Carpet Sellers: I have purchased rugs and carpets from multi-generational vendors from Istanbul to Marrakesh, Casablanca to Chendu, Ankara to Toulouse. These men, always men, have spoken every conceivable language – especially the numbers – and have seen every bargaining trick known to man.
My wife is an expert haggler and has no qualms about walking away from a market seller and going to the next stall in full view of the first seller. She was in Marrakesh when I bought my first Moroccan Hanbel, but she didn’t do the actual bargaining – she drank the sweet mint tea and watched. It think this left a hole in the part of her soul that needs to haggle (the Burton side of her genetic pool) and she has been twitching to buy a carpet ever sense. I think that she wanted to bargain with the best of the best – to test her mettle and skill. Our recent trip to Istanbul provided her with that opportunity.
Our first carpet stop was at a 5-story establishment late one evening just before dinner near the Blue Mosque. We were handed off to a tall, greasy, smooth-talking seller that had spent lots of time in the US and was the picture of shady used car salesman. Seriously. We let him talk and lie and talk and lie. After about 2 hours and in the middle of what was probably his dinner time, we started negotiating prices. I really wanted a unique 5X7 kilim and Laurel was eye-balling a wool runner. The seller wanted BMW prices for the equivalent a small Honda with a tiny engine. Laurel gave him a final price for both and he unceremoniously ushered us out of the door. I really liked that Kilim and it became another “One that got away.” A shame that it did not go home with us… It will forever be like the hanbel (kilim is the Turkish word) in Essaouira, Morocco that I left folded on the floor there that still calls to me. Every so often my wife will say, “Remember that rug…” and we both get a little sad.
Our second stop was the next night and due to my schedule, we showed up 15 minutes before their scheduled closing time. No worries, three people stayed and tea and carpets and rugs appeared from all corners of the shop. My sweet wife busied herself inspecting a $3000 silk carpet that stayed in the store where it found her. Our seller was another guy that had spent some serious time in the US and although would also have been at home at any New Jersey used car lot, was more polished and a touch more upfront than our dealer the night before.
Laurel went to work on him. We were good-cop bad-cop right away. I was the bored, broke husband upset at my wife’s spending habits and she was the doe-eyed, sweet little girl who couldn’t make up her mind. She is awesome at that. We work the shit out of it and she was so good that she completely had me convinced that she wanted an entirely different rug – crafty that one is.
In the end she got an amazing small wool rug with insane knotting and detail for our bedroom and I got a small wool on wool rug for the living room. Now, we did not get the deal of the century, but we didn’t have to sell blood to finance our taxi ride back to the hotel either. We got a decent price, but make no mistake – the seller made good money.
My hope was that this one experience might satisfy her need to buy Turkish/Persian/Moroccan carpets… Nope. She talked about “the next one” on the taxi ride home. I have helped created a monster.