One thing I have learned is that shopping is a great way to get noticed in Istanbul. Cynics would say that shopkeepers see you as walking moneybags while optimists would say that shopkeepers just want to say hi. Whatever it is, a wander through a place like the Grand Bazaar requires that you partake in the social, whether you want to or not. As an introvert, this was a bit difficult for me but it was made somewhat amusing by the different types of hellos that abounded.
The Grand Bazaar is one of the oldest covered markets in the world. It has about 61 streets and over 3,000 shops. Supposedly, up to 400,000 people visit daily (remember, Istanbul is a cruise ship destination). The bazaar was started in 1455 by the Ottomans and it grew over the centuries until what you now see, more or less, was completed by the 17th century. The bazaar has seen its fair share of damage from earthquakes, fires, and random renovations and repairs. All of this gives the bazaar its quirky appearance of maze-like streets and random angles. Recent ongoing renovations have started to give the Grand Bazaar a new lease on life due to improved lighting and bathroom facilities (good luck finding one).
Wandering the Grand Bazaar, I very quickly realized it is one of those places that if I’d visited it when it was very crowded, I’d have hated it. If I’d gotten lost and walked down the same street over and over (which happened the first time we went), I’d hate it (which was true for the first time we went – second time was the charm). But if you get there early in the day, get good deals for being a shopkeeper’s first customer, and manage to find the many different sections, it really is a fascinating place. My favourite area was the antique section that had so many phenomenal things that I wished I could have rubbed one of the ubiquitous genie lamps and send it all to my house!
Let me set the scene – we were two youngish females (and once with our mom), we’re varying shades of brown, we look like we have almost anything as an ethnic background, and we have a lot of natural curly hair (google Big Hair, Don’t Care by Crystal Swain-Bates to see what I’m talking about). We don’t blend in with the Turkish folk and we don’t blend in with the usual tourist folk. So while browsing the various stalls, we got a number of interesting hellos, many of which included a reference to our hair. Here is a sample of some of the more memorable ones, both at the Grand Bazaar and outside in town (remember, context is our hair – I hope you did look up Big Hair, Don’t Care):
Some were just rude:
Man: Excuse me!!!!!! Bosphorus tour??
Us: No, thank you.
Man: Your hair is real?
Us: Yes, it is.
Man: Looks like nest.
Others were curious:
Lady, is your hair original?
Some made interesting connections:
I love Rastafari!
Yet others gave us new names:
Hi, Spice Girls!
Hello, Janet Jackson!
Good afternoon, Lady Obama.
My favourite shopkeeper interaction had nothing to do with what we looked like (I hope, anyway):
Shopkeeper: Where are you from? China?
One who definitely was commenting on what we looked like:
Random Smiling Man: Melez! (depending on the dictionary, it means mongrel, half-breed, hybrid, or cross-over…as you can probably guess, I’m not sure how I feel about the word…all depends on how the guy meant it!)
Question: Have you had any interesting hellos in your travels?