For the first week of a trip to Turkey B&B privately chartered a gulet to take us sailing in the Aegean and Mediterranean waters. The cost for four passengers, meals, a captain, deck hand and cook was much less than staying in a nice hotel. We were so excited about our scheduled week of sailing you’d think George Clooney had agreed to join us.
As B&B had never been to Turkey before and didn’t speak a word of the language we were giddy with delight to have our good friend Nergis, and her hilariously precocious 4-year-old daughter, Celine, along for the week on the ship. Nergis is from Turkey, an ideal travel companion who’s fun, doesn’t let any merchant or anyone else get away with anything ever and has probably never paid retail in her life. Celine was an uber-smart little language sponge and had been in Turkey for a few weeks prior to our arrival and was already basically fluent in Turkish.
The first day we all got together was in Gocek, the port where we would begin our journey. When we went to lunch we were served rather tepid, unappetizing food. Nergis took a bite, got up and marched into the restaurant’s kitchen like Sherman going through Atlanta. Some loud conversation ensued, Nergis reemerged, our food was taken away and replaced with more desirable morsels.
B&B, two stunned pasty-looking Americans whose idea of complaining in a restaurant is to only leave an 18% tip, asked Nergis what had transpired in the kitchen. She calmly explained (to us, not calmly to them) that she told them they were serving us yesterday’s leftovers, couldn’t get away with that and had to make us decent meals pronto. And they did. B&B were thrilled at Nergis’s ballsy handling of the situation.
Celine was not only a human language sponge but also a behavior sponge who observed her mother carefully. Later that same afternoon Blonde started to enter a gift shop in the port. Celine told Blonde to go into the store and if she wanted to buy something to point it out to Celine. Celine would then pretend Blonde was her mother (oh yeah, that would have been convincing for so many reasons) and then Celine would negotiate in Turkish to get a better price. The ruse was never executed successfully but only because Blonde always flubbed her part due to a genetic inability to keep her mouth shut.
As our sailing trip got underway we were fascinated to discover that each day various small boats would come around at different times selling bread, chicken and ice cream (but regrettably no wine). Generally the ship’s cook handled any negotiations that were required. However, the afternoon was when the ice cream boats tended to appear. As ice cream snacks were not part of our food plan it was up to us to purchase them if we were interested. And we were interested every day.
The unsuspecting ice cream seller du jour would pull up. B&B with our eager tourist faces were immediately shushed, if not hidden. Nergis would ask the price in a voice that clearly conveyed that no matter the price that would be named she would know it was absurd and never consider paying it. Negotiating was clearly a part of the culture but Nergis could have taught master classes. The conversations about ice cream pricing were always animated, loud and generally involved a derisive snort or two from or both of the parties to the negotiation. Nergis often waved off the sellers, turned her back and walked away before a final price was “agreed” upon. That would get the price lowered and she would make an excellent show of deigning to reluctantly walk back and purchase what B&B were now whimpering to receive. Celine never missed a moment of this daily ritual.
One of our favorite days was when we thought Nergis had reached a mutually agreeable price, the ice cream man handed over the fattening goodies and then Nergis threw money in his boat announcing that that was what the stuff was worth and that was what he was getting. Apparently he had not understood that to be the agreed upon price but no one messed with Nergis so he grumbled, gestured and left.
As our week was coming to an end Celine suddenly ceased the role of ice-cream negotiator. As she would only wear what she termed her “G string” (bathing suit bottom) and no top she marched in her little, very little, outfit to the side of the boat with her hands on her hips and a bossy, don’t screw with me look on her face. The ice cream men looked perplexed. This tiny mostly naked person looked like an adorable child who was possibly also going to kick their asses. And that’s exactly what she was and what she did.
Perfectly mimicking her mother’s tone of voice, dismissive gestures, fake walking away from dealing with the sellers altogether and indignation at the asking price, Celine got us the lowest price ever paid for ice cream.
The men in the ice cream boat departed quickly as B&B strangled on our laughter at the ice cream sellers’ humiliated and perplexed expressions at having been throughly bested by a 4-year-old in a G string.
And that is why we are sending Celine to negotiate peace in the middle-east, on The Voice and in the Red Sox clubroom. She should have all of that done in the next 24 hours, max. The celebrations will definitely feature ice cream.