The Istanbul shoe cleaner story

I have come to Istanbul to meet with Turkish businesses and entrepreneurs looking to start up in the UK.

I got caught by this trick but never again. You should know for the story that ₺4 (4 Turkish Lira) equals £1.

As I was walking along a quiet street in Istanbul, I passed a shoe cleaner with his box of tricks. A brush fell off his box. He didn’t seem to notice. So I gesticulated to him that it had fallen off. He thanked me and said he would clean my shoes. I only had trainers on and was anyway reluctant, but he insisted. I thought it was as a thank you, so I let him… He had water in his box of tricks and he started to clean my trainers.

the picture that by coincidence hangs in the office of UKTI at the British Consulate in Istanbul

A picture that (by coincidence) hangs in the office of UKTI at the British Consulate in Istanbul

Then he started to tell me about his sick baby in the hospital and how he needed help. When he finished cleaning the trainers with the water, I knew I was expected to give him some money. I didn’t really want to give him ₺5, but it was the smallest currency I had.  Reluctantly I handed it over. Imagine my surprise when his reply was, “People normally give ₺25 and this is not enough”. I decided to take a stand. I declined to increase the offer. In fact, for a couple of seconds I thought about withdrawing the offer I was making. He hopefully realised his trick had worked well enough and he should not over egg the pudding. He took off with the ₺5.

Two hours later I was in the garden of a mosque and passed another shoe cleaner. Guess what happened: yes, a brush fell off his box… I carried on and didn’t look back.

Tom Redfern