Travel to unusual places can challenge you in new ways – especially westerners who are not accustomed to aggressive sales people. These are entrepreneurs who stand guard over bus stops, train stations and tourist locations to offer themselves as guides, or to grant you wi-fi service at their “Uncle’s” store. They ask where you’re from and then tell you about the time when they were an exchange student in your hometown. Another favorite is to ask about your area code, and then announce their Brother lives in that part of New Jersey, and that’s how they know it.
Their goal is to push you into a sales-funnel, wrapped in hospitality, and fueled by your guilt to repay something helpful they produced early in the exchange. They understand western manners – the quid pro quo polite people live by. They insist on serving hot tea and hold it up as a custom in their country that guests must be treated like royalty when they step across the threshold into their store.
Rugs are my favorite. In your home they become obvious conversation starters – no one could miss that interesting silk runner inside your front door. It’s a status symbol that will remind your neighbors that one time you attended a conference in Istanbul or a bus tour through Morrocco, or a back-packing misadventure in India. Once you have a cup of warm tea in hand, you owe them a chance to show you two or three carpets. They’ll show you the inexpensive cotton one, then move up to the wool, before pulling down the gorgeous silk rug you’ve been eyeing since you sat down. The small wool rugs are about the price of your hotel room, so they don’t seem like a huge commitment. Besides, when would you be back in Rajasthan, or Turkey, or Morrocco, or wherever this pitch happened to be?
The tea is good, so you start thinking about what your significant other will say when FEDEX shows up with a tube at your front door. “Oh, that?” you’ll say, and remember how guilty you felt about trying to leave before the entire show, and picturing the small mountain of rugs they’d already pulled down and rotated to demonstrate how the colors change when you look at it from the other angle, and how, when you flipped them over it became a “summer” rug to keep the floor cool. You’re starting to sweat like the assistant who was pulling down enormous carpet rolls, all the while insisting “this is easy – you deserve to make a good choice, and you can’t do that unless you see many colors and these amazing, hand-woven, carpets made by the woman you saw in the room we passed-by earlier.”
“Hey – at least I didn’t buy the hand-made 8’x10′ silk rug from Pakistan!” You weren’t even going to buy the small wool rug until they showed you the enormous shipping log that listed three people from your hometown as sophisticated travelers who commemorated their trip by purchasing the biggest silk carpet in the store.
How do you travel to India, Pakistan, Turkey, Jordan, Morrocco or any other country without buying a carpet that looks completely out of place in your New York loft or California contemporary? You thank them for the tea and say, “maybe someday, but not today.”
Paul Laherty has participated in several carpet presentations, and so far, has managed to avoid an awkward conversation with his wife, the decorator, and architect in their house.