How Not to Buy a Persian Carpet

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?

carpets Dubai

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.

We settled on this one. Now the trick is to arrange it in a room so that it looks cozy and not  stuffy and museum-like.

We settled on this one. Now the trick is to arrange it in a room so that it looks cozy and not museum-like.

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.

*For a very funny account of buying a rug in Turkey by Laura at Live Clay, click here.  Anne O’Connell also guest posted a while back about buying a rug here in Dubai.  Read it again here.

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!

About Lynda

Longhorns and Camels is a blog about exploring Dubai from the perspective of an expat from Texas. It features stories about living in Dubai including descriptions of local culture and popular activities in the region. It also includes photography of the UAE and other countries abroad. It has been recommended by several well-known guides for expatriates: InterNations, ExpatWoman and Expat Focus.
This entry was posted in Day-to-day living in Dubai and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to How Not to Buy a Persian Carpet

  1. sneufeld says:

    Love it! You are cracking me up!

  2. Laura says:

    Thanks for the shout-out! This is a great story, and makes me feel “better” about coming into possession of my own carpet. You’re right about the memories that come along with, too. I walk on my carpet many times a day and always think of the trip when I do… I actually love it. Yours is beautiful, congrats!

  3. Pat Benson says:

    it’s gorgeous, and sounds like you got a great deal!

  4. safia says:

    A great account of the pressurised sales situation in ‘our’ part of the world. You were so brave to let them into your own home – so much easier when you can walk away. But you know, you get used to it and I think if both the buyer and the seller feel semi-happy at the end, then it’s a good deal all round. Beautiful carpet – I reckon it will be admired by visitors for decades to come. 🙂

    • Thank you! Yes, you’re right – once the money part was over – the mood lightened considerably and it was quite fun. I think they enjoy the game involved in bargaining. It’s taking me time to get used to with my western sensibilities though. 😉

  5. DebbieT says:

    Ya had me laughing at your description – it felt like I was in your living room watching! You chose a lovely one – and if you feel good about the price and what you got — then it’s a good deal! One thing I’ve learned here in the middle east is that you can shop literally FOREVER for something, and bargain just as long. In the end, just be happy with what you got and stop looking at other prices……

  6. DebbieT says:

    Reblogged this on Debbie Moves to Dubai and commented:
    You may enjoy this hilarious but apt description of the purchase of a Persian Carpet by a fellow blogger…. Longhorns and Camels….. read on and smile……

  7. munchow says:

    I can understand you agony although I know nothing about Persian carpets – except it’s easy to get fooled. And clever salesmen (or -women, but I guess they are rare in Arabic countries) are not easy to deal with, are they? Persistent and almost pestering. But I think the advise you finally found is a sound advise. Why worry since you already have acquired the carpet. Just enjoy it instead.

    • Yes – very persistent – and it’s worse when you can’t just walk out like you would when you’re in a shop. It gets pretty awkward because they just won’t take no for an answer and there you are, all of you, in your home looking at each other like, what’s next? Anyway – you’re right – it’s not worth worrying about and time to enjoy!

  8. Love it. We have a 5-ft yemeni man who comes to our door every 2 weeks to sell us carpets. I’m convinced he only comes so often because he wants a cuddle, as he throws himself into my arms every time he sees me, and there appears to be nothing I can do about it. Enjoy your rugs xx

  9. Marthafied says:

    Well, if nothing else, at least now you know more about carpets that you probably ever wanted to know… all thanks to a man and a van! …lol. Great story.

  10. I am always waiting to read new posts from your side. You constructive thoughts, originality and expressions are simply awesome. I really love reading from your blog. Keep on writing and giving us things to ponder upon.

  11. Miss Longhorn, I would never send you shopping for bargains with my wife. When we backpacked together through the Middle East (back in the ’60s, but sometimes it doesn’t seem so long ago), she was the hopeless one. Her idea of bargaining was to choose the nicest piece in the shop and say, “Oh, I love this one. I must buy it. How much is it?” I always walked outside and waited, when that happened. I don’t believe the shop-owners were thrilled, either. There was no fun in the transaction.

    I won’t bore you with outlining my own method, which rarely worked anyway. I would *begin* the elaborate process of haggling for a lesser and cheaper item, only to have her interrupt and say, “But I don’t want that one; I want this one.” Sudden termination of elaborate process! Sheesh!

    • Love this comment! First of all – I really like this Miss Longhorn business. I might have to start signing off that way. 🙂 Secondly, I think you’re right – your wife and I together in a souk would be double trouble. Not a good idea at all, but I am happy to hear that someone else is as hopeless as I in the bargaining department. And lastly, I think it’s amazing that you were backpacking through the middle east in the 60s – what an incredible experience! Probably not a lot of Ihops or Chili’s around back then (referring to a recent post of mine). Will be reading along on your blog – the one about cursing was great! Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  12. One time some fellow teachers and I ducked into a carpet shop at a souk….we emerged an hour later, stuffed to the brim with tea and snacks! It is a beautiful thing 🙂

  13. saleem7747 says:

    This is a must read for everyone who is going to either perisan carpet shops or iranian market in dubai 🙂 loved all your words.

  14. Pingback: Top Dubai Souvenirs and Gift Ideas | Longhorns and Camels

  15. FUNNY!!!! Do you still have?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s