Turkish Pick-up Lines

I began this post about three weeks ago, but I’ve been hopelessly distracted by the business of hearing responses from publishers about the manuscript of my novel. And the amazing news is that I now have a publisher in Australia (HarperCollins), one in the UK (Faber) and one in the USA (Farrer, Strauss & Giroux). I’ve been excited, stressed, elated, worried and unbelieving, sometimes all at once. Coherent blog-writing seemed out of the question.

(I love the photo below: a drama mask as part of a cornucopia carved into the base of a pillar. It’s not supposed to illustrate the comments above, though the cornucopia seems about right at the moment.)


The hard sell is everywhere, but in Turkey, and especially in Istanbul, they’ve been working on their technique. They’ve evolved from the simple harangue to a slick, soft hard-sell. It helps that the Turkish are naturally friendly and have a HeybeliadaAtaturkShopgreat sense of humour, so that the ‘sell’ and the national psyche, are a natural fit.

I was in Istanbul for five days, and on the receiving end of hundreds of appeals, or pick-up lines, especially when I was by myself. Intrigued, exhausted, fascinated, and sometimes fed-up, I compiled a short taxonomy of pick-up lines:


The ‘I’m bored to tears with this job’ Sell.

These sellers are low on the pick-up line evolutionary development, or perhaps just plain bored with the trinkets they have to sell:

‘Excuse me, you need to look over here.’KoranScriptHagiaSophia

Or, ‘Excuse me, which one do you like?’

Or, the ever-enlightening, ‘This is a carpet shop.’

It’s interesting, though, that the polite but insistent ‘Excuse me’ caught me out at first because I wasn’t expecting it.

The ‘Poor me’ Sell.

Is this one a new and clever skill development, or really just the expression of the sensitive type, unsuited to the job, and broken by the thousands of rejections?

‘Hello, do you want to have a break? Have a cup of tea, coffee? Come on, everybody needs a break.’

We smile, tell him we just ate lunch and keep walking.

‘Ah, everybody breaks my heart.’

We turn to see him, hands crossed over his heart, smiling.

I really liked this guy, and would have gone in, but we really had just finished lunch.

The Gallant Gentleman Sell


This type tries a respectful, harmless kind of seduction:

‘Hello lady. Remember me? We spoke yesterday I think. [we hadn’t]  Can I sell you a scarf, I have many scarves. No? But a beautiful woman like you should have a beautiful scarf.’

I say no, I don’t want a scarf and he should save his time and talk to one of the many beautiful women here.

As I walk away laughing he says, ‘Ah, but you are the most beautiful of them all…’

Walking behind two young women, a waiter from a café steps forward and says to them, arms stretched out wide, ‘Ah, I’ve been waiting for you all my life.’

We laugh loudly and he is distracted enough to let the girls go past. Later, as we pass the café again, he invites us to come in for dinner, and we ask him what happened to his previous line.

Always ready with a response, he says, ‘Oh no, I don’t use that anymore. It’s an old line now.’

The ‘Ah, Aussie, Vegemite, I’m your friend, I’ve got a cousin in Sydney’ Sell

This is the seller who knows just enough about most countries of the world to be able to pretend that here, in this city so far away, you have a friend who understands.  HeybeliadaShops

‘You’re from Australia, aren’t you. Aussie? Yeah, I can tell. Vegemite, hey? You like Vegemite. You come from Sydney? Brisbane? Canberra, oh, don’t know Canberra, but my cousin, he lives in Australia. Beautiful, Australia. You need to buy a rug …’

Or…’Aussie, yes. Lots of Australians are buying silver…’

The ‘I’m only here to help’ Sell

This must be the most evolved of the sellers. He genuinely likes people, and he can strike up a conversation at any time and, most importantly, keep it going. They patrol the old part of the city, where any and every tourist comes to visit Hagia Sophia, The Blue Mosque, Justinian’s Cistern,  Theodosian’s Obelisque. Their job is to seduce the tourist into a conversation under the guise of being helpful.

