İş kötüydü ama  muhabbet iyiydi – the business was bad, but the conversation was good

“Come to my office” or “come to the shop”, “stop by at my workplace” – Turkish people seem to work a lot: they work until late in the evening and very often on Saturdays as well. But, due to the relaxed atmosphere on most of the work places, the workplace seems to be a socializing site where people spend time with their colleagues, or a place to which they can invite their friends and family. The small shops – dükkanlar in the Istiklal Street and in the Tünel, as well as the bakkals and the shops in the bazaars, are wonderful examples of work as a social event and a work place as a socializing opportunity.

The word alışveriş is translated as “shopping”, but in Turkish language this word is coined of the words alış and veriş which mean “to take” and “to give” respectively. This exchange implies a more personal reationship based on mutual trust and reliance. The shop owners do not only try to make regular customers, but also friends. For example, it is expected that the bakkal in your street knows the members of your family or your flat mates. If it happens that somebody was looking for a certain good that was unavailable at a given time, as soon as the bakkal get s this good, he will either inform the person who asked for it or people living with them:”Your friend wanted to buy grape juice yesterday, but we had run out of it. I got it this morning, so you can take it for your friend.” The bakkal will also receive the packages his customers get via post and hand them out to them. The concept of veresiye implies how much trust there is between the shop owner and the customer. If it happens that you don’t have any money on you, but you really need to buy something at the bakkal or at the local dönerci, he will give it to you, and you will pay it later when you have money.

The traders or owners of any kinds of shops found friendships with the customers, people who work in nearby stores, restaurants, tea houses, barbershops, cafés, but also with people who work in the same branch, and although this should be seen as business competition, there is no competition between them. There are quarters where same goods are sold: in the area around the Galata tower you can find dozens of chandeliers stores, in the Tünel music instruments stores lean on each other, in Çukurcuma and Firuz Ağa there are dozens of shops that sell antique furniture. One other specific are the ‘’iş hanı’’ : these are buildings with several storeys and all the shops inside sell similar goods. For instance, the shops in the Hayyam iş hanı in Sirkeci, sell and fix analogue photo cameras, some others sell cell phones, PCs, bathroom equipment and so on.

The end of the Istiklal Caddesi opposite to Taksim square is known as Tünel, and it is basically a narrow cobbled slope with shops, cafes, restaurants on both sides, a mosque, synagogue, and Turkish bath house in the side streets. It is open for traffic, but being that narrow, it looks more like a pedestrian street. It is very vibrant and cheerful: music, calls, chatter come from all sides, colorful clothes, music instruments, jewelry, and souvenir goods add a specific charm to the ambient. The Tünel area is a small world within itself: people who, depending on their mood, open their shops at 9, 10, 11 or 12 a.m., have everything they need in a close proximity: after opening the shop, they go to the simitçi for the simit, to a nearby store to buy cheese, olives, helva for the breakfast, on their way back they order two big teas from the çaycı, oranges from the fruit juice seller: all the while the door of the shop is wide open, but if a customer comes in, the çaycı, the simitçi or the owner of the neighboring shop will tell to the customer that the patron is on his way. Then they enjoy the breakfast with a friend who stopped by, or a year-long-customer who has become a friend. The Tünel network is based on friendship – friendship between people who work there, i.e. people who sell, people who buy, and people who just hang around. During the workday, the shop owner or an employee might leave the store in order to stop by at the barber shop, go for a lunch, go to pay his bills, or go to see a friend. If you go to visit somebody working in a dükkan, they will order tea or coffee from one of the çaycıs nearby. The teashop is the quintessential socializing element in a community – shop owners mostly have monthly payment arrangements with tea shops, so when tea time comes they just need to say how many cups of tea they want to order. The concept of a tea/coffee or lunch break or fixed working hours does not exist. The opening hours vary just like the closing hours: if nice people are around, the shop might stay open until midnight. And sometimes, at the end of the day, it doesn’t even matter whether profit was made – iş (business) might have been bad, but if the muhabbet (conversation) was good, the day was good as well.

Meet the author


Tajda was born in Bosnia and Herzegovina and has lived in a few different countries. Since none of these countries was as complex, beautiful, energetic like Turkey with people who are beautiful inside as well as outside, she decided to stay there.