“The smartest people in the carpet business are the weavers in the villages. They set the prices for everything. They do it through gossip. They know who worked how long on that rug, how true the vegetable dyes are, if there were repairs made to the threading. They know how much their neighbor really paid for his tractor and how much this other neighbor got for the flock of geese he sold. That means they know the economy of the area, and they know who exaggerated or outright lied about what he spent or earned. Everyone knows everyone’s wallet.
“Therefore, you can’t cheat a villager, or if you do, you can do so only once. Then you’ll never be welcome in the village again. And because the number of village weavers has declined so steeply, you must be on the best terms with every weaver in Turkey.
“The pricing, then, begins with the weaver’s gossip. So it’s important not to talk to the weaver first. You must first talk with the grocer, the imam, the shepherd, the prettier girl who lost out on a husband. You must know who died leaving his family in need. You must learn who is getting married to someone in the next village and what sort of dowry is expected. These things, too, establish the price I must pay for the rug. If I mistake the importance of the death or the marriage, I might as well try to cheat the weaver. Knowing about death, marriage, birth, the time spent weaving a rug, the price of wool and not paying accordingly is cheating the whole village, not just the weaver. So gossip is my first currency.”
“Fine, but that doesn’t answer how you do business with me. Your cousin approached me on the street. Every shop has a dozen cousins working the tourists. They promise you a cup of coffee and their business card. When you’re ready to look, they say, you come back. So you follow along because you don’t want to be unfriendly and, perhaps, you have a small inkling to buy a carpet. The cousin deposits you with, well, with You, the elder, the super salesman, the smooth talker who knows how to build a sense of obligation. Look at the number of rugs you unfolded and spread across the floor just to teach me the difference between a Kilim and a Something Else. You poured a apple tea. You taught me how to say yes and no in Turkish and led me through this absurd exercise: your assistant picks up a rug, I say Yes or No. Just an exercise in understanding my own taste. Forty minutes later, we’re down to four rugs and I’m to rank them. I’m really too busy to feel my resistance to spending so much money fading away. But you notice.”
“If you were a sly man, you would not have asked how a carpet dealer in this city can stay in business. I knew then you wouldn’t bargain. So I told you a value and gave you a price—”
“Right. And how can I trust your price when you cut it in half without my saying a word?”
“Because I knew what you were thinking, and I know what you can afford. You think I’m a fool? But now you feel cheated. How can you be cheated? You could say Bugger Off whenever you like. And now, a day later, we sit here over lunch and I’m showing you the private collection I’ve made over thirty years. I’ll never sell these. Look, a thirteenth century rug of no value at all till I find the wool—right age, right colors, right lengths—so my carpet hospital can restore it. I won’t do it till someone will pay for the restoration. $35,000. Then he can have it. No charge. And you? You bought two rugs from me. Now you are family, and you eat lunch with me—“
“And you’re going to show me more rugs. The expensive ones?”
“Of course. Should I hold out on my family? What would you think of me if I didn’t show you my prizes? Now answer me this. When you say “The expensive ones,” do you mean the price or the value? I sell you a rug that’s beautiful and makes your home beautiful. A rug that makes you happy every time you see it. A rug you’ll pass on to your daughter and for 40 years, every time she crosses that carpet, she’ll remember you and she’ll, with great love, give that carpet to her daughter. There is no price that pays for that. There is only value. And you give me nothing for that.
You see that silk carpet—no, the blue one in the frame. The largest carpet in the world made with 2200 knots per inch. Millions, all told. I could sell that carpet and retire from business, send my children to university, get fatter than I am. I won’t sell it. There is no price that meets the value.
“So you think I do this to take your money? Where is honor in that? I take your money so I can pay a weaver to make a new rug. If you don’t buy, one, two rugs won’t get made and the art will disappear. You buy a rug, you save an art. I introduce you to the weaver, the art, the whole of Turkish life and culture. We do a business together and we are family. How much you pay for that?”