Istanbul Without the Carpet: A Tale of Two Visits

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Last Updated on April 20, 2018 by

Galata Tower- Istanbul
Istanbul, looking across the Bosphorus to Galata Tower.

This is a story about two different visits to Istanbul, the utter pointlessness of posing as a Canadian when you're American, and the secret to experiencing Istanbul without being offered a carpet.

Were you sold a carpet?

No, not even once.”

After our most recent visit to Istanbul, I'm surprised both by the number of times I've been asked that question and how pleased I am to offer my answer. When buying carpet is not your focus, but discovering the people and neighborhoods of Istanbul is, there’s an art to making it work and choosing strategically where and how you stay.

This time we did it. And we’ll tell you how, but not before we tell you about our first visit to Istanbul when Dan and I attempted, rather unsuccessfully, to pull off being Canadian.

“Don't Go!”: The First Visit to Istanbul That Almost Wasn’t

It was late 2000. Dan and I had been backpacking around Europe. We’d just poked around Romania and were hanging around Sofia, Bulgaria. Next up: Istanbul and three weeks in Turkey.

Then an email arrived from my mother. She was worried and she asked us to reconsider our visit. The second intifada had just begun in the Palestinian Territories and demonstrations were taking place outside the American Embassy in the Turkish capital of Ankara as the U.S. Congress considered a resolution officially recognizing the killing of Armenians in Turkey in 1915 as genocide.

Conventional wisdom said all of this did not bode well for Americans visiting the region. We hemmed and hawed. But on our final morning in Sofia, we picked up an International Herald Tribune to find news that Congress dropped the resolution.

It's a sign!!, we thought. In fact, it was just the excuse we needed.

We're going to Turkey!

I informed my mother of our decision and assured her we’d be careful. “Don’t worry,” I said. “We’ll pretend we’re Canadian.”

Staying in Sultanahmet

After arriving in Istanbul from Sofia via a wheezing 17-hour train, we followed the advice of our guidebook and bee-lined it over to Sultanahmet to find a hostel.

We settled down near the Hagia Sophia. Over the next several days, we’d wake at 5:00 A.M. to a howling call to prayer, struggle to fall back asleep, and head out early to consume Istanbul's must-see sights.

Aya Sophia - Istanbul
Hagia Sofia: A beautiful visual confluence of Islam and Christianity.

Our few days in Istanbul were consumed with the Hagia Sofia (or Aya Sofya if you like), Grand Bazaar, Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, and the Egyptian spice market. We hung out with fishermen on the Galata bridge, rode along the Bosphorus, and visited Uskudar for a taste of the “Asian side” — and mixed it all with great bits of Turkish food and topped it off with a scrub-down at a Turkish bath. Dan insists to this day that his Turkish massage at the baths remains the most satisfying beating he's ever received.

Oh, and I almost forgot: the carpet salesmen.

Visiting Istanbul in 2000
Fell off my chair laughing when I found this photo from our visit to Istanbul in 2000.

We have nothing against carpets, really. They're often works of art, and for many they serve as mementos that last a lifetime. (Yes, I realize I just sounded like a carpet salesman right there. This shows how effective repetition can be.) But when walkabouts in and around the touristy areas of Sultanahmet become an endless echo of “My friend. Where are you from? Do you want to buy a carpet?”, it’s possible to begin bearing a grudge.

“Maybe later.” That was our mantra. Talk about empty promises.

Carpet salesmen can monopolize your visit if you let them. They are friendly enough, they’ll give you lots of tea, their stories can be great — they may even feed you — but their ultimate goal may just get in the way of your experiencing the real Istanbul.

How NOT to Pretend to Be Canadian

Speaking of carpet salesmen, a lesson. One day as we walked down the street minding our own business, a Turkish guy flanked by two westerners approached us.

The Turkish guy jabbed himself into our conversation: “Where are you from?

Canada,” Dan replied.

Where in Canada?


