I was procrastinating.
It was a sunny August afternoon in the seaside resort town of Kusadasi, Turkey. I sat at a shady patio café, nibbling delicious beyti kebab, sipping my third cup of strong Turkish tea and playing with the sugar cubes.
It was time to tackle the task that always made me feel like an awkward tourist: bargaining in a market.
I’d been watching from the fringes of the bazaar as pushy shopkeepers lured buyers into their stalls. They had a system. First, the shopkeepers engaged the buyers, usually by chatting to them about their nationality. Next, they flattered them and coaxed them into making a purchase.
“Come inside, pretty blonde American lady!” I heard one shopkeeper say to a big-haired woman. “I like American football. Are you a cheerleader?” She blushed and walked straight into his shop.
Another shopkeeper set his sights on a man in plaid Bermuda shorts. “You rich American golf guy want to buy present for beautiful lady?” The woman on the man’s arm giggled and he began negotiating over a tray of rings and bracelets.
What a bunch of Yankee suckers, I thought. They looked like Americans on holiday, and they were going to be cajoled into spending loads of money on Turkish souvenirs and “genuine fake watches.” I wouldn’t fall into that trap.
I briefly checked my appearance. I was wearing a suitably generic black sundress, a hat and sunglasses. Satisfied that my look didn’t scream “Gullible American,” I resolved to browse the bazaar without being hassled. I held my head high and I kept my mouth shut, hoping that the pushy shopkeepers wouldn’t pester me.
It seemed to work. I successfully avoided the belly-dancing costume displays. I navigated an obstacle course of blue evil-eye trinkets. I even evaded the aggressive carpet vendors with their flying area rugs and their prattle about hand-tied-knots-per-square-inch. After an hour or so, I had negotiated a few purchases without any trouble.
I had hit my Turkish bazaar bargaining groove, and I was feeling good!
On my way out of the bazaar, a shopkeeper at a ceramics store spoke to me in almost a whisper. “I see you are from Colombia” he said.
Colombia? That was unexpected. My effort to look aloof and ambiguously international must have succeeded beyond my wildest dreams. I was clearly exotic and tropically beautiful in the manner of famous Colombians like Shakira and Sofia Vergara!
Suddenly, I was overwhelmed with affection for Turkey. I followed the shopkeeper inside and immediately purchased a ton of Turkish faience pottery. I was so exhilarated that I forget to bargain.
As I left, I couldn’t resist asking the shopkeeper why he thought I was Colombian. Was it my silky dark hair? my deep brown eyes? my luminous sun-kissed skin? The shopkeeper simply pointed to my arm. The shirt I’d thrown over my sundress to protect me from the afternoon sun was made by the Columbia Sportswear Company, and the name “Columbia” was embroidered on the sleeve.
I laughed at myself as I left the bazaar. In spite of my best intentions, I’d fallen prey to the flattery of the shopkeepers. But as I walked toward the beach, I didn’t really care. The sun was beginning to set over the Aegean Sea, and the old streets were cheerfully festooned with red and white Turkish flags. Nibbling on Turkish Delight, I smiled and decided it was a good day to be a Yankee sucker.