Sales Pitch

A funny thing has happened since I stared getting better: I started shopping. Not buying anything but just going to stores and looking at things and taking pleasure in that activity. And not, like, interesting stores like antique shops or little rug stores or anything. I’m talking full on The Mall.

Part of it, I think, is that I’m a little bit adrift at this point of my convalescence. I’m well, but not totally up to speed. Work takes up most of my available energy. I haven’t been socializing because i don’t feel up to going out after work. My world is smaller than it was, and sparser in population. And since the death of my beloved Kindle, I haven’t had anything good to read. In short, I have a hole inside me that used to be filled with people and projects and books, and I guess that’s what consumer culture is about: filling holes.

SO while malls normally depress me and stress me out, I’ve found I’ve been enjoying wandering around the Capitol Shopping Center. So much so that I went there four times last week. (It is a block away from work, but still.) I have memorized the spring collections at Koton and Mango. I have fingered every piece of jewelry in Accesorize. I have mulled over every bottle of shampoo in Watson’s.

I like Watson’s. Their house brand of soaps and shampoos is ridiculously cheap (especially considering it’s imported and Turkey tacks on 18% tax to all imported goods) and pretty good, and it feels like the closest thing to a Rite Aid I’ve come across.

I miss Rite Aid, I do. Nothing like that exists here. Pharmaceuticals, for instance, are kept very separate, so you can never just pick up some asprin while you’re at the grocery store . I really like Turkey’s single-concept store thing, but the unkillable American in me misses being able to run into one store and grab contact lens cleaning solution, ibuprofen, diet coke, potato chips, sunglasses, and a magazine. And then there’s the shopping experience. Whenever I do go home I’m going to go to the Rite Aid on Falls and 37th and just sit on the floor in the make-up aisle and stare at stuff for like an hour. And you know what? I bet no one will bother me.

You cannot do that here. Don’t even try.

I got it into my head on one of my Capitol Shopping Center no-buying shopping excursions that I needed lipstick. I don’t know where this idea came from since I don’t really wear lipstick but there it was in my head: I’m a grown up lady now and I should have lipstick like grown up ladies do.

One thing that I will never get used to about Turkish culture is the *demented* behavior of salespeople.

The other night when I was walking from the bus to home after work, I darted up a sidestreet to avoid a particularly busy corner. The street was lined by electronics shops and standing on the sidewalk in front of every single one was a man shouting “HELLO! BUYURUN! HOW CAN I HELP YOU! LAPTOPS HERE! COME IN COME IN COME IN! BUYURUN! HOS GELDINIZ! CAMERAS AND LAPTOPS! WHAT YOU NEED! WHERE ARE YOU FROM! LADY, WHERE YOU FROM! WELCOME! BONJOUR!” It’s awful. After running the gauntlet my shoulders were up to my ears and I felt like I’d been punched, and I was baffled. I used to wonder about the people who respond to telemarketers. They have to exist, after all. I mean, would companies still do it if they didn’t? So who is the person who responds to being harrangued on the street? Does the average Turk respond to aggressive marketing? Or, not having been raised in a protestant community that treasured manners and quiet, is the average Turk simply immune? I don’t know.

And once you’re in a store, unless it’s a big international chain like Mango or Carre Four, the shop owner or shop attendant is totally there to help you. And will let you know that by following you around and staring at you. If you’re lucky they’ll keep a distance of a few meters. If not, they’ll be at your side offering alternatives to everything you look at or touch. Oh- that cute pair of brown wedges isn’t in your size? How about this black, orthopedic, velcro-closure number? Oh, you just came in for hair fasteners? How about some eighty lira face cream!

Even in used book stores, those sacred and holy places of aimless browsing, I’ve been subjected to hovering. In one stall while I was looking over the meagre selection of English books the sales guy was right by my side, pulling out Clive Cussler’s and assuring me that they were “very nice.”

I have walked out of more stores than I have ever bought anything from because I just can’t handle the sales pressure.

In every place that sells cosmetics, be it a huge Target-like chain like Carre Four, or a mom-and-pop parfumeri, there are cosmetics girls lurking by the face creams and by the make-up and they are THE WORST. They are just AWFUL. They take ALL the fun out of one of life’s essential pleasures: wandering up and down the make-up aisle, looking at the colors and spacing out.

At the Golden Rose store in the mall, the Cosmetics Girl was about fifteen, as big as my pinky finger, and wearing crooked eyeliner. As soon as I started looking through the sale bin she was at my side. She asked me what I was looking for, and I pretended not to understand her.

“Sorry!” I said in Turkish. “My Turkish is really bad!” I turned away and kept looking through the bin. She moved forward so her body was- I am not exaggerating- less than a foot away. And every tube I turned over she said, “oh, that’s really nice!”