Really?! I used to live there. Which part?” (At this point, the Turkish guy rattled off a bunch of Toronto neighborhoods.)

Shit. The one guy on the street we decide to lie to just happens to have lived in our Canadian cover city. Insult to injury, we weren’t even swift enough to do our research beforehand to come up with a viable answer.

Dan mumbled something lame like, “The eastern part.

The Turkish guy pressed on with more questions, pulling our proverbial lying pants down to our ankles. Finally, he exploded, “You’re not from Canada, you’re American!! Why are you lying to me?!!

Americans! Liars!” he yelled at full lung capacity in the middle of the street.

In retrospect, we should have moved on as if he were loony. (He was.) But his display was mesmerizing; it paralyzed us. I considered the irony. Had we only been honest about being American, we could have avoided all this.

As we came to and began walking away — the Turkish guy was still ranting — one of the foreigners asked in a feeble voice, “Well, wait. Don’t you want to buy a carpet?

The Turkish guy then broke stride and followed up: “I’ve got some great deals. I can even ship it home for you.

Insane. So this whole display — a ranting Turkish guy and his two flunky backpacker sidekicks — was all about selling us a freakin’ carpet??

Next time, we’re from Labrador.

Since then, we never again suggested that we're from Canada. (Aside: A big shout out to our Canadian friends. We love you and your country and we are often mistaken as Canadian, but we learned early that faking Canuck-ery doesn’t suit us and that we should stick to being who we are. For those of you following our current journey around the world, you’ll know that we embrace being American and view our travels as a form of citizen diplomacy.)

Istanbul, Take Two

Eleven years later, almost to the day, we returned to Istanbul.

We had changed as travelers. So had the goals of our visit. Instead of revisiting all the big sights, we were in Istanbul to apply for our Iranian visa, pick up some appropriate clothes for Iran, explore some different parts of town and discover more local foods.

Baklava on Istiklal Avenue - Istanbul, Turkey
Baklava on Istiklal Caddesi, Istanbul.

Our accommodation this time was a 9 Flats apartment on a side street in Beyoğlu, just down the hill from Taksim Square and Istiklal Caddesi.

As we wandered our street and the surrounding neighborhood, we noticed very few foreigners, only a guest house or two, and absolutely no souvenir stands. People were friendly and life seemed very real. Not to take away from the beauty of Sultanahmet, but this was a different view of Istanbul. One that suggests: this is what life would be like if you lived here. It was immersive. We loved it.

Just up the hill, Istiklal Caddesi was flush with hip Turkish kids sporting the latest fashion trends and traditional women wearing the hijab (Islamic dress). Endless cafes, brands and shops, bustling and modern.

Tram on İstiklâl Caddesi - Istanbul, Turkey
Tram on İstiklâl Caddesi, Istanbul.

Is this where Istanbul is headed?

Perhaps, but turn off on any side street and you’ve found where Istanbul has come from, and in many ways remains. Local fish vendors and seafood restaurants, turn-of-the-century covered passageways, and simple family-run shops. The mix was eclectic and reflected all the fascinating layers of modern day Turkey.

Fish Stand Near Istiklal Avenue - Istanbul, Turkey
Fish, colorfully displayed.

Some mornings we would take the tram — just down the street — over to Sultanahmet to run errands (e.g., headscarf shopping) or to catch a few sights we'd missed last time (like the New Mosque).

But then we’d welcome a retreat to our neighborhood in the late afternoon, where the routines of ordinary people ruled the streets.

Borek Man of Beyoğlu - Istanbul
Borek Man of Beyoğlu, Istanbul.

We began to feel at home. We knew the guy on the corner pressing fresh pomegranate juice, the sons who'd taken over their father’s kebab and Turkish pizza (lahmacun) shop, the friendly ciğ köfte master who knew just the right amount of spice and lemon to add to a mountain of raw meat, and the soft-spoken man around the corner who made sure to pile our plates with ample servings and fresh herbs.

