Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Gotta get a carpet!

The first time we went to Turkey was in 1964, by the time we got to Istanbul (Constantinople), we were almost broke. We had spent five weeks in Greece and this was the end of our trip.

We could not resist going to the market and attempting to buy a rug. I knew the principle of negotiating, but not the finer points. We found a fabulous, small prayer rug and decided to do the middle-eastern thing; after all, my roots are Asia Minor. I asked how much, the guy sized us up, offered us tea, and said 250 US dollars. It was early and we were his first customers, I knew that was to our advantage, he had to make the first sale or his day would be a disaster.

I am an impatient guy and immediately went to my final price, $50. He went through the act of clutching his heart and claiming it was an insult to everything under the sun, as well as his mother. He came down to $220, I said $50, he said $200, I said $50, he said $150, and I said $50 again.

We had some tea and he explained that when he comes down I should go up. He was just trying to explain the game; he also had to make the first sale. Little did he know I had given my top price first. We get to $85, and I say $50 again. He is now troubled, he turns to Jeannine and explains the rules to her, “I go down in the price and your husband goes up.” The tea is flowing like crazy, we even get sweets, and one hour has gone by.
He finally understands, this idiot, me, does not understand, he grabs my hand to close the deal and says $51, “come up just one dollar, please.”
Fortunately, Jeannine had the extra buck and we got the little carpet. He was very relieved to see me go, I hope the rest of his day was good, he made his first sale of the day, and we had our $51 carpet.

I realized that you must go even lower so you can come up a bit, so the procedure follows the unwritten rules.

This bargaining process is so ingrained in most people, from that part of the world, that it is done automatically. I was in Macys with my mother when I was a kid, she was buying some fabric…in those days they had a huge fabric department…. she kept adding a foot to every yard the guy rolled out, he would roll it back six inches, she would add a foot. I got embarrassed and told Momma to stop. The salesman, a Jewish man, looked at me and said,“ Listen college boy, this is the way your mother and I do things, we bargain, not on the price but on the length of the material, go look at some shirts, and leave us alone putz.”

Bargaining is in the blood; it wasn’t quite in mine the first time. I am getting better, though not quite as good as Mamma was, she would have gotten the carpet for $20, guaranteed


  1. Actually when he said $200. you should have said $45. That would have really driven him crazy. If he then said $150. you should have said $40. That's the Italian way of bargaining.
    He actually probably paid $5. for the rug originally.

    Great story. That really reminds me of the way my mother used to go shopping.

  2. Jeannine once bought a small hand carved statue in Mexico, the guy said 10 pesos jeannine said 15 pesos, the poor guy got so confused, he kept going down and Jeannine went up, she finally paid 20 pesos for it, the poor guy was very confused. He started at 10 and negotiated down and finally got 20, go figure.

  3. Ha ha! What was mom thinking? I love it! Is that the little prayer rug that we have at home still - I think it has been so well used (not for prayer) that if we held it up to the light it would be transparent - threadbare...I love that carpet!

  4. Actually, I was in Tepoztlan a rather enigmatic and mysterious mountain village in the valley of Cuernavaca where we loved to spend our weekends not far from Mexico City. The mountain ranges there were created ions ago through water erosion and give one the impression of being not in Mexico but Lahassa. A truly Eastern landscape; a place the Dali Lama himself had visited many times; a quiet Buddhist retreat greeted you at the entrance to the village.
    On the day I made my purchase, I was wandering through the Saturday market, a wonderful place filled with typical colorful stalls, selling everything from hand-carved Mexican masks, brought from surrounding villages by campesinos and as far afield as the hidden areas of Acapulco to hand crafts and ceramics of every kind...some amazing unique pieces and if you were fortunate any Saturday could offer up a special experience.
    It happened as I turned away from Greg and began walking towards the beautiful 16th century convent at the center of the town Square that I saw a very elderly indigenous man dressed neatly in white, long hair to match, crowned by a well worn wide brimmed straw hat. Ignoring the masses of people all around us,he walked directly towards me, his outstretched hand held a small unusual carved piece, an animal head perhaps, a sort of mountain goat carved out of the root of a local tree. He created all his sculptures from the roots of this tree and let the form dictate the shape that the piece would eventually take. It was an exquisite piece and it was the only one he had. I would have bought everything had he more carvings to sell. He had a wonderful face and mischievous eyes that looked at me squarely as I asked him the price of the piece. He quoted me a ridiculously low sum of money I thought for something so beautiful and so I doubled it. He seemed surprised and lowered his price again. Confused he may have been but I insisted on paying more and he finally accepted.
    Later, I spoke to a friend of my encounter and was told that he was known by a few locals, was 90 years old, reclusive, and was recently exhibiting his sculptures locally and had been "discovered" by an enterprising woman who was exhibiting and selling his work at very high prices and ordering as many pieces from him as possible as his naive work was very much in demand and he was turning out fewer sculptures these days.
    He had lived a life of poverty until his mid seventies and in the last 15 years had become sought after by collectors and made enough money to erect a rather lush temple in the hills to a deity of his own, where he worshiped I like to believe, an ancient Pre-Colombian God that brought him fortune in his old age. I like to think that I was in the right place that Saturday morning when he singled me out offering me that carving, as he very rarely ventured into town. A memorable experience.

  5. It was a magical village, you brought it all back

  6. Where is it? I knew you must have gone up whilst haggling because you thought the piece was worth more than what they were offering! Sounds almost like a vision! Ha ha! How coooool!

  7.'ve begun a blog? what beautiful imagery!