with something new, but maybe they've learned this is the most successful approach.

They certainly pick the right place to have the best chance of finding a mark. It's said that more than a million people a day stroll down this street on weekends, and based on my visit – one of the few times I ventured outside of Sultanahmet – that's easy to believe.

1 comment:

  1. Sir, I have always considered you a Panhandle Turk.