We’d quickly developed our own routine, so much so that when we departed a week later, we made our rounds to say goodbye to our neighbors and the places where we’d become regulars.

Audrey Making Turkish Bread in Istanbul
Time to make the bread…

We left Istanbul this time feeling like we had a better grasp of its living history as well as a hint of the direction its headed.

And to think, we were never once offered a carpet. Maybe next time.

What are your favorite neighborhoods to explore in Istanbul? And if you've visited Istanbul, did you buy a carpet?

Disclosure: We’d like to thank 9 Flats for providing us our apartment in Beyoğlu that helped introduce us to a new side of Istanbul, and delivered an experience that made us feel like we lived locally.
About Audrey Scott
Audrey Scott is a writer, storyteller, speaker and tourism development consultant. She aims to help turn people's fears into curiosity and connection. She harbors an obsession for artichokes and can bake a devastating pan of brownies. You can keep up with her adventures on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. And you can learn more about her on the About Page and on LinkedIn.

50 thoughts on “Istanbul Without the Carpet: A Tale of Two Visits”

  1. @Chrystal: I have to admit that I cracked up laughing several times writing this and reliving that first visit to Istanbul 11 years ago. We knew then it was stupid to pretend to be Canadians in 2000, but then getting called on it on the street really hit home just HOW stupid it was! We don’t go around waving the American flag, but we never shy away from our nationality these days.

    @Rob: What’s also funny is that usually the Americans with Canadian flags on their backpack or pretending to be Canadian are the least likely people ever to fool anyone. It’s really a silly game that I’m sure provides endless amusement to Canadians.

    Istanbul is a fascinating city, even with the carpet sellers. But I have to admit I did enjoy not having to play the carpet game on this last visit.

  2. @Keith: Glad this brought back good memories of your visit to Istanbul – it did for me as well as I wrote it. The Istanbul tourist experience is almost iconic or a rite of passage. And yes, the banter back and forth could be fun and the whole ritual with the tea and talking about carpets was an experience. But I believe you’ll also enjoy seeing a different side of Istanbul if you return and stay in a new neighborhood. That’s the great thing about the city – there are so many layers to uncover and explore.

  3. @Rob: Your description of the three types of backpack flags you see and the reasons why rings true in our experience!

    And what a great story from the Hague and Germany of the continual thanks and acknowledgment of Canada’s role and help it provided in WWII. We’ve had similar experiences in Plzen, Czech Republic and even in Kunming, China (where the US had an Air Force base during WWII). Makes you realize the connection with the past and that these events really weren’t that long ago.

    @Theresa: Sultanahmet is a wonderful area and full of incredible sights. But, many areas are heavily touristed and as a seasoned traveler you know what that means. We really enjoyed being across the river near Tophane tram stop as we could either walk across the bridge to the sights/embassy in 15 minutes or take the tram over 2-3 stops and be there in 10 minutes. Barely anyone spoke English on our street but we had a good time communicating via charades and smiles. Enjoy your visit – Istanbul is a fascinating place!

  4. I suppose Labrador is a good pick -small population means less chance of meeting one abroad or anybody knowing where it is – but if you ever encounter a Canadian we’ll know you’re not a Newfie due to accent alone! 🙂

    I’ve ran into a lot of Americans pretending to be Canadians – it always entertains me when they finally admit their American – simply because I knew all along.

    Great story though! I’m glad you’re embracing your home country and traveling the world making it proud! 🙂


  5. I’ve always laughed at Americans pretending to be Canadians, having grown up Canadian. Americans truly don’t sound or, by and large, *act* Canadian. Of course, now that I’ve lived in the US for years and am both American and Canadian it’ll be interesting to see if I notice “pretenders” when I’m in Istanbul.