As an American who was raised by chilly protestants, I, of course, don’t believe anyone should come within a foot of me unless I invite them, but my personal space issues are baffling to most Turks.

In Watsons the Cosmetics Girl was older and plumper and her eyeliner wasn’t crooked.

“What are you looking for?” she said as soon as I touched a tester.

“Sorry, my Turkish is really bad!” I said.

“Gloss?” she asked impatiently in English. “Lipstick?”

I shrugged and smiled and went back to the testers. Too pink. Too orange. Too red. (Another problem with this lipstick plan is that noone in this country has my coloring. No one.)

“What color?” she demanded. I shrugged again and moved onto another brand. Too bright. Too pale. Too purple.

She followed me with an angry sigh and started pulling out testers and swiping the back of my hand with them.
“This one? Or this one? Or this one?”

Angry lines of too-dark, too warm and too sparkly that I did not ask for.

I left without buying anything.



Filed under Daily Life, Turkish Culture

7 responses to “Sales Pitch

  1. Casual shopping in Turkey can be a bruising experience and should only be tried by the determined or the thick skinned. Speculative browsing is unbearable when tailed by the KGB-trained staff and made to feel like a serial shoplifter. It’s totally counter-productive because I might buy something if they left me alone.

  2. I was initially intrigued by the red lentil kofte post (mainly because I’m Turkish and needed a good recipe). Then I decided to read on. I kind of wish I hadn’t.
    The reality of it is this would you call a Japanese individual a “jap”. Of course not. So by continuously ranting about the horrible shopping experience you’ve had due to the “Turk(s)” you’ve made it seem like they/we are an awful lot.
    I know the feeling of walking into a store and having someone linger and hover over me at all times. And frankly it’s happened in a number of stores in a number of countries. Reality is, you’re a foreigner, those “Turks” are very aware of it and don’t mean any harm. They were trained to do their jobs, in that manner. You talk about having “manners” etc. well it’s rude to assume they don’t.
    I’m sorry but I found this entire article to be prejudice and rude. You’re entitled to ranting and your own opinion – just put yourself in their shoes.

    -from a Turkish woman.

    • First I have to say that I am awfully sorry if how I’ve said what I said is offensive. I have quite a few Turkish friends who freely alternate between the use of Turk and Turkish Person, and I have taken my cue from them. While it’s true that one doesn’t call a Japanese person a jap, Japan also doesn’t have a national slogan which is commonly translated as “Happy is he who can call himself a Jap.” Turkey does, sub out Jap for Turk obviously. But I’m just a dumb American and I’d like to hear input as to whether the use of Turk is offensive. Are my friends bantering it around like the n-word or the f-word? Or is this a neutral term? Please weigh in. Opinions vary, but I’m sure we can sort it all out in the comments section of my blog.
      I would also like to say in my defense that this is a blog about being a stranger in a strange land. There are many wonderful things about living in Istanbul, and it’s a very friendly city for foreigners. I’ve had wonderful and terrible experiences here, and if I haven’t stressed the wonderful enough, then I’m the asshole. But I stand behind my statement, if not how I said it. Shopping here kind of sucks. Especially if you’re from a particular cultural background (as I am) that favors reticence and personal space.
      It would be more useful if someone so experienced in Turkish culture could walk a WASP through shaking an Istanbul cosmetics girl, or in general dealing with what can and often is a very stressful shopping situation. So I welcome your comments and advice.

      • NFiggs

        I love your blog!! And I love your defense lol. My husband calls himself a Turk. I have never met a Turk who was offended by being referred to as a Turk ;D I so get you on the shopping experience. When I was in Istanbul I went to look for makeup remover and there were like 30 girls in that aisle! I had my baby niece with me and they surrounded us. It was insane. Half of them played with my niece while the other half tried to sell me all kinds of stuff I didn’t need. I ended going to MMMigros lol. By the way, I’m a salesperson in America. I only follow the people who I think are stealing : /

  3. This is obviously not racially motivated, just a cultural observation. In melbourne, the attitude of sales assistants will vary store to store. I, wherever possible, conduct my shopping in the less aggressive-sales pitch type shops and utilise headphones in order to ignore the more in-your face style of sales staff. I detest being harangued by salespeople who have been trained to hassle and upsell. I much favour the kind of shop where if you want help from a staffmember you ask them.

  4. Phil

    I personally love it when someone at the mall comes up to you and sprays you with a hideous scent without asking you if you’d like to smell like a dead hippopotamus for the rest of the day. I almost always buy it. I’m the same way with really loud used car commercials. I have spent more hours at Bob Bell and Scott Donahoo’s place than I can count.
    Good stuff, SP. Good stuff.

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