When we moved to Turkey it didn’t take us long to work out that there are times when the local economy operates on a three-price structure.
There’s the price the tourists pay; there’s the price for expats – although, personally, I don’t like the word – and then there’s the price paid by the Turks.
We didn’t mind that much to begin with and, to be honest, when we found ourselves paying less for goods and meals out in the village shops and bars after a while, it felt like we’d made some progress.
But sometimes, when we venture away from our usual haunts, we find we’re back to square one. A little bit of the local language helps but, when Turkish friends ask how much we paid for this or that (no one’s shy about asking that in Turkey, by the way) they’ll wince and pronounce we handed over far too much.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a meal out or a big purchase like a car – the hiss of breath or a shake of the head has frequently condemned us as mere babes in the art of negotiation.
Mind you, we’ve learned the reason for their disappointment isn’t always the damage done to our finances. Sometimes, the hissers of breath and suckers of teeth are rueing a missed opportunity to take a cut themselves in return for the referral.
We’ve learned to haggle with the best on our own account when it’s appropriate. Even our teenage daughter is now proficient at bartering.
Nevertheless, it would perhaps be a little conceited not to concede that we’re sometimes still paying a higher price than the locals, although it’s never seemed a big deal in the scheme of things – at least not enough to make a song and dance about it.
Like many others, we’ve found our happy places, our trusted trades folk and taxi driver, and we tend to push most of our business their way.
Having said all that, when you live abroad, there will still be times when you suspect you’ve been well and truly had – and that can rankle enough that you’re still suppressing indignation weeks later.
And with the economy being what it is in Turkey at the moment, the risk of it happening has increased significantly. Inflation is currently running at over 20% and even the basics like bread and groceries are costing quite a bit more. As a result, some Turks are covering their losses by caning foreigners’ wallets.
Their arguments for it can be hard to swallow. We’ve been told some are doing it as they believe yabancı (foreigners) ought to feel privileged to stay in Turkey and should therefore pay an inflated price for it. Others presume that, if you come from overseas, you must have loads of money stashed away so you can afford to pay much more anyway.
Of course, those who see the expat community as convenient cash cows are not going to say so openly. They will present your bill with a smile and hope you will pay without a word – and, of course, many do.
I know we have and it’s not because we don’t realise we’ve just been stung. Often it’s simply because we Brits are just so …. well, British … and don’t like to make a fuss.
We’ll fume afterwards of course; we may even vent our spleen on Facebook or vow never to go back. But we can still be bounced into paying well over the odds because we’re just not that keen on confrontation.
I know the Turkish love of banter or even bare-faced cheek has sometimes loosened a little extra from my wallet but I’ll also admit to letting something slide just because I didn’t want to cause a scene.
But, using tactics recommended by friends, we’ve learned it is possible to sidestep at least some of the wide boys simply by asking for a price for whatever it is you’re buying up front. If you don’t like it, walk away. Sometimes, the asking price drops considerably before you’ve reached the door.
Similarly, some good advice we were given after living in Turkey for several months was never to buy from a business which doesn’t advertise its prices. Of course, it’s supposed to happen by law anyway but, like many things, it’s not a rule regularly enforced.
And, lastly – although I suspect quite a few would disagree – some of our Turkish friends have advised against tipping at restaurants. In their view, it’s something tourists do; if we do it too then it reinforces the argument that Brits have more money than they know what to do with, increasing the risk of being overcharged next time.
I suppose none of it is rocket science really. In fact, as a naturalised Yorkshireman, it ought to be harder to prise money from my wallet anyway.
But if I had a rewind button and could do the last five years again, I don’t mind admitting I’d be applying our friends’ top tips from day one. I suspect quite a few others would too.