    Nonetheless, I’ll be sure to avoid the carpet sellers 🙂

    • I never returned to the blog to report on my time in Istanbul. Certainly, *lots* of carpet sellers. They didn’t bother me so much as the touts for tours and the like that would walk up to you while you were admiring a building or the like and start their spiel trying to sell you a tour. I finally started saying that I was Swedish and didn’t speak good English. Mostly that worked until some guy came out with two words of Swedish. But I shut him down with a solid minute (in my fluent Swedish) of discussion about how nice it was to meet someone who could speak the language, and how difficult it was in Turkey, etc.. He literally just turned and walked away.

      I did always present myself as Canadian, from Ottawa, and occasionally had the experience of someone knowing Ottawa. But since I *am* Canadian from Ottawa I could provide as much or more detail as anyone could want. More, in fact. 🙂

  6. I really enjoyed your post and it brought a lot of good memories of my visit to Istanbul. I think a lot of my time in Sultanahmet was a lot like yours but at some point I started to enjoy the carpet salesmen. I ran into the same salesman every day that I was in Istanbul and by the 4th day he knew trying to get me in his shop was a lost cause but he was a nice guy and he would walk along with me talking until he saw another tourist to try and persuade in the shop. I found getting woken up by the call to prayer surreal and if I ever return to Istanbul I will try to stay somewhere different but loved the whole tourist experience.

  7. When I first started traveling in Europe I had a Canadian flag on my backpack. I actually still have a Canadian flag luggage tag. Anyway, years later living in Europe I overheard someone observe that you only really see three kinds of flags on backpacks. Canadians advertising that they are not Americans, Danes advertising that they are not Swedes, and Kiwis advertising that they’re not Australians. I’ll admit I found the kernel of truth in that to be pretty funny.

    Which reminds me of a “Canadian” story…

    My first trip to the Hague (1982) my GF and I had an older gentleman approach us and nothing would do but he would buy us coffee and thank us for being Canadian and for Canada’s sheltering of the Dutch royalty during “the war”. We appreciated the coffee and all that but as 20-somethings had no real idea what he was talking about. He was more than a little surprised that we didn’t know. But then his war ended long before we were born. A few years later in Germany I met an elderly German gentleman whilst out bowling (long story) and his English was really good – accented but only slightly and not in the same way as younger Germans. Turns out he was a POW from that same war, interned in Saskatchewan in the early 1940s. The local women from the town by the POW camp took one look at the 15-19 year olds that made up the POWs and immediately established a school, teaching them English as well as all the other subjects that kids that age should be learning. Made me a little proud to be Canadian to hear that. He and many of his elderly friends took a trip back in the late 1980s (40+ years later) to meet with their surviving “teachers” and thank them.

  8. Thanks for this timely post. We’re heading to Turkey in March, and I’ve been considering where to stay in Istanbul. It seems most things I’ve read have tried to herd me toward Sultanahmet, but I’ve been having reservations b/c I generally don’t like being in the heart of the tourist area. You’ve convinced me to look at some of the options further afield.

  9. @Gary: Thanks so much for stopping by and your kind words about our travel approach and stories. It really means so much to us. Thank you!

  10. Just a quick note to thank you once again for this blog. I’ve been following it for the past year and I really appreciate your attitude and story telling abilities!!! -Gary Friedman

  11. @Apta: Turkey is wonderful and each time we return I think that we need to keep going deeper and further east. I’m laughing at your Capadoccia story – have memories of a similar situation with a potter instead of a carpet co-op.

    We haven’t been to Buyukada or Ortokoy so thank you for the recommendations. I know we’ll be returning to Istanbul at some point – it still fascinates me as a city, especially know as it’s really in such a crossroads of Europe-Asia-Middle East.

    And thank you for your kind words about our blog and what we do. We really do appreciate it!

    @Megan: Sheep shaggers?!! Oh my. Got to give him points for creativity, even if he was targeting the wrong nationality.

