Shopping for carpets in Fes is a lot like speed dating. From what I understand, speed dating involves a group of men and women intent on establishing a long-term relationship by first eliminating unwanted prospects. They meet. They chat for five minutes. Once two participants agree that yep, they’d like to exchange phone numbers, the real work begins.
Like carpet buying, speed dating provides for lots of variety. After ten or twelve quick chats, you can narrow the field. This method excludes such Romeo-type cues as eye contact across a crowded room, but does you right to the point. A woman, for example, may attend a speed dating event looking for a lanky man with rugged features, an aquiline nose, and deeply-set, mysterious eyes. In the course a five-minute chat, she could realize that nope – she was surprisingly attracted to the balding, blue-eyed dude of average height. Who knew?
So, let’s say your intent is to purchase a carpet in the oldest continuously-operating medieval city in the world. You do your research and prep your husband. First, the two of you discuss the style of carpet, the size, and the price you’re willing to spend. You stroll down the Talaa Kebira on a Saturday morning, thinking that maybe you’ll find a suitable carpet but also not wanting to pay too much attention to any one vendor because if you hesitate too long, he’ll reel you inside.
From all your reading and talking to ones who have purchased carpets in Morocco, you know you’ll have to haggle. Forget you’re an American and have never haggled for anything in your life. You also know that salesmen can be extremely aggressive here, and that you will be paying more in Fes than you would in other places. Fes is Fes. You’ll have read Trip Advisor reviews, and know where you think you’ll have the most success. You’ve also read bloggers who’ve come away paying upwards of 6,000 euros for a carpet – unintentionally — and you wonder how in the world anyone could be so spineless.
Armed with such information, you stroll leisurely through the uncrowded medina on a Saturday morning. Naturally you’re accosted by a gentleman who asks your husband where he’s from and if he likes Fes. “Ah! The United States – I’m Canadian! From Montreal!” It doesn’t matter if your husband believes him or not, because he’s apparently not selling anything.
Further you wander, truly enjoying the stroll. You’ve passed the food vendors, seen hunks of meat and one very fresh cow’s head (it was black, BTW), and arrive in the merchants’ area. Jewel toned kilim rugs drape outside shops, begging to be photographed and admired.
“Come in, come in,” invites a tall, young Moroccan. “You are welcome to just look. No pressure.”
His shop is small, but piled from floor to ceiling with rugs. He begins to gently explain to you that these are Berber rugs, this one is Kilim style, that one thicker because it’s made of camel hair, these more modern. Without your realizing, the speed dating process has begun. “I show you small ones,” he offers, opening three carpets that would fit a small bathroom. They are gorgeous.
His assistant is swift to bring you both a cup of mint tea, further insuring you’ll spend more time looking.
“Okay,” you venture. “Show me some bigger ones, in blue.”
There are many. So, so many, probably thirty rugs in the size you want, and the two guys want you to see them all. They open each, one at a time, pile it on the previous one, and keep going. They even show you the ones that are decidedly not blue.
Soon your husband remarks that the Berber style is growing on him, and even though you both came into this gig wanting a Persian carpet, these are so pretty that maybe…
All righty, then. Gone is the dark-eyed, fine-featured guy you thought you’d date, replaced by a more rugged, down-to-earth country dude in a pick-up and you’re fine with that.
After all the rugs in your size have been piled atop each other, it’s time to narrow things down. You ‘re instructed to say “haali“ for keep this one out, and “ ishmaa “ for not interested. It’s easy at first. One is too gold, another too modern. Finally, you’re down to three, then one. The one you’ll invite to live in your house and meet your kids. Except that first, you must agree upon a price.
Imagine our surprise, if you will, when the first price our salesman offered was exactly the price Jim and I had agreed we would pay. Exactly. What ensued in the next 15 minutes was as fun for us as it probably was for him, as I had nothing to lose by offering an amount much lower than that. Back and forth we went, him inching downward and us inching upwards until he finally said, “I tell you. You are my first customers of the day, and I want to offer you a very good price. You tell me what is your final offer. I will wait outside.”
We whispered. We agreed. He came in, accepted our offer, shook our hands, and that was that.
Maybe tomorrow I’ll relate the rest of our morning in the medina, as we made one more small purchase. And, post more pictures. Dumb internet.