I rarely answer the door when the bell rings unless I am expecting someone. When I do answer, I usually have to say no to various salesmen, like the toothless Omani man who wanted to sharpen my knives, or that ever persistent Pakistani gardener who has been trying to steal the job of our current gardener for over a year now. No open door, no unwanted interactions. Easy.
On a balmy March afternoon, however, I broke my rule and opened the door to find Yemeni carpet salesmen on the other side. I stole a glance at the stacks of carpets in back of their van. I knew I wanted to buy a carpet before leaving Dubai, and I had heard these door-to-door salesmen offered great deals on carpets. I agreed to let them in, solely to learn more about the carpets and get a feel for what I might want, in the future. After all, the beauty of living in the Middle East is having the luxury of time to deliberate on matters like these.
The father/son duo unfolded around 15 carpets and displayed them in layers across our living room. Each one told a different story of origin, craftsmanship and cultural richness, and they were all beautiful. There were Afghan tribal rugs, Persian wool/silk blends, and a variety of other options. Of course I showed all my cards and complimented every one with enthusiastic praise. Then I openly noted how they were making my current carpets look shabby. My 6 year-old son was in the corner jumping up and down shouting, “Buy one! Buy one! Look how pretty!” Our “disinterested customer” cover was blown. Not a smart move when you’re hoping for a great price, but since we were just “looking,” what did it matter?
Somehow the skilled salesman encouraged me and my husband to narrow down our favorites to one carpet. Wait a minute… I thought this was a learning expedition? This is starting to feel a lot like a sales transaction…
We suddenly found ourselves negotiating the price. The elderly father took a seat on our stairs and busied himself with quiet mutterings, perhaps extolling the virtues of his son who was about to claim two more victims. Mohammed named an amount and we of course said no. After a bit of bargaining, we had come to a price that seemed semi-reasonable and seriously considered just buying the darn thing. Then we looked at each other in a moment of clarity and thought, “What are we doing?” The carpet was really my thing and my sweet husband was just along for the ride for my sake. I really hadn’t done any research and didn’t know what we were buying. Honestly, I wasn’t even sure I wanted one at all. We declined the offer and said we’d prefer not to buy anything regardless of price, and we meant it. We explained how we liked the carpet, but wanted time to think about it. Apparently that was a sure-fire way to send the price plummeting. We stood our ground, and then the father came out of his foggy delirium and offered the last price with an exasperated shout. It was half of our last agreed upon price, which was already quite a bit lower than the first quoted price. How could we resist? Well, I’m sure you can guess how this story ends. I’m looking at the famous Kashmiri carpet now.
After the rather tense discussion about the cost was over, the mood was festive. We were all smiling and the father even asked to hold our daughter, who was nine months old at the time. Not one to warm up to strangers, I was surprised when she didn’t cry. He proudly pronounced how children always love him. hen they packed up their van, one carpet lighter, and off they drove.
As soon as they left, I jumped on the internet. I obsessed for days about if we got ripped off and whether I bought the style I really wanted. I did all the research I should have done beforehand and analyzed the carpet again and again. Much like when my children come down with a common illness and I google the symptoms and convince myself they have contracted a rare disease, I had turned something simple into something complex. “Handmade vs. machine-made carpets.” Search. “How much do Kashmiri carpets cost?” Search. “Knots per square inch.” Search. “Difference between Kashmiri and Persian carpets” Search. Search. Search. The “I’m feeling lucky” button on the google homepage seemed to mock me as I continued my doom and gloom hunt for answers, convinced I had made a mistake. Is there such a thing as google rehab? Sign me up!
I finally came across a great piece of advice. It said something like, “Don’t worry about how much other people have paid for their carpet. Whatever you agreed on was the right price for you.” That really hit home for me. What was the point of agonizing over the price? At the time we found it fair and it was within our budget. Done. As far as the style goes, I’m still undecided, which I guess is not a great sign after living with it for many months. Part of the problem is our house in Dubai is white and I do mean white, (white tiles, white walls, white cabinets… you get the picture.) so accessories and furniture don’t exactly blend in. I think I will like it more when we move, plus, the memories associated with the experience are priceless.
Are you thinking of buying a carpet from the region? Here are some things to consider:
- Where will this carpet be used? A high-traffic area? For decoration only? In the formal dining area? This will help you determine the most appropriate fabric (silk, silk/wool blend, all wool, etc.) and also help you set your price range.
- What style/area do you prefer? Do some research into which aesthetic you like: Turkish, Afghan, Persian, Kashmiri, etc. (of course there can be regional differences within each of the categories too, so do your homework)
And a few tips:
- Silk carpets will be very thin and roll up easily. Usually the thinner and more pliable, the higher the quality.
- Definitely look at the back of the carpet to determine if it’s handmade or not. If it’s handmade, the lines and knots will not be completely perfect and symmetrical. More knots per square inch indicate higher quality (in silk).
- Before shopping, check out some of the you tube videos about comparing handmade to machine made carpets and silk vs. artificial silk (if that’s the material you like). It’s really helpful to see two examples side-by-side.
- Don’t feel bad about having the vendor unroll lots of carpets. Yes they are heavy, but this is a purchase you’ll have to live with for a long time. Plus, they really don’t mind.
- Be careful when you ask the carpet men into your home, you’ll likely buy at least one! Seeing the carpets among your belongings in the light it will “live” in is a very persuasive tool for the salesman.
Most importantly – have fun! It’s a cultural experience you won’t forget!