    Up the hill from where we stayed in Beygolu were some great student and art cafes. You could also see Turkish photography students out on assignments looking for artistic angles around every turn – quite a fun and picturesque area. I’d definitely like to return to explore more.

  12. I visited Turkey last June and I have to say, I absolutely loved the country, especially Istanbul. We somehow avoided the carpet salesmen [except in Capadoccia where we very unfortunately hired a tour guide who took us straight into the heart of it all – a carpet manufacturing co-op – i can’t tell you how much tea we had while we tried to extricate ourselves].

    I’d have to say one of my favorite areas of Istanbul, was Buyukada, one of the Princes Islands – it was so wonderful and relaxing to take a ferry to the Island spend the afternoon and come back. Also, Ortokoy and the drive upto Ortokoy. Its a little artsy, restaurant area on the Bosphorus. Wonderful place to go if you’re looking for a luxurious night/are travelling with your parents :]

    I love your blog – I’m a long way from having the time and money to travel the world, but you guys keep the dream alive. Thank You.

  13. As a Canadian, I’m amazed how often you hit upon a local, anywhere in the world, who knows your home city very well. I met a guy in a tiny town in Java, Indonesia who basically worked two blocks from my old apartment. Right now I’m in rural India, and one of my Indian colleagues lived in Montreal for 8 years.

    I used to carry the Canadian flag on my backpack, but I’ve removed it a few years ago. Quite simply, I think Canada gets too easy a ‘pass’ on world affairs, despite being pretty close to America in terms of foreign policy. In something of a show of solidarity, I let people who don’t talk to me assume I’m American, unless they talk to me about it (in which case I’ll correct them.)

    And frankly, even in Syria, Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Indonesia, India, or Vietnam, I’ve never had a bad experience with people mistaking me for an American. I think American travelers should relax, and understand that the vast majority of people they’ll meet won’t judge them for their country’s foreign policy.

    I met an American traveler in Yogyakarta who explained to me that he never, EVER pretends not to be American anymore since he did in Syria a few years back. He told a guy he was British, to which the guy said, ‘Well, good thing you’re not American, because we want to kill them all.’ The American guy was appalled, and decided he’d rather people were hypocrites to his face and be nice, than him faking his country and hearing such things. 🙂

  14. Loved this 🙂 I’ve been to Istanbul twice also and have never been offered a carpet – I think I just look like a scummy backpacker 🙂 although a guy in the grand bazaar did call my friend and I sheep shaggers (!!) when we refused to accept his attempt to play middle man – I think maybe he confused us Australians with New Zealanders 😉

    And agree – Beygolu is a lovely and more relaxed place to stay than Sultanahmet. I loved the student vibe there.

  15. @Daniel: When we made the mistake of posing as Canadians in 2000, we were young and stupid…about many, many things 🙂 One of them was underestimating how small this world really is and the movement of people. Like you, we’ve been in random places in the middle of nowhere and have found connections with Dan’s hometown (Scranton, PA) or that someone lived down the street from us in Prague. Really incredible.

    In all our experiences traveling through countries in the Middle East (including Iran) and Central Asia, we have been met with nothing but hospitality when we’ve shared that we’re American. In most countries we visit, people can differentiate between the actions of a government and those of its people. We often hear, “We don’t necessarily like what your government is doing, but American people are good.” Wish more Americans felt that way about other countries.

    @Eating the world: Istanbul is a great city as you can return an infinite amount of times and find new neighborhoods and different feel.

    @Jodi: When editing this I was struggling between trying to get the length down and keeping the dialogue as it was. Seems like I made the right choice 🙂

    The yellow hair is what made me fall off the chair laughing when I found that photo! I’m trying to remember if you know the whole SunIn story, including trying to fix the color before our wedding. If not, remind me to tell you next time we meet up.

  16. Audrey, Dan, I completely understand about pretending to be Canadians, I mean this happens all the time as the Canadians in this audience have said.

