Friday, January 8, 2010

A puzzle ring and the art of negotiation

Perhaps it was the lack of sleep or maybe all the sun and fresh air I got in Izmir, but I was in a great mood at the beginning of my adventure in Istanbul. There were foreigners (and English) all around. I walked past Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque to get to my hostel. I arrived in time for breakfast and enjoyed a breathtaking view of the Marmara Sea. Afterwards, I ventured out into the rain to look for a narghilea (hookah). I walked back toward the Blue Mosque and through the market.

On my way through I got my first taste of Turkish business hospitality.

“Hello. Could I offer you some tea?”

“Hello pretty girl.” (This was occasionally in Russian, which I found amusing.)

“Hi, may I offer you some tea?” Each shop I passed, another man said hello and offered me tea, or asked me a question. A little overwhelming. I was glad to be through it.

On the suggestion of a carpet salesman, I soon returned to that same market and walked back through. This time I stayed more focused and ended up in a narghilea shop. The shop keeper asked me what I was looking for, we talked and joked, and rather than settling on a certain narghilea and a price, he offered me tea – which after a couple hours in Istanbul, I found quite normal. I accepted, and sat down contemplating what the narghilea I wanted was worth – I really had no idea.

We chatted, drank some tea, and being an American, after about five minutes of this, I decided to talk about price. I knew what I wanted was too low, so I asked him how much they usually sell for. He told me various prices all higher than I wanted, and I hesitated. When I told him my price, I tempered it with “It’s probably too low …” (I’m obviously not good at bargaining – in fact, I hate it.)

Being an astute salesman looking for a laugh, and because of the slow business and the rain, he said, “Ok, let me show you something.”

He took a ring from the ring holder on the table. “I will show how this works – you haven’t done this before have you?” I had no idea what he was talking about so I shook my head.

“I’ll show you how this works, and if you can put it together in 5 minutes, I will give you the price you want. In 10 minutes …” He went on to list a series of different prices leading from mine all the way up to his at an hour.

I thought, “No problem. I can do this. I can play this silly game and I will get a good deal.”

Then he showed me a puzzle ring. I’d seen them once or twice before, but had forgotten all the techniques used to put them together. Regardless, he showed me how to put the ring together – not once, but twice! He then gave me the ring and told me I could ask three questions.

I think he must have studied human psychology because while it seems like this would be an easy task, especially after watching, it was extremely difficult. I am someone that needs step by step instructions to reach the finished product, and what he showed me was basically step by step but it wasn’t as easy as it first appeared. As soon as I got going, I realized I only had the first step solidly in mind and the rest was fuzzy, but I’m stubborn and refused to use my three questions.

He kept talking to me. Asking me question after question. Muddling my already fuzzy memory of the puzzle. Wanting to know what I thought of Istanbul, where I was from, what I was doing in Moscow, what I thought about the possibility of opening up a narghilea cafĂ© in Moscow ... Needless to say, an hour passed, and I still hadn’t gotten the ring together. I felt like an idiot. After I gave up. He showed me again, physically involving me in the process – maybe I really am a kinesthetic learner because then it was easy. I got it together no problem. Lesson learned – I don’t do enough tinkering in Moscow.

After spending about two hours chatting, drinking tea, and messing with this puzzle ring, of course he had persuaded me – without words – to pay his price for the narghilea. He was clever. Granted, I got “ripped off” as far as prices in Istanbul are concerned, but the price was reasonable compared to prices in Moscow or the U.S. and I got a couple hours entertainment on a rainy day. I left the shop shaking my head at his ingenuity and his creative way of getting me to pay a higher price. I vowed not to be stopped by anyone else offering me tea, but this is a difficult thing, especially on a rainy day in Istanbul.

Turkish hospitality and me

Friday, January 1, 2010

Whistling = Money Loss

Boxing Day in London (December 26) I got back to the hostel after a day outside London, put my purse in my locker, grabbed my laptop and was about to sit on my bed when I changed my mind. I’d be somewhat sociable and go upstairs to the common room to check out the internet. I was up there for an hour or so dinking around on the computer and then decided it was time to go back down stairs. When I went into the dorm room I saw someone unfamiliar, because it was Boxing Day not many people were staying at the hostel. I said “Hi” with a bit of curiosity, but he acknowledged me, passed me and left.

I heard a bit of whistling as he went down the stairs. Strange … I always wondered about a Russian belief: whistling = a loss of money. Now I get it.

About two seconds later, when I passed the bunks, I noticed my locker was open. What? And my purse was open … shit! Horrible thoughts raced through my head. Not thinking what I would do if I saw him, I bolted back out the door, down the stairs, and stuck my head out on the street. My heart was pounding. Of course the guy was nowhere in sight, and if he had been, what would I have done anyway? He was a tall guy and probably worked out. I went back inside, locked the door, went back up to the room to check the damage.

First: passport? Still have it.

Second: credit cards and debit cards? Still have them.

Third: cash? Gone. Luckily I only had twenty pounds in my possession.

Then I thought, how coincidental – had I not gotten lost and needed a taxi to get back, I wouldn’t have had cash and who knows what he would have taken to get the money he thought he needed. This well-dressed, good-looking thief took all the cash I had but left all the things I place value on: my camera, my New Years dress, my passport, my cards, my recent purchases. The main thing he shattered was my trust in my safety and security. Because of this, I went back upstairs to let the other guys at the hostel know that they should check their stuff. After that, the doors to the dorm room stayed locked, the host let me put my things in his office, and I didn’t let my purse out of my sight (yes, I slept with it).

Later, I reflected and thought back through all my missteps. Firstly, when I picked out my locker I knew it wasn’t that secure – you could easily pull at the door because the lock was a bit bent. Secondly, not keeping my purse with me. How hard is it to just carry it around the hostel? Thirdly, not listening to my intuition the whole way through from the locker to the use of internet. Finally, I decided that everything happened the way it did for a reason – theoretically if I had been downstairs the guy would have turned around and left, but something worse could have happened. Also, I came down after he had rummaged through all of my things and gotten what he wanted – if I had come in the middle, he may have just stuffed my purse into his backpack. Obviously he felt like he needed the money and really, if you are that desperate, you can just have it …

Traveling has a learning curve and thank goodness I just lost cash.