Monday, July 13, 2009
More Turkish Potpourri and Food Basics
Turkish Potpourri -- Double Jeopardy Round
There are just a few more miscellaneous things worth mentioning about Turkey. Let's start with a classic:
As previously mentioned in the Do's and Don'ts of traveling in Turkey, you should never pay full price for anything in the bazaars...and even in many shops, the price is often negotiable. For someone such as myself coming from a fixed-price culture, this can be a very uncomfortable experience.
Negotiating a price -- or haggling -- requires one to be direct, assertive and persistent...or, in other words, something that we're taught from a young age in Anglo-American culture is impolite. This direct confrontation can often feel like a test of wills, a verbal showdown between you and the seller. For someone unaccustomed to such practices, it really takes some willpower to suppress these feelings and get down and dirty in the negotiations. Unfortnately, as a tourist, you have a few natural disadvantages: you don't speak the language, you probably have more money to burn than the locals, and you're probably uncomfortable with the situation from the get-go. And the seller is going to capitalize on this and on that nagging feeling in the back of your head saying, "Just accept the price and be done with it. It's still cheaper than you'd get it back home, anyway."
But the skilled haggler knows that to successfully parry the asking price, you need a subtle blend of stubborness and meekness. You have to let the seller think that he has the upper hand while working him over to get him down to the price you predetermined for yourself before even starting with the negociations. I say all of this not as an experienced haggler, but as one who has watched a master at work. My travel buddy drew on her experience with price negotiation in Chinese culture to really pull off some gutsy yet successful transactions. Eventually I stopped trying to haggle myself and just sent her to do my dirty work for me!
My first attempt at negociating price was in the Grand Bazaar. I found a pair of silver earrings for 43 YTL (about $28), and as soon as I expressed interest the shop owner told me that -- since he could tell I was a serious customer -- he'd let me have them for 30 YTL (about $19). Unfortunately, having worked in a jewelry store for 5 years, I know the real price of silver. I realize that I can no longer buy jewelry for slightly above cost, but I still have a hard time coming to terms with retail prices. This first shop owner was unwilling to go lower in price, so I moved on. Eventually I found the same pair of earrings at another stand for the asking price of 30 YTL. I decided I wouldn't pay more than 17 YTL (about $11) and set to work. I used all my best haggling skills, starting low and letting the shop assistant give me the runaround about him being only a poor student himself who needs to eat, an argument I easily returned (being young and looking younger has its advantages in these situations). When we finally got to my ultimatum of 17 YTL or nothing, he agreed to ask his boss if he could lower the price. Of course his boss said no, so I said I'd walk. They then offered me the earrings for 18 YTL, which I politely turned down, saying it was simply too much and I couldn't go above 17 YTL. In the end I got my earrings for the 17 YTL, still more than they were worth, but a respectable enough price for an English-speaking tourist.
But the best negociation by far happened in Cappadocia in the town of Göreme. The friend I was traveling with set out to buy herself enough jewelry to last her for the next several years, and as we went from shop to shop, she managed to buy 14 different pieces of jewelry between 3 different shops for an impressive total of 112 YTL (about $71). Finally, we stopped in an antique store to look around.
The shop assistant was a very friendly young woman who immediately greeted us when we came in the door and made some pleasant chit chat. Then I noticed a copy of The Old Man and the Sea out on the counter, and I asked her if she was reading that book. It turns out she was teaching herself English through this book and a dictionary, and for the next 45 minutes we chatted about books and jewelry and everything else as we browsed and sipped the apple tea she offered us. After my friend decided on 4 more pieces of jewelry and negotiated another great price, I found a pendant that I really liked. The more I considered the pendant, the longer my friend had to continue looking around the shop; so by the time I'd decided to get it, she'd already found 2 more pieces she wanted and had begun haggling again. This time around, however, we were both having difficulty getting the price down. As the girl translated our offers to her father, the owner of the shop, he started to raise his original price instead of lower it! Seeing that we were going nowhere, I counter-offered as a last resort, "Ok, how about this: my friend gets those rings for 32 YTL and I get this pendant and the chain for 15 YTL, and how about I also send you a book in English?" My friend and I watched the shop assistant's short and rapid discussion with her father in suspenseful anticipation. After a few moments, he nodded. The transaction was approved -- and this time, a negotiation and a barter!
After we'd paid up and gotten a mailing address, the father invited us to another cup of tea. We stayed in the shop a little longer, just hanging out with the two of them and chatting. After this negotiation, the father gradually warmed up to us, and after serving us tea, he disappeared into the back of the shop. As his daughter translated, she explained to us that he had a very valuable gold and ruby ring that had belonged to his father, which was too valuable to keep out for everyone to see. He brought out the ring just to show us his family treasure, so that we could admire it; this was no sales pitch -- rather, it was an honor to be welcomed and invited in. We left the shop over an hour after we arrived, exchanging email addresses with the girl and having made yet another Turkish friend. Although all of this blossomed out of a business transaction, this was another one of those genuine experiences of small town Turkish hospitality.
The Evil Eye
I was surprised to learn that the belief in the Evil Eye is not a mere superstition in Turkey, but a belief that is alive and thriving. Since I always saw the charm against the Evil Eye in the context of souvenir vendors and shops aimed at tourists, I'd simply assumed that it was one of the cultural cliches meant to boost sales of something "typically Turkish," much like a beer stein from Munich or a boomerang from Australia.