    In 1998, 1999, I used to travel to Paris a lot for work – I mean like many times a year – and everywhere I went, if I asked for direction, people would sort of assume I was from India and I did not correct them.
    ‘You from India?’
    ‘Yes’ would be my reply.

    I was told to not be American. And the part of India I am from, West Bengal used to be very anti-American and my relatives would tell me
    ‘don’t say you are American’. Well, like you, I don’t pretend any more, although I don’t travel as much as you do.

  17. @Sutapa: I think that with more experience in life and in travel one realizes that it’s silly to pretend and just be honest. And we find that when we are open about our nationality we are often rewarded with curious questions about the United States. The political questions we get when traveling are not always easy to answer, but they are really educational to learn a local perspective on an issue…even if it’s not a local issue. I can’t remember how many conversations we had in Bangladesh about the US recent involvement in Libya.

  18. Audrey, great post about my favourite city!! I love Istanbul so much, I’ve been there 4 times and every time have discovered something new to like! I worked on great university project in a gypsy neighbourhood , Sulukule(oldest Gypsy neighbourhood in the world) and that for me was my favourite part, so off the beaten track and just fantastic. The neighbourhood has now been destroyed for redevelopment (if you are interested, read about it here My fourth visit to Istanbul was for a friends wedding, where the reception was held in the old Byzantine walls of the city! Best wedding reception location I’ve ever been to!

    And finally, no, never bought a carpet and have never even been offered one! 🙂

  19. I love your blog. It has been years since I was able to afford traveling outside of the US (and my last trip was to Vancouver/Victoria BC) so this is armchair traveling for me. Jealous and wishing I was there 🙂

  20. Love the contrast between seeing the sights and immersing yourself in a neighborhood. Both ways of travelling have their charm, but there’s something so exciting about breaking down that wall of tourism and catching just a glimpse of what it is to be a native.

  21. My boyfriend and I had a 7 hour layover in Istanbul on our flight from DC to Greece so we decided we might as well try to wander around the city a little bit. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to enter any of the sights but we walked around and had a fantastic dinner of doner kebab. We did not buy a carpet and weren’t even offered one but one guy did approach us insisting that we buy perfume off him and when we were looking for a place to eat there were swarms of men telling us to look at their menus in at least a dozen different languages!

  22. Istanbul is a wonderful city! Everybody should visit it at least once in his life. I myself have been to Istanbul about 200 times as I am coming there with groups of tourists having a summer holiday in Bulgaria, mostly Sunny Beach and I have been doing this for more than 8 years. Every time when I come back to this magnificent ciy I discover something new about it. If you have a summer holiday in Bulgaria, don’t miss the oportunity to visit Istanbul! It is just 7 hours by bus from Sunny Beach.

  23. @Tony: Sounds like you’ve had some wonderful – and really unusual – experiences during your visits to Istanbul. Your work in Sulukule must have been fascinating. Sad to see how it has been destroyed in the name of “development” but this is happening everywhere. I’m impressed that you haven’t even been offered a carpet!

    @Suellen: Thanks so much for your kind comment and so glad that you are traveling vicariously with us until your next adventure!

    @Heather: What’s so great about staying in different parts of a city is the new experiences you have in each – it’s like visiting multiple places at once. And these days, we really do appreciate and value the neighborhood feel.

    @Vicky: I’m impressed that you managed to do all that on a layover! Yes, the people with all the menus can get overwhelming – this was one of the things we ran “home” to in our neighborhood, a place where no one had a menu…much less one in multiple languages. You’ll have to return and see all the sights – they are wonderful.

    @Todor: Glad to hear you’ve had such good experiences in Istanbul during all of your visits.

  24. This was so funny! At least the interaction with the Turkish guy. I read it aloud to a room full of my friends and we all had a laugh (at your expense, apologies). I so love the way you write – what an amazing thing to compare Istanbul then and now! It’s only been a year since we’ve been exploring, and I can’t wait til I’m at the phase where you are – going back a decade later to see how things have progressed. What a great experience.

