Shopping for Basics in Istanbul, Part 2

The push to move to Moda continued…

With our bed installed, we needed bedding and some dishes.  Müge, half of the dynamic female duo managing our Cihangir flat, is an expert on the Kapalıçarşı (Grand Bazaar).  Jim does not conform to the male stereotype of being unwilling to ask – he is always one to seek answers, even if he can’t speak the language of the person he is questioning. (Somehow, he learns what he needs to know)  We needed stuff, why not check out the Grand Bazaar?  Jim called Müge and she led us to a leather shop (not exactly what we were there for) where he bought a shearling coat – he HAD been freezing, having brought coats that sufficed in Northern California — where one is mostly in and out of a warm car, but weren’t adequate for being outdoors in Istanbul.

We asked the leather shopkeeper where to find bedding, and he dispatched an assistant to lead us to Kürkçü Han, an interior courtyard of bedding, drapery and upholstery shops off of Mahmut Paşa Yokuşu, one of the lanes that radiates out of the covered bazaar. He was right when he said we’d never find it on our own.  These “hans”, derived from “khan”, meaning caravanserai,  exist within the Grand Bazaar too.  Some are areas containing specialized shops.

The interior court for bedding, draperies and upholstery.

The interior court for bedding, draperies and upholstery.

Our smart phones served us words for comforter, sheets and bedspread.  It seems Turkish beds come in just two sizes, single and double.  We had been competing for warmth in Cihangir, our comforter being barely big enough.   Once Lucy chose where she would plop, one of us was always left half-covered.  We knew the size of our mattress and tried to buy a duvet that was larger than that. We don’t yet have the hang of centimeters so our size assessments were definite guesstimates.

We came away with all but pillows, once again looking like yabancı (foreigner) pack mules.  No one else in the vast seas of humanity in the mall, metro station or meydanı (square) ever seems to carry more than a bag or two.  All of the pieces fit our mattress and each other…but we are still playing tug of war every night.  That said, the double seems like queen size in the US, and is comfortable for us.  Lucy, though, used to our king bed at home, likes to sprawl.  She puts us to bed, and then leaves for more space elsewhere.

The China “brand” is not popular in Turkey, and there are no labeling laws.  Chinese manufacturers know this and neglect to promote the provenance of their product.  Sometimes you’ll find a teeny “prc” printed…somewhere. I know there are very high and very poor quality Chinese goods.  I am unable to discern the difference. We always ask where things were made. We suspect we were not told the truth in the Kürkçü Han, even though we did enjoy the repartee with the merchants.  Asked where we are from, we always say California.  The two shopkeepers started joking about Arnold Schwarzenegger (this wasn’t the first time Arnold was the Turkish association with California) and they were riffing on Ah-nold’s movies. Once home, unpacking our bedspread, the smell of the fabric was our lesson in learning to look harder for that tiny “prc”.

We left laughing.

We left laughing.

Where I really draw the line on Chinese products is with dishware.  I’ve read horror stories about what might be imbued into my food.  We HOPE the dishes we bought are Turkish made.  The shop said they were, they don’t have “prc”, and the manufacturer’s website leads us to believe it.  Often, we’ve seen, clerks are reluctant to tell us things are made in China, they’ll call it “imported”, or from “outside”.   We also really want to buy Turkish ceramics and textiles – both of those industries produce high quality goods.

The Turkish aesthetic is very different from CA.

The Turkish aesthetic is very different from the one in the US.

Again, we had fun with the shopkeepers.  It was late afternoon on New Year’s Eve and we chatted with the woman, Özlem, who seemed second in command at the Gürpa store on Çiçek Pazarı Sokak.  An expat friend told us this area is basically the wholesale district for the entire city.  Because of Jim’s bargaining gene – which is very useful in this souk – he ultimately identifies the patron of each store. We’d been looking at a dish set and thought  the salesperson understood that we wanted it, however, as we waited it became clear they didn’t realize they had a sale.  Once they did, they beamed, sprung into action and the tea glasses came out.  Jim said no…and I said, yes – convincing Jim we might slow down and do it their way.

I  guess Özlem is 40 or so, and speaks good English.  Some people are attracted to say, elephants.  Jim digs skulls.  Özlem was wearing a skull-shaped ring and opened her cardigan to show another skull on her T-shirt. I told her we called that style Goth in the US.  She knew the term, and said she wasn’t exactly Goth.  We laughed together about how she paid a premium for chic, ripped clothing much to her mother’s chagrin.  We bought glassware, a toaster, and the “breakfast set” with a curious mix of pieces.  Our “breakfast” plates are 9.6 inches, a size Jim is really happy with, because he thinks it makes him eat less.  There are smaller plates, some small bowls (not soup or cereal size), egg cups (!), small tea cups and saucers, a creamer and sugar bowl, large teapot, salt and pepper shaker and napkin holder.  It’s a funny combination, with pieces we’ll never use. When we left, Özlem made us promise to stop in and visit for tea when we were on the street.  I plan to.  I use the egg cups as warming lids on the tall coffee cup I brought from home.

