After a day in Fes and with advice from fellow travelers, Dan and I steel ourselves to face the dreaded Rug Merchant. No trip to Morocco would be complete without this experience. We know he will ask too much. We know he will not let us out of his shop until we buy something. But we are prepared. We have studied our houses and the spaces where we might use a rug, and we have measured everything. We are not impulse buyers. We know what we want.
His name is Mohammed.
Our host at Ryad Salama recommended him. He is an honest rug merchant, Michel told us. He will give you a fair price. Of course, you will still bargain, but his wares are good. He is not like those other merchants. Michel buys all his rugs from Mohammed. There is, for example, this rug in our room.
Please, says Mohammed, sit down. Would you like some tea? Mohammed assures us he doesn’t want to pressure us to buy anything. Please, just let him show us and explain the different kinds of rugs.
We have measurements, we tell him.
Yes, yes, but first you must know what you like.
And well, in fact we do want to learn about the different kinds of rugs and to see what we like. Mohammed’s young assistant rolls out rug after rug on the floor of his shop. After about ten or fifteen minutes of this, what we like turns out to be a kind of rug made from the “silk” of a cactus–sabra, Mohammed tells us.
Dan has a slight preference for one of the patterns; I, for another.
Buy both! Mohammed enthuses. He will give us a special price for two. Only…he works his calculator…nine thousand six hundred dirhams (just under $1,200).
We demur. We don’t even know where we would put this rug. It is not our size.
Mohammed wants nothing more than to make us happy. How about just nine thousand dirhams? And…he will throw in a surprise for me. He guarantees that it will make me happy.
I give him my best skeptical squint. What is it?
He leans closer in a conspiratorial manner and says, It’s a secret!
But no, this isn’t going to work.
We’re really not in the market for a rug, even a rug we like. We have rugs rolled up at home, nice rugs, because we have no place to put them. All the rugs he has shown us are the wrong size. Where would we put them?
Nature intervenes on our behalf. We had to get back to our ryad to take care of a basic bodily need twenty minutes ago, and now that need is urgent. Even rug merchant desperation cannot hold out against this kind of physical need. With my promise to return, we make a perilous escape.
Dan and I have a chance to recover. We try really hard to figure out where we would put such a rug–but we fail. Nevertheless, I feel I have to go back. I gave Mohammed my promise. As for Dan–he made no promises. I can go back if I want, but I’m on my own, he tells me. My job is to say No.
Well–okay–if I can get one rug (one rug ONLY!!) for 1,600 dirhams (less than $200) then okay, I am authorized to buy it.
Fat chance of that!
Mohammed didn’t expect that he would ever see me again. He seems genuinely delighted that I have kept my word. He invites me into his shop, but I decline. I have come only to tell him that we can’t buy one of his very beautiful rugs as we have no place to put it.
Mohammed is very understanding. Of course, no problem. But come in anyway. Business is slow these days. Please, just have a cup of tea.
And so I do.
Mohammed, it turns out, hasn’t always been a rug merchant. He is retired military. For fifteen years he served in the air force. He seems to get a few inches taller when he tells me this, a man proud of his past. Proud, and somehow also just a little sad. I find I like him.
Which rug, he is curious to know, did I like the best?
None. No, no, no. No rug. We have no room for another wrong-size rug. No place to put it.
But which do I like?
I tell him the cactus-silk rugs.
He brings them out–the one that Dan liked and the one that I liked. Business is slow, he tells me. So he will give both of them to me for just eight thousand dirhams.
No, I say. No. No rugs. And in any case, certainly not two of them.
Well then, Mohammed asks, what would I think of giving him four thousand dirhams for just one? No? Then what would I give for one rug?
Why can I not escape this? I find I am embarrassed to tell him the low price limit that Dan has authorized me to spend. I’m probably blushing. Both of them are beautiful rugs, I tell him, and probably worth far more than the miserably low price my husband has authorized me to spend.
But Mohammed coaxes it out of me.
One thousand six hundred dirhams, I almost whisper.
He doesn’t seem ruffled by my absurdly low offer. He answers with exquisite politeness, assuring me that he is not offended. Business has been slow. So he will give me a very good price–just three thousand dirhams for this rug.
I say that maybe I can talk Dan into two thousand dirhams, but I am sure he won’t go higher.
A bit more back-and-forth, and we have a deal. Twenty-two hundred dirhams.
When I bring Dan back later, he gets the price down to twenty-one hundred dirhams, and we all shake hands.
Dan and I are the proud owners of a Moroccan rug.
And we have no place to put it.