C and I do not celebrate Christmas. As usual, we were looking for somewhere to getaway during the Christmas and New Year break. Well, we had in mind somewhere near enough to England where business is still as usual. The list was down to Turkey and Morocco. We decided in favour of Istanbul because we have seen many beatiful photos of Istanbul and we foolishly thought that being relatively close to the Mediteranean Sea, it should be slightly warmer than England.In a hurry to get the best priced tickets and hotel rates, we booked our tickets and hotels without doing any research. About one month before our travel, I started reading books and checking out what to see and do in Istanbul and generally about Turkey.Before this, I knew little about carpets. I certainly did not know anything about Turkish carpets. However, having read some travel guidebooks, I thought that if I could get a good handmade carpet at a good price, it’s probably worth the hassle. I have a machine made carpet under my coffee table. The wool keeps coming off and stick to our clothing.On arrival at Istanbul, we immediately saw a Turkish carpet shop in our hotel. They look absolutely magnificent. The designs, the colours and the sheer quality is nothing compared to the cheap carpet that we have in our living room. Nevertheless, we didn’t form any serious intention of buying a carpet then. To me, it was more as a souvenir for myself if I do get to buy one that I like.The next morning, we visited the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. When we came out of Hagia Sohpia, a man approached us and suggested that we should also visit the Basilica Cistern just a few steps away. We were a little hesitant by his approach. He then reassured us that he’s not a tour guide, so if we would follow him, it’s only 10 yards away. On that reassurance, we were a little more comfortable. For your information, a tour guide would charge you for taking you around. On parting, he said that he has a shop nearby and perhaps we could go for a quick visit, just to see local art in Turkey. (I later found that this is a common tactic used to lure customers into their shop.)
We had plenty of time and I was open to the idea, so we decided that we would go and have a look. On entering the shop, we realised that it’s a carpet shop. They offered us apple tea and asked us to take a seat. I knew this is the culture and it’s their way of welcoming their customers. So we accepted the offer. One man started rolling out different carpets with different designs, colours and sizes, mostly wool carpets. At the same time, he explained the difference between Turkish carpets and other carpets e.g. Persian carpets. The main difference is the weaving technique. Turkish carpet is double knotted (the rest of the world is single knotted) and I understand from him that Turkish carpet is therefore more durable. Nothing was mentioned about the price because we all know the cardinal rule that once the price is mentioned, it means that you are interested. We do not want to go down that route unless we have seen something that we like.After about an hour of rolling out carpets after carpets and explaining to us the meaning of the designs, we saw one that suited our taste. It was a wool on wool carpet, the size was about 6 x 4. On enquiring the price, he initially proposed £500. But then he said he hoped that we would introduce more customers and so he would reduce it to £350 by giving us a huge discount. Of course I wasn’t going to fall for that.Well, I did really like the carpet. But I thought £350 was way too much for a carpet, eventhough it was handmade and I wouldn’t be able to get that for this price in England (e.g. in John Lewis). However, that doesn’t mean that I have to make up my mind immediately and it was our first carpet shop. Both of us were very hesistant, we liked the carpet but it was too expensive. So the guy asked us to give him a price. We had in mind £200, but we didn’t want to counter offer as we weren’t sure whether we were still being ripped off by paying £200. So we decided that we would go to a few more shops first to gauge the prices. The guy then became a little hostile. He started raising his voice and said that it’s already a good offer and we should accept it and take the carpet. If I had any doubts about buying the carpet then, I knew that whatever the price, I wasn’t going to buy from this man. He then dropped the price to £250. Although that’s a huge drop and we suspected that it’s probably still not a good bargain. So we left, thanking the man for his efforts. He wasn’t happy at all for sure. It wasn’t a good experience. We left knowing a little more about carpets and also their tactics.Our second encounter was on the same day in the carpet shop in our hotel. I specifically wanted to go to a shop that I have more confidence in to check out their prices and to see whether there is any visible difference in terms of the carpets that they sell.The man was very friendly and speaks very good English. He politely showed us different carpets starting with some breathtaking Hereke silk carpets. Once we have touched the silk carpets, we completely lost interest in the wool carpets. The designs were so much more delicate and detailed. The touch was, as they say, silky smooth. We set our eyes on a Kayseri silk carpet. The size was 3×2 feet and 9×9 knots per sq cm. He told us that because he would charge us much less because business is not good at the moment and he just wants to make a sale so that there is cashflow. He said that the carpet would easily sell for USD1100, but if we could pay cash, he would sell it for USD790. We didn’t have any cash at the time, so there was no danger of us making an impulse purchase. We really liked the silk carpet, much more than the one that we saw earlier. But USD790 was way more than what we had in mind, although the carpet was probably worth more than that. We thanked him and told him that we would think about it. He lowered to USD740, but still, it was more than we would spend on a small carpet, although the piece was absolutely delicate and attractive. This was a different experience from the earlier one. The man was really friendly and there was no ill feelings even though we left without making a purchase after more than an hour inside his shop. I left still thinking that I might purchase the carpet, but I just needed to be sure about the price.Next day, we went to Ephesus to visit the ruins on a guided tour. As usual, the tour included a visit to a carpet shop. Different from the others, the shop is a cooperative that is set up under the initiative of the government. They source carpets directly from the weavers and the objective is to keep the carpet trade alive. Many young women have no intention of making carpets as it is very labour intensive and with other jobs offering better pays, it is not surprising that they would rather pursue other careers.
