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Articles Blog

Istanbul Shopping

Karyn Planett

Turkish Delights

Oh it’s ever so tempting to wend your way through the narrow covered lanes of Istanbul's Grand Bazaar, rich with the scent of a thousand spices. As the cacophony swirls around you in a baffling tongue, just take in the pitch and pace of it all. Then feast on the delights of gold displayed behind walls of jewelry cases. And stacks of carpets piled high, doubling as a lounge when the shopkeeper feels a lull. There’s enough brass on view to sink the Bismarck or reflect the sun's rays across the Bosporus. You'll find a sea of leather, enough to redo your entire winter wardrobe. And delicate miniatures painted with the most intricate strokes upon slivers of camel bone. There’s even fine bulk henna for your red-headed Auntie in Akron for, yes, you have truly stumbled upon one of the world's most exotic and exciting shopping heavens where even a hard-core penny-pincher would buckle. Now, all you have to do is simply keep it all from going to your head, and … your wallet. 

First Things First 

A wise shopper keeps a few rules in mind especially when going up against some of the world's greatest Olympic-level salesmen with resumes as long as a caftan. 

Know the merchandise. It's smart not to purchase ANYTHING for at least an hour. Pretend your credit card has melted and your money is someplace else. Whatever. Just wander around and see what type of merchandise is available; what the price range is; and which shopkeeper has the best selection. 

Do not look like the Duchess of Kent when you arrive. It's really tough to bargain when you’re wearing your personal crown jewels. Well, it's OK if you don't mind overpaying, but if you want a decent price... leave the gems at home. 

Know the exchange rate. If the price is written in Turkish Lira and you ask, "How much is this in dollars?"...you're doomed. Occasionally the salesman's math skills become skewed. Do the arithmetic yourself. 

Bargain with the same zeal you negotiate bedtime with the kids. Hold firm. And remember NEVER PAY THE ASKING PRICE. Some veterans suggest offering half the tagged price. Then expect to settle somewhere in between. That's OK and should work fine. But as you get close to an agreed upon price, you can give in and accept the merchant's figure..... if, and only if, he throws in that cuuute little fez over there! This way, everyone is happy. 

But also ask yourself, "What’s it really worth?" Do I want to pay $200 for this camel saddle? Or $300 for this scimitar? Then, question number two..."Will this brass shoeshine stand really work in my provincial “salt box ”townhouse on Cape Cod?" Do try not to get too swept up in the moment. 

Also, shop with a friend. If you’re seriously shopping for a special item (read “pricy”), then shop with someone who also wants to make the same purchase. The buying power of two is far greater than one. 

And always remember that the merchant is due a fair profit on his wares. If you walk away, then you do. Not all negotiations come to an agreeable end. There should be no hard feelings, just no deal. 

Finally, the last piece of advice... if you want it, get it! There's nothing worse than lusting over, for the rest of recorded time, that perfect-for-the-game-room Masai spear; or that gorgeous blown-glass Venetian chandelier; or what about that exquisite cloisonné from Hong Kong; or those fabulous Argentine gaucho pants. If you really want it, get it because you and your credit card might not be this way again for a very, very long time. 

How to Make a Killing on a Kilim 

Turkish carpets are famous the world over for they are reputed to be more pliable than their rival counterparts. One very famous Turkish carpet is the Kilim, which is recognized by its bold Anatolian designs and vivid colors. The very meaning of Kilim is, "a flat-woven rug free from a knotted pile." Collectors and enthusiasts have created a resurgence in respect for the Kilim following years as being viewed as the poor man's carpet. For a long time, traders preferred the Oriental knotted carpets and ignored the Kilims for they believed them to be of lesser value, nothing more than a tribal handicraft. 

Early weavers created these carpets to decorate the floors and walls of nomadic peoples' tents. The vast interiors of the mosques were piled high with Kilims. Along with jewels and clothing, Kilims represented the owner's wealth that, if necessary, could be traded for food or money during financial difficulties. These carpets also formed part of a bride's dowry. Today, Kilims are produced in factories throughout Turkey. Regional differences can be identified by a trained eye and serious collectors can name the tribe or district a certain carpet represents. Then again, many of today's enthusiasts simply prefer the ones that work well with their rumpus room’s color scheme. 

So, whether you intend to make a purchase or are just interested in seeing these carpets as an art form, you really should allow yourself some time with a Turkish carpet salesman. It’s an experience almost like no other. However, when buying know your carpets and bargain hard! 

                                                                        Karyn L. Planet