Touts and Gigolos: some reflections on my month in Istanbul

Istanbul, Turkey


I picked the wrong part of Istanbul to stay. If I had to plan this last month again, I would stay in Kadikoy or Beyoglu or one of the more foreigner-friendly areas of the city. Sultanahmet is very touristy and the other people there are either other tourists or the shopkeepers/restauranteurs who feed off of the tourists. Since this year has been a very lean year, the sharks are extra hungry and I sometimes feel like a walking ATM machine.

I picked Sultanahmet because I thought it would be convenient for transport (it is) and a nice area to stroll around in an evening (which it isn’t because of the damn touts).


My neighbourhood, Sultanahmet, all lit up on an evening

Well, hindsight’s a wonderful thing.

They’re not supposed to harass you in the street.  I only found this out towards the end of my month here. They are allowed to stay in their own doorway and call at you from there but they’re not supposed to accost you in the park or in the street or whilst you’re sat on a bench enjoying a sunset.  But many do.

Their aim is to get you to buy something from their shop and/or the shop of their friend.  This will be at a special price just for you, because you are so beautiful.  Many of them also target both young girls and older women as potential ‘girlfriends’.


This is Ahmet.  He first approached me as I walked through a park, trying to get me to buy a carpet.  When he realised I didn’t want a carpet he tried for a kiss.  When he didn’t get that either he thought shouting abuse at me in public was the way to go.  Unfortunately this was not an isolated incident.

There is this belief amongst many of the men that single women are in Turkey with the prime purpose of finding a Turkish lover.  If you reject their advances they will often turn nasty (like Ahmet above) or they will do the faux hurt thing: ‘oh you don’t fancy me then?  It is a pity because I like you so much’ etc etc.

I’m not sure when it was that ‘tour guide’ became synonymous with ‘gigolo’.

I saw it before in Indonesia (particularly Bali) and in the Philippines, but thought the phenomenon was largely confined to that part of the world. No, it is alive and kicking in Turkey too. A quick Google search containing the words Turkish and gigolo will lead you to a handful of misogynist forums where men berate women for being stupid (yes, ever been to Thailand and watched your own gender behaving equally stupidly?) and/or disgusting (because it’s ok for older men to be seen out with a women too young to be their granddaughter but the sexuality of older women is somehow ‘disgusting’).

It will also lead you to a pile of ‘I-thought-he-loved-me-but-once-my-money-was-gone-he-left-me’ type stories, featuring women who quite clearly left their brains behind at home when they travelled.

These men are annoyingly persistent though. Obviously this must work for them sometimes; after all, you can’t sell what nobody wants to buy. But just as not every solo male traveller is looking to hook up with a prostitute whilst he is away, not every solo woman is looking for a romance with a Turkish Lothario half her age either.

4 replies »

  1. Hello Sarah Good job I wasn’t there, I would have shoved Ahmet face down in that fountain! Men! I am going to park that one there because it is probably the safest thing to do. Safe travels my friend and see you on the flip. Much love xxx FYI I like the balloons xx

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