Note – The shoe shiners featured in the photographs of this article did not scam me and never used any of the techniques that are listed below. They were friendly shoe shiners who agreed for their photograph to be taken and used. This article is not implying they are part of this scam.
One Turkish tradition I have always admired is the shoe shiner. Sitting on busy streets with their small stools and Ottoman style boxes, they ply their trade to everyone that passes. I believe my fascination with them is because this tradition has disappeared from the western world but is still very much alive in Turkey.
Some people may consider this age-old trade to be a boring job, but for the dedicated shoe shiner, it is an art and a skill. The customers walk away with shoes looking as new as the day they were purchased. The shoe shiner will polish and buff with ease that only comes from years of experience. The price is just a few Turkish lira so he needs a steady flow of customers to earn a good wage by nightfall.
The last time I went to a shoe shiner was in the Aegean resort of Altinkum. He was a small boy aged approximately nine. I wore a pair of long, leather boots because it was the middle of winter. The boy was not experienced but did his best and I tipped him for his determined effort. The price I paid was five Turkish lira. (Roughly 2Uk pounds or 3USD)
On past visits to Istanbul, I never used shoe shiners because most of the time, I wore sports shoes to walk around the tourist sites. Maybe that is why the shoeshine scam of Istanbul has passed me by. I only discovered it now because I was researching the tradition for an article.
The Shoe Shine Scam of Istanbul
The scam is not elaborate nor complicated. It is simple and like many scams, it preys on the goodwill of people.
- The shoe shiner walks past tourists and drops one of his brushes
- A tourist picks it up and runs after the shoe shiner
- The shoe shiner is very grateful and offers to shine the shoes to show his appreciation
- While he works, he tells about his poor family, sick wife and many poverty problems
- End of the process and the price requested is a hefty amount. It is often ten times more than he would charge a Turk. One couple was charged 25 Turkish lira.
- Tourist pays up because of guilt for the poor man who struggles to feed his family
Most of the shoe shiners I have met were friendly and certainly not out to scam me, so I am not going to criticize this ancient trade. However, I warn readers. If you are in Istanbul and a shoe shiner drops his brush while walking past you, ignore him.
Readers Question: Have you heard about or been a victim of this scam before?
The best shoe shiner in Istanbul (Youtube video)