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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
What are the different types of Turkish carpets?
There are two types of carpets, hand-knotted or woven. Hand-knotted carpets can taken anywhere from six months to a couple of years to complete with at least two women working on it as often as there is light. The woven carpet, is called a kilim. Kilims are made on a loom and can be completed in a matter of hours or days. The type of carpet is just the first difference, there are various qualities associated with both types as well. Some distinguishing characteristics are the type of yarn, the dye, and the particulars on how it was made.
What are the characteristics of a quality carpet?
What is the best yarn?
Carpets are made with silk or sheep’s wool. There are variations of each of these, but if you are going to buy a carpet, just get the real thing. Obviously, if it’s silk you want, it’s silk you will pay for. Silk, being spun from those little cocoons is a material that costs a pretty penny. Silk carpets, very small ones like 12 inches by 12 inches will cost you a couple hundred dollars, and I saw one silk carpet being sold for $16,000 U.S.
Wool, on the other hand, is much more affordable. They will still run you in the hundreds and low thousands, but it will be so worth it. The wool is typically hand-spun and dyed with natural materials if it is the highest quality.
How do I know they used natural dyes?
Here again there are natural dyes and synthetic dyes. Turkey is rich in plants and minerals, and you can ask the salesperson what plant or mineral was boiled to provide that yellow or that indigo. Many cooperatives will have a display explaining this very thing.
There are a couple of things to remember when thinking about the colors, the dye. First of all, the colors are earthy and dark. If you see pastel pink, or green, or a coral (and you will) those are most certainly made with synthetic dyes. If you are okay with that, then you know it will be cheaper to buy as well. To check the dye on a carpet that you are very interested in, gently pull the rows apart on the top of the rug and follow the threads to see if it changes color. If it does, synthetic dyes were used. (Note: I would not do this on something I wasn’t intending on purchasing.)
What is the best method of making a great carpet?
The method is really only important on carpets. Depending on the design and the skill of the knotter, determines the quality of the carpet.
To measure this, you may be told about the “knots per inch.” Basically, an average carpet will have 150 knots per square inch, but high quality carpets can have up to 500 knots per square inch. Some of the most expensive carpets are called Hareke and they are usually have very curvy or flowery designs.
How do I know I got the best price?
Well, this is pretty much up to you. Bargaining is a skill, a talent, and I daresay most westerners are not the best at it. It’s intimidating. I read a very good description of it here, but the bottom line is, you don’t buy at the first shop. You ask some prices, you move on. You do the same at the second and maybe even the third shop. This will help you decide what you want, and more importantly what you are willing to pay.
When you are ready to buy, ask the price and offer one-fourth of it. The saleman will scoff. Don’t worry, that’s what he’s supposed to do. Then the bargaining begins in earnest. You should have an idea in your mind how much you are willing to pay and make sure you stick to it. It’s very easy to talk yourself out of it. Also, remember that if you plan on buy more than one. Bargain for each individually then see if the salesman will give you even more of a discount for buying more than one.
How do I get my perfect Turkish souvenir home and How do I Take Care of it?
Unlike these poor women above, you do not have to drag your carpets to the nearest river and beat them with a wooden club. There are usually carpet cleaners in every city who know how to care for your carpet, but if not you can use a mild dish detergent and a broom to clean it, then hang it over your clothesline to dry. Turkish carpets are pretty hardy; they’ve lasted centuries.