Istanbul was refreshingly festive-free and distracting, though I managed to leave my bank card in an automat and leave my house keys in the hotel. Istanbul is hilly, with lots of little neighbourhoods that are mazes of little streets, and 2 huge waterways, one of which marks the end of 2 continents.

The turkish economy was the most interesting thing to me. Shopping is different in several ways:

  • Everything has fake brand names (jeans and backpacks for instance), but the products are nevertheless of high quality. I like the idea that brand originals are like a reference implementation of a standard design. You can quickly judge the quality of an item by measuring its similarity to the ideal without having to assess the merit of an individual design.

    And this is all at a fraction (typicaly 20%) of the price of the originals in the EU. They will never allow the fake brands or copied designs in the EU, but it's clear that Turkish manufacturers can produce quality products cheaply. The EU and Turkey already have a customs union but this doesn't seem to include textiles, which explains why things are still so expensive in the EU.

  • There are no prices. You haggle over everything, generally down to half of the start price. It's a two way thing, so prices are related to a product's worth to the individual buyer as well as the cost to seller and the general market value.

    As a hopeless shopper, I sometimes changed my mind about something while I was haggling, so I decided that I really didn't want it. In these cases, I found that the price dropped all the way because the buyer thought I was haggling as I walked away. I suspect that things might be yet cheaper than I thought.

  • Taxes. There are often no receipts and no tills and no standard prices, in businesses that employ lots of people. How on earth does the government ever collect any taxes? Apparently a fifth of people are employed by the government, so that's another large group that provide no income tax revenue.

  • Labour is cheap. Lots of businesses have extra people just standing around in case there's anything to do. A large, young, eager population could do great things for the EU economy.

  • The Turkish Lire has an insane number of zeroes, which people just ignore, but which make it very hard to distinguish Xm from X0m on notes. 1 Euro is about 1.7 million TL. After typing 30,000,000 into the bank automat, I had to hesitate before pressing the button.

  • As an owner of foreign currency, conversations are often less than full-duplex. After the standard annoying “Where you from?”, and answer of “Greenland. I am an Eskimo.” will not disturb the natural progression to “You like to see my carpets?”.