What to Expect When Walking into a Turkish Carpet Shop (Part I)

Or…To hustle or be hustled?  It’s your choice!

This is Part I of our How to Buy a Turkish Carpet.  Next week, make sure to read the second part.

Shopping in many cultures is a social interchange.  In the States, teenagers meet at the mall where they can wander, eat a snack, and talk without their moms and dads hanging around listening to every word.  In those same malls, retirees are meeting up with their walking clubs to exercise and finish it all off with a cup of coffee.  It’s the same in Turkey when you are carpet shopping, it’s social.  It’s   a time to talk to a local, have a cup of çay, and relax.  So relax!  Buying a carpet isn’t as intimidating as you may think.  The most important thing to remember is to just sit back and enjoy yourself.

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Turkish Carpet Shop

My house is full of Turkish kilims.  After living in the country for four years, I had plenty of opportunities to buy carpets and kilims and loved the process, the show, and we enjoyed this in many different places in the country.  I have some favorite places that I go back to over and over.  In Turkey, it’s always better if you have  a relationship with the owner or salesman.  If you are going to be going back numerous times, use this to your advantage, and spark up some friendships in the shops of the whatever it is you love, including food.

Whether you are visiting the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, a cooperative in Avanos (Cappadocia), or a small carpet shop in Ulus (the Old Town of Ankara), your experience will be pretty much the same.  As you wander in, you will quickly be met by someone, oftentimes the owner.  He will offer you a drink, typically this is black tea (çay), but in more touristy areas you will be offered apple tea or even a soda.   As you sit upon a bench, usually covered with a lower grade of carpet, you will begin to chat.  The salesperson will establish a rapport with you, telling you things about his family, his home, how long he’s been in the carpet business, his hobbies, really it runs the gamut here.  He wants to become your friend.  And you should want that, too.  It’s much easier to buy from someone you trust, so take your time and get to know him.

Turkish Carpet Shop

Eventually, he will start to show you carpets.  This is often done with the help of his workers.  He will bark orders at them, they will choose the carpet he indicated and with a flick of his wrists, in a magic-carpet-ride manner, throw the carpet up and let it float to the top of the pile.  The pile will grow and grow.  It is customary for you to just watch for a while, but sometimes it’s too hard and you’ll see one that you just love.  Whether you comment or blink or what, somehow he will know and he will nod for it to be taken by the side…in a special pile.

It seems that you’ve been there a long time.  Well, you have by western standards.  Getting to the point where you might want to start talking about price may be 30 or 40 minutes after you’ve walked into the shop.  That’s ok.  Relax.  You have just begun.

Turkish Carpet Shop

The next step for the salesman is to go back to “your” pile and start showing them to you again.  By this point, you know what you like and you will whittle your pile down to a more manageable stack.  Now, don’t think just because you indicate that you like this one or that one, that you are saying you will buy them.  You are just saying you’d like to take another look, and maybe, maybe inquire about a price.  Maybe.

Now you take a deep breath, because the inevitable is here.  You’ve probably been in the shop for an hour at this point, and boy you are getting antsy.  Inwardly you might have decided that you definitely will not be buying today, but you still want to get some prices for research’s sake at the very least.  If you do think you are going to buy, sit up. It’s time to get serious.

As you are listening with only one ear, all the while thinking that you really like that third one down, you start to take the reins.  Slowly.  Don’t jump up.  Relax.  Just wait for a break, and finally ask the price.  Now you and I know that this is not really the price.  There’s no tag.  It’s a first price.  Do.Not.Take.It.  This is where you jump in and begin to bargain.

Yes, for us westerners, it’s also the “hard” part.  But, don’t let it worry you.  You can do it.  First, remember, you don’t want to agree on a price if you really don’t plan on buying.  You should know that the first price is going to be at least fifty percent higher than he would expect you to pay, although if you did he would be throwing a party later.  To get an idea of how much you really could buy it for, start bargaining, but if this is a scouting mission, make sure you stop before you commit.  If you commit, you should buy.  It’s not obligatory, but it really is courtesy at this point.  If you are going to buy, keep on bargaining until you two come to an agreement and everyone is happy.

Turkish Carpet Shop

And that, that word right there- “happy”-that’s what you should be when you finally agree on a price.  If your stomach is queasy, if you think you’ve been taken, if you are just too tired to care….you shouldn’t have agreed.  It really is a “gut” feeling.  You know when you’ve done well, and you know when you haven’t.  It sounds simple, and it is, except for we keep fighting our cultural mores on this one.  We grew up thinking everything has a price tag, the market determines the price, well, throw that maxim out of the window.  It’s just you and the seller.  That’s it.

This turns out one of two ways.  The first is you are now the proud owner of a Turkish carpet and you can finish out your vacation, go home and proudly show it off.  It is a beauty!  Or, you walked out of the store with a lot more knowledge than you walked in with, and you are ready for the next time you find a carpet shop to get that perfect souvenir.  Either way, you did it!  A silent cheer is in order!

Turkish Carpet Shop

All in all, even if you are a budget traveler that has no intention of buying a carpet, it is an experience.  Try it, or in all fairness there are many other Turkish souvenirs that you will buy the exact same way.

Stay tuned for next week’s How To Buy A Turkish Carpet and Know You Got the Best Deal! (Part 2)  This is all about the details of carpet shopping.  You too, can look like an expert!

Have you been to a Turkish carpet shop?  What did you have to drink cay or apple tea?  Did you walk away with a beautiful souvenir or a very interesting cultural experience?

This post is linked to Travel  Photo Thursday and Travel Photo Monday and Sunday Traveler!