  25. @Dayna: So glad you (and your friends) got a good laugh out of this! It was a funny situation. And as we returned to Istanbul we couldn’t help but think back to our first visit there. It is very fun to compare how a place – and you – have changed over time. Safe travels and here’s to decades of exploring!

  26. What a great adventure, minus the crazy guy yelling about you being American’s in the street. The second trip sounded just perfect.

  27. @Lisa: Our first visit to Istanbul was quite an adventure…although we could have done without the guy yelling at us on the street for being American 🙂 And yes, the second trip was just what we needed – a fun, but low-key, neighborhood that we could just be ordinary people doing regular stuff instead of being tourists all the time. Really enjoyed it.

  28. I stumbled upon your website and so far I am really enjoying it! I just had to comment because I was in Istanbul last May and I fell in love with the city/country. I was on a cruise with family and had a day and a half to explore Istanbul(on another day we were in Kusdasi/Ephesus). My sister and I had an amazing experience on the whole trip, but there was something special that we both loved about Turkey. We were here the same week that Bin Laden was killed and as Americans we were cautioned when leaving the ship and it was even suggested that we announce ourselves as Canadians, if asked. Well, we found everyone to be very friendly and never felt like we had to hide where we were from. We had limited time and had a lot that we wanted to see. My favorite was the Blue Mosque, it was simply the most beautiful place I had ever seen. I was speechless. We also were able to enjoy the Basilica Cistern, Spice Market, Topkapi Palace and a lot of wandering…from the Galata Bridge to all around Sultanahmet. We were only stopped once by a young man on the way into Topkapi Palace when he asked where we were from and advised us to buy a carpet before going home since we could get such a great deal. He wasn’t selling them he said, he was just coming home for the first time since moving to the states and his wife and children had never seen his homeland. He was very interesting.
    Looking forward to reading more of your posts. Thanks.

  29. @Carol: So glad you stumbled upon our website and thanks so much for commenting and sharing your experiences in Istanbul last year. Sounds like you really fit in a lot into a day and half!! Istanbul is an incredible city. Each time we return I appreciate its unique position and energy so much more. Hope you enjoy exploring more destinations and topics on our blog!

  30. Hi there-
    This is an excellent blog and it was a lot of fun to read it. The story about pretending to be Canadian and getting busted was hilarious! I couldn’t stop laughing! 🙂
    The only thing I don’t understand is why are you so apologetic about being American? In your responses to those Canucks and others you sound like you are ashamed because of your government or because of something else and you guys go on and on with this. This should not be the case, trust me.
    America still is the greatest place in the world – even after Bush and even with NObama!

    From Tbilisi/Georgia, living in East Toronto (just like your imaginary Canadian identity, seriously 🙂

  31. @David: Glad you enjoyed this and got a good laugh! In the situation above, we said we were Canucks for security reasons to make my mother happy. These days, we never do that. I am not apologetic about being American and welcome the opportunity to share my nationality and have an open discussion about everything, from politics to people. It’s true I don’t always agree with what my government is doing internationally (both now and in the past), but I do believe that the United States is still a great country, especially with its diversity. When we visited Tbilisi in 2007, we joked that it was the place where Americans were the most popular. Not sure if some of that shine has worn off in last years.

  32. Love the article! I think the idea of comparing two sections of time was rather original. I think it would also be fascinating to compare what Istanbul looked like many years ago before all the high rises started sprouting everywhere. People from older generations always tell me how green it used to be, that is definitely something that has changed! I also thought you might find this website useful, I use it a lot because there really aren’t that many good publications to be found in Istanbul that are written in English.

  33. @Jonathan: Completely agree that it would be wonderful to go back in time in Istanbul to see what the city was like decades ago before the high rises and large population that it has now. Didn’t realize there used to be so much green space in the city.

