I think Turks are more honest than most, and I’ve written several times about how hard it is to lose a wallet in Turkey because some Turk will always pick it up and track you down to return it. In contrast, when a friend lost her wallet in front of the Whole Foods market in Westwood—an upscale part of Los Angeles, right by UCLA—it vanished without a trace. I wouldn’t be surprised if Turkey was the only place in the world where you just can’t lose a wallet.
So what to think when Today’s Zaman, Turkey’s top English language newspaper, runs an exposé headlined, “Beware of your tour guide”?
The article, along with a follow-on piece, gives several examples of
“tourists who are taken advantage of by a licensed, professional tour guide, someone who they have hired to show them the historic sites of the city, who builds up a sense of trust and who then knowingly fleeces them out of additional money after they have already paid a sometimes hefty fee for a guided tour.”
The scams mainly involve kickbacks from shops and restaurants who jack up their prices and share the loot with the unscrupulous guides who bring the poor trusting tourists to be fleeced.
So should you beware? No and yes. No, because you’ll forego an enriching experience if the warning makes you avoid guides altogether. Some of my most rewarding travel experiences have been with licensed guides, particularly Arzu Tutuk Altinay in Istanbul and Atil Ulas Cuce in Cappadocia.
But yes as well. Use common sense, check them out, and don’t give someone you don’t know carte blanche to choose your restaurant, carpet dealer, jeweler, or spice shop. Even in a country where honesty predominates there are sharpies and crooks looking for you. So hire a guide, be enriched by the knowledge she has, and—always—think for yourself.