However, I had more than one Turkish person tell me how important these charms against the Evil Eye actually are. (And perhaps I should also clarify that none of these people were selling Evil Eye charms!) A man in Cappadocia explained to me that this belief of the power of the Evil Eye has been deeply engrained in Turkish culture for the past 1000 years. Many people, he told me, wear 2-3 small Evil Eye charms hidden away in their pockets or sewn into their clothes in order to protect themselves from the malintentioned thoughts and words of others. He'd had at least one on him at all times since childhood and pulled one out of his blazer pocket to show me. His charm was only about an inch in diameter, and as I fingered it and examined the blue glass, he told me that when you discover a broken charm, that's when you know that someone has wished you harm. You should then get a new one to continue protecting yourself against the ill will of others. His testimonial was sincere, as he had already discovered several broken charms in his lifetime.
On the Road:
It's interesting to compare how people drive in different countries. Still, the most harrowing experiences in a vehicle I've had were in Romania, where I'm convinced any driver could be a stunt driver.
I didn't do any driving myself in Turkey, but I was the passenger a few times. My ride from the airport to the hostel was a bit frightening, with the driver exceeding double the speed limit within the city limits. All I could do was clasp my hands in my lap and pray I made it to the hostel in one piece.
Country driving proved far different. In Cappadocia, the drivers didn't seem to be drunk with speed, but this is where the concept of lanes got a bit fuzzy. Lanes, or staying in one's lane, were a mere formality in the countryside unless oncoming traffic was an immediate likelihood. Some of the country roads were in such bad condition, however, that it would have been impossible to stay in the lane even if you wanted to. When I could tear my eyes away from the road -- because somehow as a passenger I still think I have more control if I keep my own eyes on the road -- I saw clips of life as though seen through a documentary lens: goat herders in the fields, women sitting around the roadside in traditional clothes, farmers working in the fields, and families piled onto the tractor chugging along the road.
A Monumental First:
One of the reasons I have The Gift of Travel, i.e., an immunity to jetlag, is because I cannot sleep in any sort of moving object. Planes, trains, cars, you name it -- the best I can hope for is a heavy rest. This is actually quite practical when crossing oceans because I'm so tired by the time I go to bed at the local time of my destination that I get a whole night's sleep and wake up perfectly adjusted to local time in the morning. However, my return flight from Turkey marked a major first for me: I slept on the plane.
I left Cappadocia Sunday night on the overnight bus to Istanbul. I arrived 11 hours later on Monday morning stiff, sore, and dead tired from a sleepless night. Despite the 2-hour nap I took at the hostel, I remained tired throughout the day and went to bed Monday night at about 9:30 pm. However, I had to catch the 3 am shuttle bus to the airport for my 6:30 am flight, so I got only a few short hours of rest before having to leave. By the time I boarded the plane, I was so tired that I couldn't even keep my eyes open -- it was a kind of fatigue I've never felt in my life. After settling into my seat, I crossed my legs and closed my eyes and waited for liftoff. It seemed that it was taking the plane an awfully long time to get going, and I figured we must be delayed on the runway. When I finally took the effort to open my eyes, I realized that we were already at cruising altitude! Somehow I'd actually fallen asleep and slept through the takeoff, which hasn't happened before or since.
And finally, I bring you... Turkish Food
One of best things about travel is experiencing the local foods. We had some really excellent dishes of roast meats, kebabs, and all of the typically Turkish foods, often from places filled with locals. But rather than go into detail about all the different meals we had, I'm just going to share with you the staples of our trip -- the regular, every day foods that we came to depend on.
Oh yes, the Turkish bread. It's big, it's fluffy, and you can eat disturbing amounts of it without becoming as full as you'd think.
Every morning, the hostel would provide us with a breakfast of bread and various spreads and vegetables to put on the bread. Any sandwich ordered for later would be put on a giant half-loaf, which at first glance looked impossibly large to consume, but which went down in one sitting every time. This bread was a staple of our diet every day in Turkey.
Turkey is very much a tea culture -- everyone drinks the tea for every occassion. For breakfast, for lunch, for dinner, for dessert, for entertaining, for hospitality, for boredom....for everything. It's very common for someone to offer you a tea, which will usually either be a strong black tea with sugar or a sweet apple tea (with sugar). The Pigeon Guy even admitted to drinking 22-25 cups a day! Tea is always served in a special Turkish tea cup and saucer.
Very strong. Very black. Rivals any Italian espresso I've ever had.
I only had two cups of Turkish coffee while I was there, but that was enough. Even a coffee at 3 pm kept me up way past midnight.
Turkish Delight and Baklava
I've never been much of a fan of Turkish Delight. I think the first time I tried it was only because I'd read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and I wanted to know what could have enticed Edmund so strongly. Unfortunately that first experience left me wondering what Edmund saw in the treat, so I wanted to give the real Turkish Turkish delight a shot. It was all over the markets and the bazaars, so I gave it another taste...and now I know that I'm just not a Turkish delight person.
Baklava was also everywhere, and I have to say that I've now had the best baklava in Turkey. Yummmm.
Manti, or Turkish Ravioli
One day at the hostel, the proprietor decided to cook us a meal of Manti, or what is basically a Turkish ravioli. Like ravioli, manti is a pasta with a meat filling, and it is served with a yogurt/chili/garlic/butter sauce. I never would have thought of putting yogurt on pasta, but it was amazing. I've since adopted this meal as my own -- with store-bought ravioli as a reasonable manti substitute, I can easily make my own yogurt sauce. It's quick, easy, and now my flatmate has picked it up and even makes it for herself! A quick Google search can provide you with any number of Manti recipes.
...Next time, the final post on Turkey: Cappadocia!