On my third trip to Eurasia, I felt more t ease, but still unaccustomed to the sales culture in Turkey and India. In America, stores are strictly delimited places of commerce. If I want groceries, I go to the grocery store; coffee in a coffee shop; books in a bookstore. In Turkey and India, there are places where every store greets “Hello” with an inducement to buy, buy, buy.
The #1 mode of tourism may be shopping, but not for us. We do not have a rug shaped hole in our lives. We kept our heads down on the commercial streets and markets, only stopping to take pictures of the spectacle of it all. However, we saw some truly impressive caravans of swag to be sent she t home in the Istanbul Airport. If you’ve got money on vacation, may as well spend it.
We don’t travel to buy perfume, rugs, and liquor in new and exciting locales. We travel to see the new and exciting locales. Much to the chagrin of the myriad shopkeepers we walked right by in Istanbul, Mumbai, and Delhi.
The press to buy was unevenly distributed, however. In Istanbul, some streets were silent, wholesale. Others, particularly in the restaurants near tourist hotels like ours, the owners were most solicitous in our need for a delicious hot meal right then. Delicious hot meals were the one thing we were actually willing to pay for on the trip, just not right then.
Where I’m typing this, in reminiscence, there is a burger joint, a frozen yogurt shop, a bakery, a hammery, and an Indian restaurant. I just looked up and to my right to see all that, off the same parking lot. Parking is the main land use of this parcel, after all. In Istanbul, there was no parking on the streets. The sidewalks and the streets were at the exact same level, delimited by strings of bollards. These streets were much older than the automobile, after all, so there was little natural need to adapt them to the automobile. What parking there was either occasional deliveries, or shoehorned into the most out of the way back lot.
In the Spice Bazaar, Grand Bazaar, Linking Road, and Lajpat Nagar, the din of solicitation was so ubiquitous as to be invisible, but everyone was interested in our business. They were also interested in the business of the crowd of residents and tourists, which served us well as long as well as we kept our eyes forward.
The storekeepers in these places were also owners, or at least family members of owners. One of the advantages of fluid courts and permitting processes in the US is that we can form companies larger than families with relative ease. In much of india, at least, the bonds of law are not nearly as great as the bonds of blood.
The reason people aren’t standing outside those five restaurants in this strip mall soliciting for business are two fold. First, they are employees, not owners. Second, the sales pitch is the parking lot and the signage, not verbal at all.
To make more walkable places, we need to know how to make more personal places. The challenge is how the family business can compete with the corporate business, on consistency, credit rating, or permits.