Istanbul Feature

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Safety Concerns?

A true story: A visitor to Istanbul is approached by a friendly young man who is looking for an opportunity to practice his English and would be happy to show the visitor around. The day extends into night and the friendly young man proposes to take his new friend to a club for a drink. At the end of the night, the young man has disappeared and the hapless visitor is left with a bill totaling several hundred dollars for only a few drinks, and surrounded by bunch of goons who are going to make sure the bill is paid.

Stories like this, fortunately, are the exception, not the rule. Istanbul is, for a city of close to 14 million, very safe, especially in the areas frequented by tourists. Still, like any other big city that attracts hordes of travelers, Istanbul also has its share of unscrupulous touts and shills. The busy and crowded areas around Aya Sofya and Taksim Square seem to especially attract these types. Many of the touts who will approach you, particularly in Sultanahmet, want no more than to steer you toward a harmless carpet shop where they will earn a commission, but the odd few might be less well intentioned. Shoeshine boys love to drop their brush when walking past helpful tourists, then try to massively overcharge for a quick clean. Complicating this is the fact that Turks are by nature exceedingly friendly and will go out of their way to help you—once you approach them. The key is to be on the lookout for those who approach you first and seem a little too eager to help, and whose English is just a little too polished. Use your judgment, but don't be embarrassed to say no politely and move on if you feel accosted. You will certainly make many new friends during a visit to Turkey—just make sure you do it on your terms.

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