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38 Comments

  1. Never been to Turkey but haggling is also common in Tunisia. It really like you said, an experience and when it is friendly haggling (not like in Cairo where it is quite aggressive) you end up having a really good time and a nice souvenir. People in the Souk in Tunisia get so disapointed if you leave without haggling, once they drew us back into the shop and actually explained to us it’s part of the game, you HAVE TO do it. They didn’t offer us tea but we had a nice time and i got a beautiful leather handbag out of it. In Libya shop keepers/owners very often give kids plenty stuff, it is possibly a way to make you come back but i think it’s just because they love kids. My boys got given loads of stuff from chocolate bars, lollies, even a set of plates and some kitchen tools… You gotta love shopping abroad, beats the ordeals of supermarkets with grumpy attendants back home doesn’t it?

    1. Jameela, It does. It’s such an experience. I think the hardest thing for tourists when bargaining is thinking whether or not they got a “fair” price. And I maintain, if you are happy the price is fair!

  2. I have bought a carpet in the Grand Bazaar and then hitch-hiked across Europe with the thing. It was cursed as we lugged it onto trains. We sat on it waiting for tides in Yugoslavia. And it stayed with us for over 30 years. The rabbit ate the ends and it didn’t end up joining us on our last move.

    Great description of how to buy a carpet. I certainly drank a lot of mint tea.

  3. I haven’t bought a carpet abroad (too scary! how would I get it home?) but we have a Persian rug in our dining room which we bought in Glasgow from a little shop that had a closing down sale for years. It has definitely gone now! What really impressed us was that he insisted we take the rug home to try it out without paying a penny first. We loved it and went back to pay, of course, but I was amazed he took the risk. Even if he was ripping us off (which I don’t believe he was) we were still walking away with a very large rug. We still use it, probably at least 15 years later.

  4. Your post brings back a few memories of a trip to Istanbul. I had no intention of shopping for anything, but still allowed myself to be dragged into a shop where we sat and chatted for nearly an hour. He didn’t change my mind. But we had a good conversation.

  5. I am loving this post. Can’t wait to get the next instalment. We were too chicken to start the process, although we did end up in a carpet shop by mistake, ha ha. As we really were not interested in buying we didn’t go through the process.

  6. We had apple tea. We hadn’t planned on being in a carpet shop, it just happened, a “friend” took us, I think every time. I love the process. I love the meeting, the friendly chatting, even the negotiating. While I didn’t buy a rug in Turkey, I have two from Morocco.

  7. Excellent tips, i love how you break down the whole process.
    BTW … was the conversation in English or Turkish? Do you get a better deal if you speak the local language?
    Do they charge tourists higher (common in many places)?

    1. Rachel, It’s always a good idea to speak some of the language, but in this case a few niceties would be enough. Say hello, thank you, and it’s pretty! Merhaba, teşekkür ederim, and çok güzel.

  8. I really enjoyed this post Corinne! I’m not looking to buy a Turkish Capet when in Turkey, but it’s fun to know what it’s like! My problem is that I feel sooooo bad when a shop owner spends a lot of time showing me stuff, that I almost feel obligated to buy something so he won’t have wasted his time! And haggling also really stress me out. So normally, I just don’t buy anything or even go into shops, haha!

  9. Lots of great advice there. I remember being chased in the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul by carpet sellers who wouldn’t take no for an answer! Luckily that was all part of the fun, and I loved some of the things they came out with… Me: “I don’t want a carpet, I don’t own a house” Them: “Buy a Carpet first to go in the house, then buy the house”… 😀

  10. Ha! very good post. I was there some years ago, and had no room to pack a carpet. But man, each day those men would beg me into the store. Had i known then that free tea was on offer, I’d have pretended 🙂 Big thanks for joining us for #SundayTraveler again.

  11. Very interesting read! It reminds me slightly of buying jewelry from a goldsmith here in Malaysia, except the setting is an unglamorous shopping mall and there ARE price tags. But drinks are served, lots of chatter, rapport-building, piece after piece of jewelry shown and finally, price-haggling. Personally I’d really much rather buy a beautiful rug for my home, but most of the time it’s too hot here for those!

  12. I like having a relationship with a store owner, makes the buying experience more meaningful. (I’ve been buying my shoes at the same store for more than 10 years now. They know what I like and I always get a discount!)
    The part that’s intimidating for me still is the bargaining. Even when I’m expected to, like when I travel, I find it difficult. Perhaps it’s because I used to work with artists so I’m sensitive to what it takes to produce their work.
    This is a great piece, Corinne. Hopefully, I’ll make it to Turkey one of these days to buy a kilim. I’ve owned a few in the past that I’ve bought from friends. I still have one, which I cherish but I’d probably have a better appreciation of it had I bought it myself.

    1. Marcia, I hope you do get a chance to do it yourself, so to speak. I know what you mean taking the ‘time’ into consideration. Thanks for stopping by!

  13. Ahh I am so terrible at haggling prices down, and I always feel bad about it! But I understand that it is common and expected here, so maybe I would be a bit better at it. That’s a beautiful carpet that you bought!

    1. Thanks Lauren, We love it. I’m not great at bargaining, but I also don’t get anxious anymore when I’m doing it. The vendor will either accept my price or counter it…no big deal!

  14. This was a great read! Loved being stepped through the process, and glad to know other people are just as nervous about the whole bartering thing as me 🙂

  15. I’m terrible at bargaining. I just feel so awkward and inadequate, but I guess it’s more of a societal thing. I always feel like I’m ripping people off even though I know it is a part of the culture. As much as I can, I let my traveling partner do all the talking. Regardless these are some good tips. Maybe I’ll give it a go the next time an opportunity comes up.

    1. Adelina, I do know what you mean. In some places, it’s expected to bargain for such small items where you end up only paying pennies for something; it feels strange.

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