It's one area of travel that you read far too little about, but that can really negatively impact the best-planned trip.
It's not a sophisticated scam, but on a recent visit to Istanbul I encountered a ubiquitous scam among fake shoe-shine boys -- one I had not encountered on a previous and more lengthy visit to Turkey some eight years ago.
For one thing, on my last visit to Turkey there were hardly any "fake" shoe shine boys.
The new scam works like this: You are walking down the street, and a fake shoe-shine boy spots you. He begins walking ahead of you. Then he drops his brush. You pick it up and run after him. After you have handed it back to him, the shoe shine boy asks you if you would like to have your shoes shined. Half out of breath, you say "why not." There's no mention of the price. You assume he won't cheat you because, after all, you have just done him a favor.
The shoe-shine you get takes not two minutes and frankly, he does a pathetic job. Half-assuming he was just returning the favor anyway, you hand the boy a euro. Needless to say the guy demands more. At this point, some people probably give him more -- not wanting to appear stingy.
Or maybe it occurs to you that the whole thing was a scam.
In my own case, I knew that the euro I had handed the fake shoe-shine boy was a fair price for such a lousy shoe shine.
I took my euro back and told him that if he didn't want my euro, he would not get my euro.
"I want it. Give me the euro!"
I gave it back to him and walked off, happy for having spotted the scam, and having settled matters more or less on my own terms.
But I was sad for how these scam artists were destroying the reputation of Istanbul's many honest shoe-shine boys. On previous visits to Turkey I had never had an unpleasant experience getting a shoe-shine, and taken advantage of their good service on numerous occasions.
During my recent three-day visit in Istanbul no fewer than four (fake) shoe-shine boys dropped their brushes in front of me. Needless to say, by the end of my stay I was tempted to kick the next brush that landed near my feet halfway across the Bosporus.
Encountering a lot of scams on your travels is a sign that it's probably time to hit the hinterlands; to head off to where most of the people invariably turn out to be honest and exceedingly kind.
Photos by Jotman.