One man walked with me, chatting easily, told me some interesting things about the Blue Mosque: its date, its size, the rituals, and showed me the entrance. I thanked him and went in, naively thought I’d got away … until I came out again, walked down the steps. There he was, a big smile on his face, waiting to greet me and demand my end of the bargain: to visit his carpet shop, down the street here ….


The ‘Combo’ Sell

And this guy, who combined a few techniques in one:

JustinianCisternI was buying cooked corn on the cob from a street stall, when he started chatting, as usual, ‘You’re from Australia …’ Stupidly, I asked him how he could tell, and he told me that Aussies just have a look, they are the most beautiful. I laughed, walked away, and he walked with me, of course. He told me he was a uni student studying tourism to become a guide, that he spoke four languages; he told me about the Cistern we were passing, a huge underground cavern designed to hold supplies of water, supported by massive pillars, and very beautiful. I had seen it, and knew all about it, so he told me that one of the James Bond movies was filmed in there. By this stage we were almost at his rug shop, so he showed me the video on his iphone of an Aussie customer who was his good friend, so good that she sent him a clip of the beach houses on Port Philip Bay where she lived. At his shop, I told him, again, that I would not buy a rug. He asked me to come in for tea and I said no, I would not buy a rug. He asked me again, and gave me his card; I said I would not buy a rug. At this, my newfound friend scowled, turned his back and walked away.

I walked on, fifty metres or so, and met another, more sleazy type, who had watched my previous encounter and obviously thought he’d catch me on the retail rejection rebound:

The ‘I’m selling more than rugs’ Sell

‘Hello. I know you don’t want rugs. You need a cup of tea. No, a beautiful lady like you, you need wine, not tea. Let me buy you a glass of wine.’

What? By now I was sick of the ‘beautiful lady line. ‘No.’Medusa

‘Life is about more than rugs. It is about romancing. About wine and romancing.’

Romancing? What happened to rugs and scarves? ‘No.’

‘Then let me walk with you. Let me come and sit with you while you eat your lunch.’

Thankfully, it seems my third ‘no’ was enough to put him off.

Or the guy who said to Alan, ‘You want to buy shirt? A bag?’ And then more quietly, ‘A girl?’

The ‘watch your back’ Sell

We only met one of these, with eyes like Julie Bishop, able to take you out at a hundred paces (see picture of Medusa, above. And yes, the photo is the right way up, that’s how they put it in Justinian’s Cistern.)

On the Golden Horn Bridge the cafes are lined up, one after the other, and waiters stand outside catching anyone they can, showing them their menu, ushering them to a seat before they can resist. We stopped at one of these cafes, with an offer of GoldenHornFishCafesfree fruit and tea after the main course. While we ate I watched, as time after time the persuasive man from our café brought in customers before his neighbour could get to them.

The neighbour’s anger was palpable as he paced back and forward, glared, shook his head. But the final straw came when our waiter appealed to us to assure some prospective customers that the food was good. It was excellent, so we nodded, smiled, Alan gave them the thumbs up, and they came in and sat down. I thought the waiter next door would leap over and strangle Alan where he sat; he walked away, turned back, glared, turned away, paced back again, scowled, the anger tight in his shoulders and mouth, restraining himself. The waiters in our café laughed: oh, he’s always like that. He doesn’t get many customers …

That man was the exception. The lovely thing about many Turkish sellers is that they genuinely love to make a cup of tea and chat, find out about Australia, tell you about their family, show off photos of their kids, and above all, to laugh … even if they don’t make a sale.

So I’ve studied a few of their techniques and in a little while I’ll have a novel to sell … anyone want a cup of tea and a chat? Let me tell you about The Anchoress …


2 thoughts on “Turkish Pick-up Lines

    1. Thanks for dropping by, Michele! Yes, I think the hard sell is everywhere, really — it just changes a little according to the culture. In Thailand, I didn’t dare look at anything on the market stalls as I walked past, so it became counter-productive. I wonder if they realise that??


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