  34. hahah the carpet salesman story is hilarious. All else failed you should’ve just told him you were renting out a condo beside the CN Tower. All I can picture now is a crazy Turk screaming in the middle of a crowded market about lying Americans!

  35. @Jonas: Well, what you picture pretty much sums it up that situation. Taught us a good lesson – never try to be someone you aren’t.

  36. I, myself am from Newfoundland, and during my most recent trip to Istanbul a random guy told me not to be so hard on my mom (with whom he’s overheard me arguing) and then it turned out he was a Turk living in Florida, and he was just showing some American friends around Istanbul, but he happened to know a really great place to get carpets (surprise!). When we told him we were Canadian he actually guessed that we were from NL. Newfoundland is pretty obscure but I think Labrador will do the trick! Good luck with that!

  37. Hahaha! I avoided carpet salesmen like the plague! Did you get a chance to visit the Asian side of Istanbul? My wife and I went this spring and it´s a pretty dramatic difference from the European side. Much newer, cleaner, and, for a lack of a better word, more Turkish. The Beylerbeyi neighborhood on the Asian side (5min. Dolmus ride from the ferry station) was one of the highlights of our trip. Beautiful streets and wonderful little cafes, and also really great to see how normal Turkish people live outside of the tourist industry. Highly recommended!

  38. @Jen: That’s a great story!! So we’ll stick with Labrador next time we need a good cover 🙂

    @Chris: We did have a chance to spend one night on the Asian side on our last trip through Istanbul and we liked the relaxed feel there. People were really friendly too. We’ll try to explore more on our next visit – thanks for the recommendation!

  39. Your Canadian catastrophe–Too funny! As an American living here, I’ve gotten nothing but love, even by Turkish people who aren’t crazy about the USA 🙂 Favorite neighborhoods…explore the non-obvious! I’ve had some of the most interesting and fun experiences in neighborhoods like Abbasaga (besiktas) and Karagümrük (Fatih) –This website is really useful in terms of neighborhood information …and everything else Istanbul-related, for that matter!

  40. Great post! Istanbul is such a fascinating mix of East and West, Old and New, and who could resist searching for a magic carpet. Sadly, I’ve gotten caught a few times trying to pass myself off as being Canadian, either thinking it would be safer or trying to avoid the inevitable political discussion that ensues after I announce I’m from America.

    • Brad, agree completely with what a fascinating city Istanbul is with its mixture of east and west and tradition and modernity. After that one experience in Istanbul getting called out for not being Canadian, we have avoided it ever since. As for redirecting political discussions about the United States, you might enjoy this article about an experience we had in Istanbul:

  41. Excellent post. I was stationed in Turkey several times, but I haven’t been back to Istanbul since the mid ’90s. The Turks were some very nice folks. Did you get a chance to go to Kadikoy? I use to have a good friend who lived there. I always thought it was probably the most beautiful place in the world. The Bosphorus River was majestic, too.

    • Hi William,
      Would be interested to hear your thoughts if you do return to Istanbul. Although a lot has changed and become “modernized,” there’s still the traditional and cultural feel to the place that will never change (I hope). We did visit Kadikoy very briefly on our last time through Istanbul and thought it was not only beautiful, but people were incredibly friendly. Next time we’ll spend more time there…

  42. Too funny! Many of the carpet guys in Istanbul come to Texas every year for the antique shows and it always surprises me how much they know about “my” part of the world! It’s not too hard to convince them we are just poor travelers who don’t have money for carpets because we spent it all on a ticket to Istanbul. It’s the truth, and it makes them smile—Istanbul is just that charming!

    • I imagine it is quite fun meeting many of the carpet vendors from Istanbul in Texas and perhaps showing them a different side to the United States 🙂 And yes, Istanbul is charming!

  43. Istanbul is a great city but if you want to eat real Turkish foods you should go to east side of Turkey. Gaziantep, Trabzon, Mardin, Konya are some of great examples of Turkish cuisine.


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