That Time I Got Scammed (?) in Istanbul

I don’t know if i technically got scammed.  But here is my story.

On my last full day, I had planned to get up at the crack of dawn and be walking into the Blue Mosque the second it opened.   The night before, I had a horrible night’s sleep.  I was woken up in the middle of the night by a text that kept me up for the rest of the night.

I still manage to get up and out.  I get to the Mosque and I am an hour early because I do not know how to correctly research opening hours.

It is really hot. I am really sun burned. I am so tired.

I sit down on a bench outside the Mosque to rest and collect my thoughts.

A man comes up to me and offers to shine my shoes.  I say “NO”  I am not even wearing shoes, I am wearing cheapo sneakers that are getting thrown out as soon as I get home.   Despite me saying “NO”, he then says “just let me brush off the dirt”.   Now I get mad.  He is already down and brushing the dirt off my sneakers.  All I want to do is sit here in silence and rest and go into my own little world where I figure out the things in my personal life that are now running rampant through my head.

I tell him “I am not paying you anything”, he says fine.  I know this is not going to be fine.   He starts asking me a bunch of questions.  Where am I from, do I like Turkish rugs.  No.  I don’t.   He is now fully cleaning my sneakers.

Once he is done, he asks me to go to his cousin’s rug shop.  I don’t want to go.   I know how this works.  He gives me a free shoe shine, takes me to a rug place, I buy a rug and we are even.  Except I told him to not shine my shoes several times.  I am not going to buy a rug EVER.  I am so tired and frustrated.  This man is ruining my trip right now.

Yet somehow, I am the one who feels bad.  So I take the walk with him, thinking I will tip him like 5 Turkish Lira for his troubles.  We get to the store.  I tell his cousin “I am not buying anything”  and I go to leave.  I pull out my wallet to give the shoe shiner a $5 bill and he tells me I owe him 60 Turkish Lira, which is about $30 USD.  Oh no I most certainly do not.   Are you insane?

I start yelling at him that I do not even have that much on me.  I really don’t.  He says “That is impossible” OH REALLY?  I am so great at budgeting.  I always have exactly what I need on me.  This is my last day.  I have enough to enter the Underground Cistern and eat for the day.   I already have my Jetons to get to the airport.   I don’t know why I am explaining this to him, but here I am.   Then I get even madder and yell “WHY AM I EXPLAINING THIS TO YOU?”  Then I just really start going off on him. Screaming at him.  “I TOLD YOU TO NOT TOUCH MY SHOES, I TOLD YOU I DID NOT WANT A SHOE SHINE.  YOU FORCED YOURSELF ON ME.  YOU RUINED MY MORNING, YOU ARE RUINING MY VACATION” and yet for some reason, I am still trying to give him $5.  But because I am finger pointing while yelling, the money slips out of my hand and falls into the street.   I did not plan that but since it’s there, it appears I have thrown they money at him.  This pleases me and I now walk away.  He does not follow.

I have no idea if this counts as a scam.  I didn’t end up scammed I don’t think, but I definitely went too far with being polite to him.  If I could do it all over again, I would have stood up and walked away the second he bent down to brush the dirt off my shoes.

Istanbul is really rough for people who just want to be left alone.   You can’t walk more than a foot without someone yelling “HEY LADY” at you, and shoving a flier for an open bus tour in your face, or trying to get you to buy a rug.  I found it really exhausting.  I felt like I was being harassed constantly.   Maybe it is just me who reacts to it so badly.  But I truly hated the endless disruptions to my thoughts.

12 thoughts on “That Time I Got Scammed (?) in Istanbul

  1. Brittany

    Wow! Interesting story here. I can’t believe you screamed at him. I’m not sure what I would of done. That actually scares me a bit. Glad you were able to get out of there. I would of picked up the money and just walked away.

  2. wisemonkeysabroad

    It is tough when you don’t get left alone …. It’s such unfamiliar territory for us to be harassed by shop keepers or hawkers while doing our own thing yet we still feel bad and rude sometimes.
    You were mighty brave for screaming at him…. :)

  3. The Caffeinated Day Tripper

    He definitely chose the wrong morning. As you said, you were tired & sunburned and emotionally stressed out. His “scam” was the last thing you needed. A risk he takes every time he does that to someone.I wonder if he would have dared go that far if you had been male? Don’t feel bad. He had it coming!

    1. jenniferjennifer Post author

      I also wonder if he would have done that to a man. I am still mad that all I wanted to do was just sit on a bench and somehow the act of doing something so simple, makes me a target.

  4. Lauren

    Eeeep! I think it probably was a scam, it sounds similar to the one that nearly got me in Istanbul. At least you stuck up for yourself and yelled at him! I would have been too intimidated and probably would have given him the money…

    What happens is the shoe polish men rush past you and knock their brush on the floor and continue walking. You pick it up and run after them to give it back, and then they thank you profusely and offer you a free shoe shine as a present.

    And then they charge you a load of money for it.

    Fortunately, I was wearing flipflops at the time, though he still wanted to clean them?! I researched it when I got back and yep, it’s a pretty common scam. Sigh.

    1. jenniferjennifer Post author

      Oh there was no way I was paying him the money. I was (and kind of still am) so mad.

      I read where someone agreed to a shoe shine, agreed to the cost. The guy then sneakily cut a strap on her sandal and offered to fix it for her, and charged her an insane amount for the repair.

      It baffles me that these scams work. I don’t know anyone who travels in the type of shoes you would ever pay to get shined. Amazing that you were offered a cleaning for your flip flops.

  5. Shotlady

    I was Istanbul with a friend in August 2012. Since our hotel was just a short tram ride away we went to the Blue Mosque several times. One day my friend wanted to shop and I thought well, I’ll walk over again and chill for a while inside because I really enjoyed looking at the beautiful tiles and mosaics inside that place. Wouldn’t you know some guy tried the same thing (maybe because I was alone?) I kept walking but it made me nervous as hell and annoyed. We also got “caught” in a rug shop trap after a city tour but that’s another story.

    1. jenniferjennifer Post author

      I never really gave much thought to the “being alone” part. Now I am wondering if this is why I got SOOOOOOOOOOOOO bothered nonstop. I mean I had no room to breathe when I left my hotel every day. It was just a non stop barrage of people coming at me. I remember trying to read a restaurant menu posted outside and I could not even get that done. Someone had to approach me after I was there for two seconds, to try and usher me inside. Let me finish looking at the menu!

  6. Rachel F

    The ENTIRE time I was in Istanbul for work, I got “Hey bayan (lady), are you lookin’ for me” from every guy I walked past…..after a few days I lost my rag completely and screamed “just fuck off or I’ll rip your dick off with my bare hands”……it worked for a short while on that street at least

    The scams work because there are tons of female western divorcees that love the attention of young Turkish store owners and waiters so they’ll fall for it every time.

    1. jenniferjennifer Post author

      Aw, they had no clue they were dealing with a woman who has years’ worth of experience of smashing her way through a crowd of dudes and escaping unscathed (sometimes anyway)


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