The Culture of Trade

There is a story we tell to new arrivals to Turkey; so settle down quietly, drink your tea and listen well gentle traveller because it holds the key to your time in this strange land.

When you come to Turkey you may wish to buy a carpet. In the carpet shop the smiling proprietor, whilst pressing numerous glasses of sweet tea on you and bedazzling your eye by casting rugs about with a virtuoso skill, will extol the virtue of his wares to you. Whilst waxing lyrical on the subject of his wares it is perfectly permissible for him to, by your definition, lie.

He can tell you this rug you are about to buy is ancient, made from the finest wool of six week old goats, which has been combed by hand by an aged, arthritic but expert grandmother far away in the hills of Persia, woven by the milk white hands of virgins, hand knotted, dyed with the finest, rarest natural ingredients. He can tell you it is immensely valuable and unique and it breaks his heart to sell it. He is sure it will gain value in years to come, guaranteed to become an heirloom to treasure through the generations. Even if the said carpet is six days old, was made on an electronic loom in Konya and is worth less than a quarter of his starting price this is acceptable behaviour.

He is expected to praise his goods to get a high price, you are expected to know what is truth and what is artistic license or artifice or just plain incorrect.

Once the price is agreed it is assumed that you made the decision of your own free will, with the benefit of your knowledge and your expertise, after all you were the one holding the money!

If you have paid three times what the rug is actually worth then this is not robbery, it is the game of business and in this particular instance you lost.

This isn’t personal, this isn’t fraud, this isn’t wrong, this is trade.

Now, when you get up to leave the rug shop and its happy owner should you accidently drop your wallet on the floor and not notice the owner of that shop will follow you across the entire town and move mountains in an effort to return it to you.

To take the wallet and what it contains is theft. It would be dishonourable behaviour and shameful in the extreme to keep it. No honourable Turkish person would do that and he is an honourable man.

Do you see the problem here? We come to this country and we don’t understand the cultural rules. We don’t realise that all business transactions are trade and we as individuals are responsible for verifying the veracity of what we are told.

Trade is the oldest game in the world. For century after century the role of the seller has been to get the best price for his product and the role of the buyer has been to agree to that price. The successful did their homework and fair prices were agreed, the unsuccessful didn’t know the true value of what they were buying and so lost out.

It is business stripped to its basics and in every town and city across Turkey every day this ancient game is played and Turks are very, very good at it.

Particularly for visitors from the West the reality of the trade game in Turkey is a hard concept to grasp. To a member of a highly regulated society like the UK or USA where advertising standards and trade descriptions inoculate the buyer from the worst pitfalls of a silver tongued salesman Turkey can seem like a minefield of misinformation, guile and exaggeration of potential return on investment.

Certainly in the real estate sector there have been loud protestations from poorly prepared western investors who paid over the top prices for shoddy properties or were convinced of high returns on off-plan property that then failed to materialise.

The only way to work in this environment is to do your homework or don’t enter the game. If you research your market and enter negotiations in Turkey with your eyes open, ready to be entertained and challenged by the game of negotiation and secure in your knowledge base then buying in Turkey can be a highly rewarding experience.

In the six years I have lived in Turkey I have bought only one rug but I have been tempted by hundreds. I bought that rug because it was cheap enough and I liked it. I am still happy with it. I haven’t bought others because I don’t know enough about rugs to be sure I am getting a genuine rug at the right price – I don’t have the knowledge to enter the game. I have however bought more than one house, because I do understand property.