I attended a workshop where the speaker recounted how she bought a carpet on a trip to Istanbul. She talked about the process, recounted how much she had paid, then displayed her purchase. She spent several hundred dollars on what was essentially a placemat.
I don’t remember why she was telling the story, probably an example of motivating people toward a goal. Or maybe it was something about salesmanship – the carpet-sellers of Istanbul may be the best in the world. Her tale reminded me of my encounters with them.
If you have ever traveled to Turkey, especially Istanbul, you know the biggest danger is that you might inadvertently buy a carpet. I don’t think such a purchase, at a cost of hundreds or thousands of dollars, is top of mind for most tourists. Many people though succumb to the charms of the pleasant men who roam the streets looking to prey on innocent tourists.
Perhaps “prey” is too harsh a word. And the tourists aren’t innocent. They are however unprepared for the persuasive power of these salesmen. And no, I did not buy a carpet. I had fun with the process though.
Tourists must dress alike. Or maybe when you go through customs at Ataturk airport they manage to invisibly stamp “sucker” on you in some way that only the carpet salesmen can read. They have an unerring eye and are also willing perhaps to bend the truth a little to get the sale.
When I was in Istanbul, the first question I was usually asked s I walked down the street was “where are you from?” That’s really not anyone’s business, so I would answer New York, Chicago or Toronto. Inevitably it just so happened that the brother-in-law of the salesman who had approached me lived in whatever city I had just named. We were practically neighbours, so he could give me a great deal on a carpet.
That I neither wanted nor needed a carpet made no impression. After a day or so I just learned to ignore them. Except for my last day in Istanbul.
I had gone to the Grand Bazaar, not really planning on buying something, more to drink in the atmosphere one last time. But when a carpet salesman invited me back to his shop for tea, I decided it would be an interesting experience.
It was, though probably not for the salesman. As we sipped our tea he spoke to me about how the carpets are handmade, how they can have a million stitches, how a woman can spend two years weaving a single carpet. When you look at it that way, a few thousand dollars for such a work of art is a negligible amount. Plus, since it would be too big to carry (he hoped I was buying a big one) they would ship anywhere in North America for free.
I explained once again that I didn’t want or need a carpet, just like I had told him before agreeing to go to his store. I also explained that while he was hoping that his giving me tea would create some sense of obligation on my part to do something for him in return, it wasn’t going to work.
But it was a fascinating visit because I got to watch another master salesman in action. There was an American couple in the store negotiating with one of the other employees, and it looked to me like they were going to buy a carpet. It also looked like they didn’t want to buy a carpet but couldn’t figure out how to make “no” stick.
The husband kept coming up with objections, the salesman kept deflecting him. I think the idea was to beat him down, to bring him to the emotional state when he would buy the carpet just to escape. The couple desperately wanted to leave to discuss the matter, but there was no way the salesman would let them out of his sight. I didn’t know who I should be inwardly cheering for.
I also don’t know who won. I finished my tea, thanked my host, and said I was leaving. I guess he realized the extent of my willpower. He let me go.