Istanbul is fascinating.  French poet and politician, Alphonse de Lamartine, said the following of Istanbul, “If one had but a single glance to give the world, one should gaze on Istanbul.”  While sailing on the Bosphorus Straight, the city skyline is filled with the ancient juxtaposed by the modern.  The modern skyscrapers and yalıs (waterfront mansions) adorn the skyline—no doubt to accommodate the ever increasing population which is currently around 13 million.  Ancient wonders like the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, and the Galata tower enhance the magnificent view and remind every visitor and citizen alike that we are indeed standing on historic grounds. 

Besides the cathedrals, mosques, and palaces, I found myself enthralled by the ordinary.  Walking through the streets, everything was so colorful: the bright red pomegranates and oranges at the fruit stands; the green pistachio and rose and almond flavored desserts at pastry shops; and, of course my favorite, cinnamon or clove-flavored Turkish delights.  

Stopping on the street for a cup of tea became my favorite pastime—bringing a moment of serenity amidst the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

The markets were a completely different experience.  The Spice Market and the Bazaar were a negotiator’s paradise.  I have been abroad plenty of times, frequently using bartering skills to acquire souvenirs for friends and family back home.  Whether it was a woven Andean sweater, a tailored salwar kameez in India, or scarves in a Beijing market, a basic level of negotiation skills is needed so as not to be taken advantage of in other countries.  Bartering for everyday items is simply part of the culture. 

In the context of a buyer and a seller in a market, negotiations involve various stages.  Usually these stages are not clearly defined, and parties rapidly progress through the different phases.  Both parties must convene—each party must decide that they want to negotiate.  Opening offers follow the convening phase.  When a market has too many vendors and not enough buyers, I find it quite advantageous to look at one item and then walk away, effectively ignoring the vendors as though I am not yet ready to negotiate for the specific item.  In this way, the vendor may bid against himself.  I then return to the “negotiation table” and the negotiation dance begins and I start with the advantage.

Opening offers tend to anchor the negotiation process.  When I lived in Ecuador, I quickly learned the going rate for particular items; in this way, I could bypass the typical negotiation dance by throwing out a reasonable opening offer.   In Turkey though, I did not always know what a reasonable price was.  To avoid overpaying, I negotiated with various vendors for items that I had no intention of buying.  This had a dual purpose.  Not only was I able to learn the going rate, I was able to avoid the pitfall of becoming emotionally invested in a particular item.   For example, in the Istanbul bazaar I had been moseying around various shops inquiring about prices.  After getting a general idea of prices, I found a beautiful red purse.  Instead of negotiating for the red purse, I inquired about the price of the green purse next to the red one.  As the price got closer to what I was willing to pay, I asked if the red purse was a similar price.  In doing this, the vendor has invested his time and wants to sell me an item—any item.  More importantly, I avoided becoming emotionally attached.  When a vendor senses your affinity towards an item, he has the upper hand in the negotiation.  When that happens, the price remains higher and I would ultimately pay more simply because I really wanted it! 

As the negotiation dance winds down, it is time for the buyer and seller to make a deal, or for the buyer to walk away.  At this stage in the game, the vendor usually tries to convince me that his offer is a “fair price” or “good price.” I am friendly and jovial in response and ask for a “friend price” or a “student discount.”  It is usually a friendly banter back and forth and we settle on a number that we are both a little dissatisfied with—I pay a little more than I want to and he accepts a little less than he wants to. 

Everything is negotiated in Istanbul: the taxis, the tea, the scarves, the touristy trinkets, the ear of corn you buy from the street vendor, the Turkish delights.  Described above are just a few “technique” I have employed.  Do you have any tips or advice for the street-market negotiator? 

Mikita is the Editor-in-Chief of ADR Times. She is also an attorney at Seastrom Seastrom & Tuttle focusing solely on Family Law . Before that, she worked predominantly in litigation and arbitration in the field of construction and business litigation insurance defense. She received her Juris Doctorate at Pepperdine and a Masters in Dispute Resolution from the Straus Institute. Mikita has been published in the Pepperdine Dispute Resolution Law Journal and worked at the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution in London. As an avid traveler, she continues to explore various dispute resolution issues and how they vary from region to region.