Turkish Carpet Hustle
I bought a Turkish carpet today. It’s pretty small but it cost $160; it takes a nomad woman in the Eastern part of the country three months to make one of these—so I was told. Here’s the thing: buying a carpet is no ordinary sale. It’s a battle of wills.
You walk by a carpet store. You have no expectation of buying a carpet (“no one comes to Turkey expecting to buy a carpet, but everyone ends up leaving with one”). The owner invites you in, and you calmly accept his invitation knowing that no carpet buying is happening today. A boy named Ahmed is called to bring tea (although he is only called with very loud yelling so his name might as well be Ahmed!!!). Ahmed!!! Is dispatched to bring tea. You talk to the owner about Istanbul, about politics, about Life. He asks you what you think of Turkey. You love it. The tea comes. He offers you a cigarette. No mention of carpets is made.
He casually takes out a carpet, carelessly throws it on the floor and tells you a story about it. Then he takes 5, 10, 15 more until they’re strewn all over the ground. He invites you to look at them. No, he knows you won’t buy them because they cost three or four thousand dollars. No problem.
“What is your budget?” he asks, “you don’t want to buy a carpet? OK, well how much do you think a carpet costs? $100!? No way! This piece of trash here,” he exclaims while showing you a gross and inferior carpet, “is $100.” You discover that a good Turkish carpet is at least $200. How about this one? “Wow that one is beautiful, but I’m not buying a carpet today. I promise you.”
Ahmed!!!! More tea. Another cigarette.
The proprietor tells you his theories on raising kids in Istanbul versus Australia. He tells you where he goes to get these carpets. He explains that women in Turkey are conservative; they don’t have therapists. Their carpets are their catharsis. They weave their hopes and dreams, worries and frustrations into these carpets. “Look here! You can see it!”
You talk about investments, about banks, about credit crises, and the Eurozone. He tells you about his favorite bathhouse. He tells you he loves Russian girls but only to fuck (the tea has him loose lipped). You talk and you talk. A calculator gets passed back and forth as you type in more and more ridiculous numbers. Of course they’re ridiculous! You don’t want to buy a carpet.
Ahmed!!! Clears all the carpets but the one you seemed to like. It looks pretty good come to think of it. You’re told that a carpet is a lifelong investment and this one is quite a beauty. Hmm, you could kind of see it on your floor. But you don’t want to buy a carpet!
AHMEDDDD!!! You’re given Turkish delight sweets. You offer a price 80 dollars less than what he originally said. He tells you you’re killing him. He tells you that when two men share a cup of tea, it guarantees 40 years of friendship. You’ve just imprisoned yourself to a century of amiability. “Ok, my friend, this is my last price,” he says. It’s $175 when you offered 150. You realize this price is more than any rug should cost, but by now you’ve looked at it too long. It’s in your mind. You want the handiwork of a Turkish woman who slaved for months to make this intricate thing. The colors are psychedelic. You ask if it can fly. “Of course! You sit on it for one hour with one bottle of Jack Daniels and it flies!”
You’re done; you hate this man and you hate this carpet, but you need it. It’s the only thing that could make you happy. You say, “160.” He asks if that’s what you need to be happy. You say, “Yes,” and you shake hands. You’re a loser, but you walk out of the rag shop with the biggest shit-eating grin on your face and smile as all the two-bit carpet hustlers on the street ask you if you just bought a rug and congratulate you on the wisdom of your purchase.