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Buying a Turkish Carpet

Travelers, like marauders from the Middle Ages, often return home with the spoils of conquered cities. While most of us enjoy buying souvenirs of our trips, it's easier said than done in places where bargaining is a fact of commercial life. Todd Melby and Diane Richard recently visited Istanbul, Turkey on their honeymoon, with thoughts of buying an authentic Turkish carpet.

Buying a Turkish Carpet
by Todd Melby and Diane Richard

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We'd pretty much covered the major sites: the spice market, Grand Bazaar, Blue Mosque, and Topkai Palace. It was our last day in the city, so we simply wandered the streets, looking for not much of anything.

But we were pleasantly surprised at what we found.

Todd: "What do you want to show me?"

Ali: "I want to show you carpets."

Todd: "Carpets."

Ali: "Yeah."

Grand bazaar

The man who approached us was enthusiastic and had a gorgeous head of thick, wavy black hair. He name was Ali. He sold soumaks, one of the many types of carpets found in Turkey.

Hundreds of carpet pitchmen had tried, to no avail, to woo us in our wanderings through the city. We thought the time had come to follow one into his shop and find out what all the fuss was about.

Ali: "May I offer you a cup of tea please? It's our hospitality."

Diane: "Oh, I don't know."

Ali: "It doesn't mean you have to buy something."

Diane: "Yes. Okay."

Ali: "Just a second."

We sipped on fragrant tea in little hourglass-shaped cups. Ali crouched over carpet after carpet. His embroidered rugs came in a dazzling array of colors, a mosaic of reds and indigos and oranges the color of turmeric.

During this early phase of looking and learning, our conversation with Ali was as flirty as two sixth-graders at a school dance.

Ali: "Do you like?"

Diane: "Do I like it? Yes. Very much."

Ali: "Would you like to buy it?"

Diane and Todd: [Laughter]

Soon, we narrowed it down to two carpets.

So far we had avoided talking about money. In bargaining, it's fine to ask for prices, but the shopkeeper knows he has you when you talk numbers. And it's considered bad etiquette to engage in haggling, and then renege.

Todd: "How much for all of them?"

Ali: "Okay, where is the calculator, Ishmael? Bring the calculator."

After a little number-crunching, Ali arrived at a price, or so we thought.


Todd: "What are the prices of each?"

Ali: "Well, this is 300. The normal price, a very, very reasonable price. It's about 345, the price of that one."

Diane: [Laughter]

Todd: "I thought you just said it was 300."

Diane: "I know..."

Ali: "Well, listen. I am talking about normal prices."

Pricing seems almost completely arbitrary. During our exchange, we heard Ali describe his price as not only 'normal' and 'reasonable,' but ...

Ali: "I can say a price that is flexible."

Flexible? Reasonable? Were they one and the same? We weren't sure. But we did know that if you start to haggle, the general rule is you counter the seller's offer with half his asking price, then settle somewhere around seventy percent.

The exchange was growing tense, so I sent Diane a nonverbal sign. I shrugged my shoulders. I really wasn't crazy about either of them. Though newlyweds, she read me right.

Diane: "I'm not saying 'No,' I'm saying we'd need to talk about it."

Ali: "For what do you need to think about it? If you are sure that you like them as much as to buy, what is the reason of your excuse?"

Diane: [Laughter]

What do you say to that? We thanked him for his time, said we needed to leave and got up to do so. That's when the power shifted.


Todd: "Okay, well, thank you very much."

Ali: "Excuse me. Do you have any special price you have on your mind that you want to spend on this one?"

This would have been the time to name a price closer to our liking. But we were ready to go. The spell was broken. We promised Ali, and ourselves, that we would come back if we had a change of heart.

Todd: "So when people walk away saying they'll think about it, how often do they come back?"

Ali: "Never."

Todd: "Oh, really?"

Ali: "Never. They don't come back. They come back never. Even now, if you go, I will never think you will come back."

He was right. We didn't. And though we sometimes imagine one of those colorful carpets back here on our cold wood floors in Minneapolis, we console ourselves that we can always go back. Ali, and a deal, will surely find us again.

Reporting with Diane Richard, I'm Todd Melby for The Savvy Traveler.


Savvy Resources for Turkish Carpets


Savvy Traveler Previous Trips to Turkey:

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