High quality blades of all kinds.

High quality blades of all kinds.

In the souk, we found a combination knife, tools and kitchenware store.  Anything with a blade can be found in that stall.  The inventory ranged from paring knives to hatchets, with a selection of quality kitchen utensils mixed in. The owner had taken over the store from his father.  He offered to sell us a bamboo knife, saying it would not leech vitamins from vegetables when cutting them, like a steel blade would.  Jim and I have noticed that some of the Turkish people we talk to are quick to believe marketing pitches.  We’ve become inured to them, not believing anything – and since we were both marketing professionals at one time, we kind of know what goes on in conference rooms lined with white boards,  Let’s just say, we actively, but not always successfully, resist becoming hapless marketing victims. I’ve searched the web on benefits of bamboo knives over steel ones, and haven’t found even a discussion about it.

Bamboo knives didn't make the cut.

Bamboo knives didn’t make the cut.

For days on end we shlepped back to Cihangir loaded with packages.  We are doing the same thing now in Moda. Once here we needed a mop, broom, laundry rack and so on.  At the little hardware/housewares store on Moda Caddesi, as is his routine, Jim requested a discount.  Arda nicely explained that bargaining is appropriate in the souk, but not here in Moda, and then gave Jim a discount anyway.  The next day Jim stopped back for an extension cord that was 12 lira.  Jim didn’t bargain and Arda gave it to him for 11 TL.  Arda has lived in Moda his entire life, and is its happy ambassador. His shop is our go-to place for house stuff.  He held our first pile of purchases for us while we continued shopping.  We arrived back laden with a floor lamp, a pillow, takeout dinner and some groceries.  I was carrying the brooms and mops, and was too wide a load for the skinny sidewalks. On the street I needed to find a notch to step into between parked cars each time a vehicle appeared.  Two days later I stopped back in, gave Arda a 50 lira note for a 48 lira sale, and received a 5 TL note back.  Shopping in Turkey!

It isn’t only the shopkeepers either. Last night I was in Migros, a chain grocery store.  We haven’t gotten around to submitting our Migros Money card application yet, so the woman in line behind me handed the cashier her card to earn me (or maybe her) the benefits (whatever they are) for my purchases.  I realized what she was doing and thanked her.

I believe the water is potable in Istanbul, but we use bottled water anyway.  We needed water for our new sebil, and walked by a tiny storefront 1½ blocks from the flat.  It was dark and we were on our way to dinner.  The clerk spoke no English, but we understood that 2 bottles cost 13.50 TL, and would be delivered.  She knew our building.  Outside, Jim and I debated WHEN it would be delivered.  I felt we needed to go home because it could be soon.  Unwilling to alter our course, he arbitrarily  decided it would come “later”.  I reminded him that NEITHER of us understood Turkish, therefore neither of us could know when the water would come.  The shopkeeper stepped outside and indicated that it would come now, and I went home to wait for it.  Very shortly there was a ring at our front door – the delivery man must have had a key to the building.  I pantomimed that Lucy was not a threat, paid him, then phoned and went out to join Jim who was investigating a gym membership.

Another thing I love about shopping in Istanbul is how like products are clustered and sold in distinct areas. I can tell you the street for hand tools — near the lower Tünel  station and T1 Karaköy tram station on Tersane Caddesi. Also, within the unruly wholesale souk there is rhyme and reason to shops’ locations.

Last  minute shopping for New Year's.

Last minute shopping for New Year’s.

On New Year’s Eve day, we learned that little old ladies are the same everywhere.  Hordes were last-minute shopping for the holiday.  The general demeanor of the souk was a tolerant, civil frenzy. At one intersection of two narrow cobble-stoned streets, there was utter pedestrian gridlock, which three four-foot early-octogenarians and their sharp elbows blasted open.  Gotta love them!  (Since I would never act that way, I’m relieved that I do not yet qualify as a little old lady!)

We have also found our “old lady” cart.  Arda, our source of Kadiköy protocol, however says such carts are only properly used in the pazar (local farmer’s markets), which may explain their everyday paucity.  We have not yet made it to the highly recommended Salı (Tuesday) Pazar in Kadiköy. Nevertheless, I loaded the cart with the fruits of last night’s errands, and appreciated its utility.  It saves on my elbow that stays sore from tossing Lucy’s ball (tendinitis) and as goofy as it looks, Jim agrees he will use it too.  Aye Yabancı!

Old-lady cart, circa Istanbul 2013.

Old-lady cart, circa Istanbul 2013.

This huge city is really a small town.  That is one reason it is so magnificent.  It is much closer to the farm and village than any city in the US.  I’ll explain in a later post.

5 thoughts on “Shopping for Basics in Istanbul, Part 2

  1. Pingback: A House is Not a Home… | Istanbul'da

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