I love Turkish carpets! I've
bought dozens of them. I stopped buying
them only when I ran out of floor space.
Most of my carpet-buying experiences
have been pleasant, but the range of
possible experiences is broad indeed,
and includes the distinct possibility
of expensive disappointment.
Why should it be difficult to buy
a simple piece of woven cloth? Because
an oriental carpet is not a simple
piece of woven cloth. At their best,
hand-made carpets are original,
one-of-a-kind works of art, and how do you put a
price on a work of art?
The price of a work of art is the
price agreed to by a willing buyer
and seller. To determine this price,
the buyer and seller may have to bargain. (Here's
So you walk into a Turkish
carpet shop. The shopkeeper
welcomes you, shows you to a seat
(probably on a sofa covered in rich
Turkish carpets), offers you tea, coffee,
a soft drink, water. He asks where
you're from, declares with surprise that
he has a brother/ nephew/ uncle/
friend living very near you.
He may ask your preferences for colors,
size, patterns. As he gives you the
short course in Turkish carpetology (how
they're made, the wools and silks,
the fakes, the carpet-making regions
of Turkey), one or two assistants begin
the show: they unfurl a carpet with
a flourish, toss it in the air and
let it fall to the floor. Another
follows, unfurled with a crisp snap.
Another, and another, and another.
Soon it seems it's raining
carpets. It's quite an impressive
The colors and patterns cascade
before you. Dust fills the air. One
catches your eye. You hold up your
hand to signal. The assistant pulls
it aside. The cascade recommences.
Another one catches your eye. It's
At the end of a quarter hour, a dozen
carpets have been pulled aside.
The other hundred or so are carefully
rolled or folded and put away. More
tea and coffee is ordered. The shopkeeper
applauds your choices, your eye, the
excellence of your taste. No price
has yet been mentioned.
You look at
each of the dozen more closely, narrow
it to three. The shopkeeper gives you
the history of each, shows you the
closeness of the weave, quality of
the wool. He explains the meaning behind
some of the geometric symbols and motifs.
(He may or may not be telling the truth.
Do you know? Do you care?)
You ask prices. He tells you. Now
it's your turn to join the ritual
of bargaining. More...
If this is your first carpet
shop visit, you should then
thank the shopkeeper, declare that
you'll think about
ask for the shop's business card, leave
the shop, go to another, and repeat
the complete process. The whole thing
can take most of a day.
You should not buy! It's
Go to two more shops, do the same
thing in each, then return to the shop
you liked the most, settle on a price,
pay, and take your purchase
(If you're promised a refund
on the Value-Added-Tax, be sure
"But," you say, "our tour stopped
at a fancy 'Handicrafts Cultural Center
& Research Institute' where we
saw women actually weaving the carpets.
There was no place to sit so we wandered
around looking at the carpets, which
were beautiful. The sales person
said the shopkeepers in 'normal shops'
couldn't be trusted, that quality
and fair prices were assured here,
so we bought."
Fine! If you're happy
with your purchase, and its price,
there's no harm done. Enjoy it! But
chances are that you got no
As I mentioned at the top of this
page, "The price of a work of art is
the price agreed to by a willing buyer
You can be disappointed in purchasing
a carpet either by discovering that
you paid way too much,
or simply by
worrying that you paid too
can avoid the first disappointment
by going to three separate
shops unaccompanied and
learning about carpet-buying.
avoid the second disappointment by
knowing that you've given yourself
the best chance to get a
good price, and by not worrying beyond
that. Just enjoy your beautiful souvenir!