Hair is the Turkish Grand Bazaar

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!
Hey, Beyoncé!
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?
Us: Canada.
Shopkeeper: Bienvenidos!

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?

27 responses to “Hair is the Turkish Grand Bazaar

  1. Ooh, pretty colors…

    One night out in Bratislava, Slovakia, someone from my group said something about being from America, and some of their guys pointed at us, saying “AMERICA!!! MICKEY MOUSE!!!!”

    Kind of weird, kind of funny, but Walt Disney’s racist/Anti-Semitic streak notwithstanding, that’s actually quite far from the worst thing you could call an American. I’d rather be Mickey Mouse than George W. Bush.

    Also, a lot of times when I meet people of Asian, African, or Caribbean provenance who have not been around many white people/have not been exposed to much media, I get asked if my eyes are real, because they are bright blue. That happened to me a lot in the Caribbean.

    • Haha! Yes, I’d much rather be called Mickey than GWB as well!

      Huh – that’s interesting re your eyes. It really is about perspective in that if you don’t see something often, you’re just not used to it/don’t know anything about it. Just don’t go poking at people’s hair or eyes asking if it is real!! 🙂

  2. I’m glad you received all these ridiculous comments with a sense of humor! My sister and I attracted attention in the Grand Bazaar for what I thought was my blonde hair, but then I realized that a). they thought it was gray and that I was a grandmother (egads!) and b.) they just wanted to sell me stuff, so any way they could get my attention worked for them!

    • One can only laugh and/or keep on walking! Your grandmother experience reminded me of when I was at the Istanbul airport with my mom, one of the air carrier employees were surprised that she was my mom…I was like…wait – is that a compliment to her or an insult to me??

  3. Oh dear!! A little shocked by the greetings you received. Not sure whether we are glad we didn’t go to the Bazaar or not! Because looking at those amazing photos – we wish we could’ve gone. We have heard that it was underwhelming but still, we like to see it for ourselves.
    Anyway, to answer your question, we have never had such rude greetings before. We usually just get the usual “G’day mate!” When they find we are from Australia OR ask us about kangaroos and koalas! The other thing is that people never believe I (Le) am Australian because I am Asian. *sigh* That’s about as much as we get.
    PS – LOVE curly hair, my hair is dead straight, I wish I had curls 🙂

    • I really do think the GB experience depends on when you go – for me, it had to be a non-cruise ship day and first thing in the morning when it is not crowded. Especially if you want to photograph the structure and the goods for sale! If you ever find yourself in Istanbul again, do check it out.

      Haha, I remember when I went to Australia and heard that for the first time – I was like, wow! Aussies really do say that! lol Stereotypes sometimes do come from somewhere!

  4. What lovely colourful pictures… and even more interesting Hellos.. I have had several interesting encounters while travelling and your pictures bring back memories of a bazaar in Muscat, Oman where I was looking at an embroidered tunic.

    Me: Is this from India?
    Man: Yes
    Me: Oh, then I can buy it in India
    Man: No you can’t. This piece here in Oman. I have no shop in India where I sell this
    Me: ~

    • Ahahaha! That’s hilarious. Can’t blame the man for trying! The GB also sells Indian things. My sister asked a shopkeeper if something was Turkish and he told her it was Indian. She then told him, “For future reference, if you want to make a sale, you should say it was Turkish and we tourist would never know otherwise!” I died laughing.

      • This reminds me of the time when one of the shopkeepers in the Grand Bazaar told my mom that the glasswork lamp she was looking at was from India (we’re Indian), but my mom still went ahead and bought it (at twice the Indian price probably)! You know, because she ‘couldn’t go back without a souvenir’.

        Those are some interesting ‘hellos’ by the way, though I’m sure I would’ve blown my lid over a few of them. 🙂

      • Haha, I guess technically she can say it is her Turkish souvenir since it was bought in Turkey?

        I know! Some of them were definitely an exercise in “keep on walking”.

    • It can be fantastic! If you don’t like crowds, though, I highly suggest going first thing in the morning (it opens at 9am) on a non-cruise ship day. Enjoy!!

  5. Your photos of the bazaar are fantastic – the whole experience must have been sensory overload! Of course I looked up Big Hair Don’t Care…gotta keep a sense of humor about those comments, we can all laugh about them later!

    • Thanks, Marilyn! And you’re right – it can be a sensory overload so that’s why I decided to visit sans crowd which would have just made the experience horrifying for me.

      I’m glad you looked up the book – I really should buy a copy…I just love the title as it is something I’ve started to embrace the past couple of years!

  6. If you had the cash and a way to get everything back I’m sure there would be a lot of the Grand Bazaar in your house right now! It looks like a really amazing place to wander.

    As for the comments, eh, I think you’re right to just laugh them off. It’s surprising though, you think in a place as tourist flooded as the Grand Bazaar the shop keepers might be a little more ‘worldly’?

    The guy who thought you were from China is something else though, that’s hilarious!

    • The colours in the bazaar are awesome! And yeah, some of the comments sucked and I have learned that sometime one just has to shrug off the ignorance…

  7. Pingback: Weekly Photo Challenge – Intricate | Rusty Travel Trunk·

  8. Love your photos! It was definitely crowded when I was there… but still enjoyed the experience. About those comments… !?! I don’t know what one guy said behind my back as I walked away empty-handed after being sucked into one of the rug stores for 1/2 hr… All I know is he wasn’t happy!

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