Saturday, November 25, 2006

The Istanbul shoe-shine scam

As mentioned in the previous post below. For the benefit of future travellers, this is how it works.

Walking back to our hotel, we have just entered a park on the southern bank of the Golden Horn when a slim, wiry fellow overtakes us. About 5 yards ahead he appears to drop a brush.

"Excuse me! Excuse me! You've dropped something" ... how very English.

The guy turns around, asks where we come from ('ah, you are Ingleesh?') and - as he is a shoe-shine guy - invites me to the edge of the path, beckoning me to have my shoes done. I'm confused, is he offering a free shoe-shine in gratitude? Hesitating, I am lost and off we go.

Another guy, who he introduces as his 'brother', joins us and sets up stall a few feet away: Clare is beckoned across to have her sandals done.

My shoe-shiner doesn't have much English, but he is very insistent about the children he has to support - I am given the impression that he has to do this rather menial work so that his children can go on to better things. Which of us has not had similar thoughts about his children?

Actually, he does a rather good job on my ancient walking shoes. We now get to payment time. Still thinking I was getting a favour, I was prepared to give him 5 Lira (about £2) 'for his children'. But now he suddenly becomes a very unhappy bunny. 'Change!' 'Change!' he shouts. We have got used to this cry in Istanbul, indicating the amount is far too small.

"How much?" I asked, in continuing confusion. 'Twenty five Lira' comes back (£10).

Excuse me? At last the worm turns. "Too much!" I exclaim firmly. In the end I was prepared to give him four Lira for myself and four for Clare (around £3.20 in toto)and we just walked away. I guess I was overcharged by a factor of 5-10.

As we walked away, with a bad taste in our mouths, I said to Clare "I bet he dropped that brush deliberately, just to get us into conversation."

"No" she said, "he wouldn't risk the tools of his trade like that."

Back at the hotel we recounted our experience over dinner. It turned out that two other couples had had exactly the same experience that day.