Saturday, March 6, 2010

Magic carpet ride

posted Tue, 14 Feb 2006

There is almost nothing worse than regretting a purchase not made. You can almost always find a use for something you buy that you end up not wanting – if you can’t return it, you can eBay it or give it as a wedding present (Ilene, I did buy that hand of David just for you!), but if you don’t buy that great rug in Morocco, you will regret it maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon and then for the rest of your life.

Such was my thinking when I did the research on oriental carpets before SH and I came to Morocco. I had been through Crazy Hassan’s sales pitch the last time I was here, but had resisted. I didn’t need a rug, didn’t want one, saw nothing that moved me. But I decided that should I fall in love with something, I wanted to be prepared – have some numbers in my head.

I did some internet research, then Megan took us to a government-run co-op with fixed prices in Rabat. We took photos and notes – by gosh, SH and I are both engineers at heart and he’s one in real life and we were going to approach this scientifically. We arrived in Fez last night and went to a co-op here just to look.

That’s when we discovered that buying a rug is like buying a car – you check Consumer Reports, write down your specs – and then fall in love with the way the car feels, its sound system and its color.

We looked and looked and looked – and then SH found one he liked. He just liked it. The same way he had liked the bowl at the pottery place earlier in the evening. As a matter of fact, he had done something I had never seen him do before: he said, “I want this. I want this.” And he paid what I considered to be a rather high price for a piece of pottery. But when you like a piece of art, you like it. And it’s a lovely bowl.

The same thing happened with the rug. He liked it. And it’s gorgeous. And unique – not antique – apparently, by definition in the rug world, it must be older than 100 years. This one is not over 100, but it is old. (I would post the photo, but this internet café does not have my camera software.)

But they wanted too much money. Way too much. Megan said to start with one-fourth the asking price. We did. They laughed. Hahahaha. OK. We’ll leave. The strongest tool you have as a bargainer is your willingness to walk away.

Mohammed said he would come down 10% from his price. Forget it, I said. SH came up to one-third of the original price. Mohammed said we needed to come up some more. Nope, nope, nope. We started to walk out the door. This whole process has taken half an hour already.

Mohammed says that the Berber way is to counter four times. That’s when I get mad, thinking he doesn’t need to tell me how to bargain. Not only that, but SH has told him more than once that he and I need to discuss this and return tomorrow. It’s not an insignificant amount of money. I really dig my heels in. “I’m hungry. We’re leaving. That’s our final offer. Goodnight.” We walk across the threshold.

OK, OK!! You have the rug!

Good grief! You put us through all that and you were willing to sell it at that price all along? What a pain in the neck!

Today, at the tannery, I make the mistake of looking at a pair of red leather pants. You like? the guy asks.

Yes, I tell him.

How much?

I make you good price, he promises.

Just give me a number, I say.

You will be happy, he says.

I don’t want to play this game, I snap. Just tell me a number.

1400 dirhams, he says. (About $150.)

No thanks.

Just try them on, he urges.

Look, I say. I paid five dollars for my black suede jeans in the US. I’m not paying $150 for those.

The next thing I know, he’s taking me back to our guide. Good.

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