This time, we see how silk is being made from cocoon and I even had a try on the carpet making myself. The owner again offered us apple tea and showed us different carpets. He explained three factors that determine the price of a carpet:1. the number of knots per square inch;2. the quality of the material, i.e. the types of silk or wools used; and3. the quality of the dyes, natural dyes are always preferred as the colours last longer.
He also said that because silk is a very strong textile, you could not have pure silk on a cotton pile as the silk will cut the cotton. Therefore, if you ever come across silk on cotton carpets, the silk is not pure silk, it is artificial silk. Also, if you want to know what material is used for the pile, always look at what material is used for the frayed ends of the carpet, they can’t lie on that.Again he showed us different types of carpets. This time, we didn’t like any of the carpets, but we thought we would enquire about the price nevertheless. We asked about a wool on wool carpet which is the size of a runner carpet (approximately 6×2 feet). He offered it for TL 600 as the final price. We thought it was still way too expensive, even compared to the first carpet shop. He lost his patience, again, after an hour. We thanked him and left. We are not surprised with the change in attitude because of our first experience. It was easy to say no because we didn’t like the carpet at all, but just wanted to see how much he charges.Two days later, we went to the Grand Bazaar to do some souvenir shopping. A guy approached us about carpets, again. Yes, it happens all the time in case you wonder whether one would get enough of them. We didn’t mind, because we were finding this very interesting and we wanted to learn more about carpets too. This time, armed with more knowledge than before, we went in. This is a much younger guy. He was funny. I told him that I only have TL100, he showed me different carpets ranging from TL200 onwards but nothing within my budget. They were all not to my taste. He even tried to fool me on some of the materials. But we have been doing some research at night in our hotel room using the internet. So we knew more and called his lies. He didn’t seem offended. As time wears on, he grew impatient, like others. We began to find that funny because they all seem to use the same tactics. So we thanked him and left.After visiting all the shops, we found that there is really no way of knowing whether you get a good bargain. As someone says, it’s like going to a casino, the house always wins. So, the advice is to pay no more than what you would afford. If you could get a carpet that you like, that would be great. Don’t pay more than what you could afford. It’s for the experience and the fun of it.There have been many stories about travellers being lied about what they bought. For example, some are manufactured carpets rather than handmade (although it should not be too difficult to tell from the underlay of the carpet). A lot were conned thinking that they bought Hereke or Kayseri silk carpets when in fact they were Chinese copies. Don’t get me wrong, Chinese silk carpets are still good carpets, but they are not the same as Turkish silk and they are less expensive on the market. So, with those concerns in mind, I completely changed my perspective. I thought I would set my budget to USD200, if I could get something that I like, it wouldn’t matter whether it’s a Turkish carpet or not, because that’s what I like and I would pay USD200 for it.With that in mind, I withdrew USD200 cash from an ATM machine and thought I would return to the carpet shop in our hotel and see what else he could show us. This time, we met a different guy, he’s the owner of the shop, relatively young age. He met us briefly the other night and knew that we liked that particular piece.
It was already late at night, and he said he would like to make a sale on that day because it’s a Monday. The Turkish believe that if they could make a sale on a Monday, this would bring them good business. He seemed like a nice guy, so I was completely honest with him. I told him that I only had USD200 in cash. He said he couldn’t sell me the Kayseri silk piece for USD200. However, he asked if I would be able to pay more. He reduced the price to USD430 without me even having to bargain! We were still hesitating because this was still more than what I wanted to spend, although we could easily afford it. By this time, my only concern was whether it was pure silk whether it was Chinese or Turkish, it did not matter, so long as it was not artificial. He showed us the artificial silk and it did seem different from pure silk. He also showed us a few other pieces which were also reduced by a huge margin compared to the prices quoted the other night. With what was presented to me, we both agreed that even at USD430, it was worth it. It was delicately made, the colours and designs were exactly to our taste and would match our furniture well. It did not matter much whether it was a real Turkish Kayseri silk because we like it. So, we sealed the deal! Having looked and touched it many times, I am more convinced than ever that we got the real thing. We may or may never find out, but it doesn’t matter. It was also nice to have bought it from this owner because he is so friendly and a breath of fresh air compared to the other sellers that we have met, who were pretentious and bossy. He’s so friendly and down to earth.
For those who wish to buy a Turkish carpet in Turkey, my advice is, spend what you could afford and not more. Always go to as many shops as it takes and compare prices. Learn more about carpets before you go and bargain hard! Don’t feel pressured to buy even if the owner starts to turn pushy. Resist the temptation to buy when you like something but the price is way beyond your budget. I hope that everyone will give this experience a try as it’s part of their culture.