Monday, June 22, 2009

Buying a Turkish Carpet -- The next steps

So after you've seen the oldest, finest carpets ever created how to do get to own one?

It can be intimidating. The minute we stepped out of hotel door men were hailing us to just come step inside their shop and see what they had to offer in the way of beautiful rugs. While this is mostly hype, it's not all baloney because you can find more and better rugs in Istanbul than any place else on the planet. You may pay less elsewhere, but the choices are unlimited here. Which is the good and bad of it. Go into the Grand Bazaar and the calls to look at this or let me help you find that multiply. 

Here are two great articles on how to do this shopping thing right. I especially liked the Times article by Chris Hedges, who is actually a war correspondent, used to dealing with high pressure and high stakes. (Actually this is the second lesson I learned from Hedges. The first was in how N O T to treat people. He was a speaker at a conference in NYC once, a big media star, of course, and that is why he was there. And a less famous and experienced journalists -- thin disguise, eh -- approached him about overseas work in the Balkans where he'd written widely about the war. "Excuse me," he said, "I just arrive and I have to really go to the bathroom." And he walked away. I suspect there are more elegant ways to disengage from unwanted conversation but he does do well on rug buying.)

From our reading we picked a reputable shop to give our business to and walked toward it. We couldn't get near it, however, without at least three men attaching themselves to us, announcing they'd take us to the best shop. We walked away and looked at jewelry and at Turkish pen-and-ink-holders (good gifts for journalists if there were any way to tell a real old one from a modern knockoff) and finally went into the shop, asked for the owner, and announced we'd come by ourselves, without the aide of an anut. These guys get a 25 percent commission for bringing in prospects -- and the prospects cover that cost.

The salesman we got was highly professional and amusing. He set about getting us to tell him what we knew already we wanted -- size and color of carpet. He served apple tea. He asked where we were from and when Drew said Chicago told every Chicago anecdote he'd ever heard and, of course, concocted a number of personal connections to the windy city. All the while he has two beefy assistants hauling in folded carpets like waiters carrying heavy trays in a city restaurant. At his signal they snap that tray down to waist-level and flip out onto the hard-wood floor another  brilliant, scarlet rug. Before long there were eight spread out atop and alongside each other. This, the salesman tells you, is the traditional way of displaying Turkish carpets and, in fact, you have been so softened up and conditioned by this display that you actually can see eight carpets spread out over your living and dining room.  You want them all. You even like the little rug on the tea table and can possibilities for that on the porch at home. You are ravenous to own a rug. 

You are in the clutches of rug-selling hypnosis.

Discussion of price comes up about now. The salesman want to know your price limit; you know from reading about rug buying that you should never mention a number first. It's like a nerve wracking dance. I was biting my tongue the whole time. The first price the salesman gives is ridiculous. 

Some people say you should offer half that opening price. Some say remove the final 0 in the first price to get a realistic figure. We went with readings that said expect to pay $300 per square meter. Unfortunately this calculation requires math skills many people cannot lay claim to even when not in the grips of retail fever. So, the thing is to go slowly. Sip your tea. Don't jump at any offers.

"I didn't realize they were this expensive," says Drew who's done this before. "They may just be outside our price range totally."

The salesman plays the game too. "Oh, well, did I mention the discount because you came here as a reference from National Geographic?"

You can ask for discounts yourself -- how about one coz we both love the Chicago Cubs?

"Well, what price were you thinking of," the salesman tries.

"Oh, I wouldn't want to insult you," the dance continues. The lying on both sides is preposterous. "I have never sold a carpet like this for such a price," for example, or "Alright. I'm going to tell you what I paid for this carpet. I never do that. We are not supposed to do that. But I want you to see how crazy is the price you are offering me."

And Drew, meanwhile, is going, "Well, I may just have miscalculated what a rug this size would cost. And there's an economic crisis now."

Of course, and there's a discount to help sales during the economic crisis too, naturally.

Eventually, a deal is struck -- about $90 more than the limit I'd set before I walked in but nearly 50 percent less than the opening price. A bargain? A steal? No, but a gorgeous rug and a two-hour experience I'll blog and talk about. 

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