How to Bargain—or Not—in Turkey.

A friend asked me to pick up some pieces of agate for her while here. Husband found the stone seller and navigated us there (It was deep in the marketplace). That left me to pick out the stones and buy them.

Trying to bargain in an atmosphere where it is expected, with a person who is expert, can be a fool’s game. At the same time, I couldn’t not try.

I selected several pieces in the colors and sizes my friend requested with the shop owner hovering. I asked how much they were.

Shopkeeper (in rough English): “Seven Turkish lira each.”
Me: “Okay.”
Shopkeeper (looking surprised): “But I can give you very best price.”
Me: “No, seven lira’s fine.”
Shopkeeper: “No, you should say a lower price.”
Me: “What price should I say?”
Shopkeeper: “You should say five lira.”
Me: “And then you would say six, and we would have taken only one lira off the price. That would be insulting to you. So no, seven is fine.” [Note: One Turkish lira is about 34 cents.]
Shopkeeper: “Then say a more lower price.”
Me: “Like what?”
Shopkeeper (waving his hands): “I don’t know! That is for you to say.”
Me: “Then I say seven lira.”
Shopkeeper (clearly exasperated): “I explain, you cannot say seven. You must say less than seven.”
Me: “We already agreed five wouldn’t work. So what should the number be?”
Shopkeeper (moving from exasperation to annoyance): “Four. Four is the number you should say.”
Me: “I can’t say four. Because then you would say five, and we already agreed five wouldn’t be right. So I say seven.”
Shopkeeper: “No! The price is four! No other price is possible.”
Me (reluctantly): “Well, okay. I’ll take four.”

I handed over the money. As he was wrapping up my purchases, he said, “When you do business with a Turk, you must learn to bargain.”

I took the bag of agate, typed out something on my translator app, and showed it to him. He read it and burst out laughing.

What did I type? “When you do business with an American, you must learn not to bid against yourself.”