How (not) to buy a carpet in Istanbul

Susie and I arrived in Istanbul right after the bomb went off and tourists fled the country like crazy. At times it felt like we were the only tourists around. The vendors in the shops certainly treated us that way. Restaurants were empty. Stores were empty. Sales people were out on the street begging us to come in. One carpet store, located just below the Sultanahmet mosque even had a person sitting in the window tying the knots that oriental carpets are known for. Our first night we told the guy at that store we’d checking him out later as we walked by on our first night. But that’s what we told everyone. Fortunately not every one remembered us or we would still be there.

Cotton Warp, silk pile
100% silk. Looks like floral postage stamps

Our next morning, we set out to explore Istanbul. But this carpet  guy grabbed us first, said, “you promised you would come back today,” and offered us tea. What the heck! We can just look and have some tea. It will warm up our hands and we have no intention of buying carpets. Ah, but now the wonderful Cihan enters the picture. He begins to ask us what we know about carpets and it turns out that we know nothing. We learn about different materials used, knots per square inch/meter. Rugs that look one color and then they flip them around and they look like another color.  I particularly fell in love with one carpet that looked like floral postage stamps. But it was 100% silk and costs a lot of money. This carpet is not big enough to cover a sizable space in any room. It is designed as an accent. Then there is the other carpet that is made from  cotton and is signed by the maker as an original work of art. It has a very southwest feel to it. But it is also very expensive.  And now Susie starts getting into it and finds an antique carpet that would look perfect in her husband’s law office.  Nope! Cannot do! Just too much money. Cihan continued to talk to us about his other business ventures and we find out that he owns the cruise company that took us out  on the Bosphorus the night before. He could describe the boat in detail and tell us that it has only been in service a couple of months but it is the top of the line of his boats.  He has businesses in San Francisco and even has a green card for the US. This guy is either an  incredible businessman or a hustler. While he chatted he would pull  out  another carpet for us to look at. Anything to keep us there and looking. He finally  came down in prices enough that Susie and I succumbed to his tactics–but I was only buying  the cotton one–no more, no matter how much I loved the other one.

Now, I don’t travel with a credit card–only a debit card and just before we went into the store, I had pulled cash out so I would have pocket money to buy things if I wanted them. Debit Cards have daily limits and so I could only pay for part of the rug. I went back to the hotel, called my bank and had them raise my daily limit so I could pay for this. They had seen the initial debit come in and were about to put a flag on my account because it was Turkey and a bomb had just gone off there. I told them that it was indeed me and please remove this limit. We tried to run the card again and it didn’t work. So I called the bank from his store. The bank can see no record of an attempted transaction–perhaps it is on his side. So he pulls out a different machine–same result. Okay he said–let’s just try in the morning. Okay. So we do and same result. So this time, I went to the teller machine and pulled out the balance of the cash. In the meantime, he had laid out my floral stamp carpet and poured me more tea. Man, I love that carpet! So I go down  to pull more cash and wouldn’t you know–Turkey has a daily limit on how much cash you can pull. Okay, you will have to wait until tomorrow. Cihan is incredibly patient. Of course when you are the only customers around, what choice do you have.

Next morning (third day) while Susie is performing her morning ablutions I thought let me check out his website. Oops, not a functioning site. Well, let me google the company and see what I find. They are being so wonderful to us. No shipping charges and they assure us there will be no duties on these carpets. (They weren’t expensive enough apparently to merit duties). Surely there will be people praising him. Just the opposite! People calling him a cheat and a thief and if you read the fine print on the bill of sale all sales are final. They suggested you take pictures of anything you purchase and that you put your initials or name on the back. So with my iPad open to the page with the critical reviews, Susie and I go marching back to the store and demand to see Cihan. He comes dashing in and we tell him and show him what is on this website. He seemed truly shocked. We asked if he would unpack the rugs and let us take pictures. He said, why don’t you put your name on the back of them as well. Now we are beginning to feel better and not worried that we have thrown away money.

Rug Salesman
Eileen, Cihan and Susie

He tells us that our rugs should be at their destination in about a week. So I tell Steven to expect this delivery. Susie doesn’t tell Briggs. She just tells him to watch for a package that Aunt Mabel asked her to send. After two weeks, the rugs have not arrived. We are beginning to panic. We will wait one more week and then contact Cihan. And that is exactly what Susie does. Wouldn’t you know, that very day, Steven gets a  call from New Jersey asking if they can deliver rugs on Sunday afternoon. And sure enough they did. And, of course, the driver tried to sell him more rugs. Wonder if Cihan was driving the truck.

So the moral of the story: Learn as much about carpets before you go whether you plan to buy or not. The carpets are freaking gorgeous and you never know what kind of deal they will give you. And if you see Cihan? Tell him Susie and Eileen say hello.

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A 60 something woman who has run off to faraway places with the Peace Corps.

2 thoughts on “How (not) to buy a carpet in Istanbul”

  1. The carpets are very nice. The guy delivering insisted I check the back for signature, but his English was very broken, so I didn’t really understand what he was insisting on at the time. Could have been the same guy……

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