The big trick of our morning tour of Marrakech was being handed over to the rug salesman.

A smooth-talking Berber man in a long dark robe greeted us are we stepped into the second-story showroom. He welcomed us to what he described as a cooperative of women rug weavers.

Our first stop was a loom behind which a woman was working on a tufted rug. She invited Mike to help her.

We weren’t planning on shopping for rugs at this point, and certainly not while on what we thought was a tour of noted cultural monuments. But, then again, a rug shop is a cultural monument of Marrakech. We might as well enjoy the ride.

Our host led us across the room to a bench. A tray of mint tea appeared for us. He asked if he could show us some of what the women of the cooperative had made. As he was asking us, a couple assistants started unrolling rugs in front of us.

We had to admit that the patterns and colors were attractive. During our walks through the streets of the Medina, we had seen many shops whose rugs looked crude. But the weaving and patterns of these were intricate and nuanced. We nodded in appreciation as we sipped our tea.

Our host tried to teach us Berber phrases for “I like it,” and “I don’t like it that much.” He was very good at pulling us into his game.

Now, we have a note on our phones for our wish list for things for our house. The list includes a rug for our master bedroom, along with target dimensions. So, as the sales process progressed, and we were slipping further under our host’s charms, we did let him know our target size. Which was fuel for his performance.

He said, “OK. Let’s remove the ones you don’t want, and narrow in on the ones you do.” While they were beautiful, we didn’t want a rug with much color; we already have color in the room. Our finalists were muted in color: cream, tan, gray, a touch of burgundy.

It was the time to start asking about prices. During our reading up before our trip to Morocco, we had learned that once you ask about price you are expected to negotiate in earnest.

The assistants spread out at our feet three attractive finalists. Our host took out a pad of paper. He looked pensive, and he started making notes on the pad. He quoted a price for each. Let’s say these prices were 160, 130, and 100. (I’m not going to use the actual prices here; it is the relative prices that are important for our story.)

His prices hit us in the face. You can buy a scooter for these prices! And our budget was something like 1/10 of this range. 

We had read that usually you counter-offer about a third of proposed price, and expect to agree on about half. His proposals were so far off that we stood up, embarrassed. We apologized honestly for not having understood the costs of the rugs. As much as we thought the rugs were attractive, they were nowhere near worth these prices. We continued to gather up our things. We tried to walk across the room without stepping too much on the three rugs.

Our host wasn’t finished. He asked what would we offer. After all, this was for the women weavers!

Mike and I put our heads together quickly. We proposed about 1/10 of the initial price of the least expensive of the three rugs. We didn’t think that the salesman would take us seriously, but that didn’t matter. Our budget was our budget.

He reiterated how long it takes each woman to weave a rug – which was probably correct. He directed our gaze back to the woman working at the loom.

Our 1/10 counter proposal was about half of our real budget. His counter counter proposal was still higher than our budget. We counter counter countered with our budget number.

He tried again but we said firmly that this was our number and that’s it. We were starting to back out of the room. The salesman smiled with sadness, and I thought he was going to say that he couldn’t sell it at that price. But instead he shook my hand and agreed!

The agreed price was one-sixth of his first price! He had made some judgement that we were suckers and/or big spenders. We weren’t particularly savvy negotiators. We simply knew what we were willing to spend and didn’t really care if we bought the rug or not.

Once the deal was struck, I went to the payment desk to pay by credit card. Mike stayed to watch the assistant sew up the carpet into a tight package with a handle. It weighed about 12 kilos. The sales staff kept offering to deliver it to our hotel. After the huge reduction in price, and all the salesmanship, and having been brought to the store by the guide, I didn’t want to take the chance of a switcheroo.

As we walked away from the shop, rug package in my hands, the guide asked how much we had paid for it. We figure he wanted to calculate his commission. He was silent; he grimaced.

PS. Here’s the rug unfurled in its new home. One thing you can’t tell from the photo is that the rug smells faintly of camels — at least we think it is camels. With windows open during each pleasant spring day, the aroma of Moroccan negotiations diminishes.

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