No matter how much I love Turkey, it is a fact that a lot of tourists get ripped off on various occasions and amounts can vary from 20$ to hundreds of dollars. Last week I had a chance to experience this myself and also to crash test my knowledge of Turkish language. And it was more or less successful :)
A friend of mine was visiting last week, so we spent a couple of days together in the touristic areas of Istanbul, where the most rip-offs usually happen (thought, probably leather and gold stores in Antalya area in summer can easily beat Istanbul in this “competition”). Beforehand I was prepped to remember the simplest rule – 20 TL (turkish lira) for a local is 20$ for a tourist. And I am sure that a nice transparent umbrella we bought on Istiklal caddesi, caught in an expected rainfall, for just 5 TL, would have a different price had I asked the man in English instead of Turkish.
All in all, the experience was good, since we didn’t buy many things on the streets and meter in taxis was always on and I was confident enough to give the address and directions to my friend’s hotel in Turkish as well.
Nevertheless, on her last evening we got into an unpleasant situation at dinner. There’s a nice area right next to Istiklal called Çiçek Pasajı (Flower Passage) with a Balık Pazarı (Fish Market) sign if you enter from the shopping street. Narrow streets, lots of little fish restaurants, markets selling fresh fish and seafood, some music at night.. Well, everything you want for an authentic experience along with nice fish dinner in the heart of touristic Istanbul. We went there before and we were greeted at the restaurant that seemed to be full, with lots of expats/tourists and locals having food, by a man named Adam (I supposed an international version of Adem), who seems to be not only a successful restaurant manager but the best street-marketing guy in the area :) We couldn’t resist him and got a nice table on the warm balcony overlooking the crowded little street and we had a great time and great dinner then. The grilled calamari were my favourite. They were SOOO delicious.
So we came back couple of days later (fish was delicious, service great and prices more than acceptable in this kind of place). Adam greeted us again like old friends and we were pleased to have come back. The first time we followed the basic rule – order only by menu with prices. But my friend saw another fish – barbun – on the menu that didn’t have price written next to it. She asked for the price and how big was the portion. The answer was 35 TL, 6 small fishes (by the way, all of the conversations and ordering were in English). Ok, great. We ordered, had some starters and wine, and then the waiter brought plate with 7 rather large fishes. We asked – is this barbun? Yes, he said. Ok, my friend ate just a few (since it was really too much) and later we asked for a check. Now, imagine our surprise, when the check said 75 TL for barbun (what the heck?) Please understand that 40 TL difference might not seem like much for somebody, but we have travelled so much we really hate when somebody tries to pull this trick on us. Also, I know the cost of money in Turkey, and for 40 TL you can eat 2 really nice kebabs or buy almost 2 kilo of fresh fish on the market!!! We got furious. We called the guy who took our orders and served us (he was dressed in a suit and tie, not like waiters, so he must be a manager there).
After couple of our objections the man got really angry and started speaking a mix of English and Turkish, pointing to the menu and screaming “no price! can you see? no price!!! I said pay your bill and go!” This was truly unacceptable. We asked to call the owner, Adam, but the man said – first pay, then go look for him. My friend went downstairs to look for the nice-guy-Adam, who we were sure, would understand the situation and would also find the attitude of the Angry Man unacceptable, but unfortunately as it was already almost midnight, Adam had already left. The man returned to our table and demanded we pay the bill. His face was getting red and he was raising his voice gradually to screaming and at one point he closed his eyes and exhaled loudly, leaned on the table and said through his teeth “You, pay, now!!!” We asked for somebody who speaks English, he said “English problem değil! I speak OK!” and so on… After 5 times we asked, he came back with another guy, who said he really doesn’t speak English well, but he wants to help us. He looked calm and normal, unlike the other guy, so I made an effort and said :
Türkçe konuşabilirim ama yavaş yavaş konuşmam lazım. (I can speak Turkish, but I need to speak very slowly).
The first guy’s face got even more red-er, he cursed quietly and left the balcony to go inside. The man who came second listened to me intently (respect to him) and I tried my best to remember verbs and tenses and words of politeness and to try to explain him that we will not let somebody to not only lie about prices but also act so rude and talk nasty to us. We talked for what seemed like a long time. At the end he said – I apologize, but we buy this fish from the market in front of us and I paid them cash 40 TL for this fish myself. So I said, no problem, we’ll pay 40 instead of 35, but not 40 TL extra! We agreed and he corrected the bill, he kept excusing himself and his colleague, constantly calling me abla (sister).
All this time, on the background, we could see the Angry Man waving his hands and expressing his emotions loudly to other waiters.
When we were leaving the Angry Man stood by the stairs with an absent facial expression and extended his hand. I shook it and wished him good luck. I hoped to annoy him with my politeness even more.
Knowing language is really something. And after this incident, I feel so much more comfortable with my Turkish ;) Well, as long as the other person is willing to listen.
And when I told this story to my boyfriend after we came back from dinner, he asked, why didn’t you call me? I’d talk to them on the phone or come and solve it quickly. And I said, I know, but it felt so good to not be fooled by some jerk in the restaurant and to feel the power of talking the local language.
Life of a yabancı if not easy, but it sure comes with a whole box of stories like this :)