Shopping in Kabul is slightly less interesting now that we don't have Derek out here looking for furry hats and jackets:
So I've been concentrating lately on buying rugs:
There are a wide variety of rugs to be had here in Afghanistan. They come in every shape, size, and color, so you shouldn't settle for anything less than exactly what you want.
No matter how odd your tastes might be, there's something for everyone:
Once you've found a rug you think you'll like, the first step is to get a general impression of the overall piece. Remember to look at it from both sides, then turn it around and look at it from both sides again. A quality wool or silk rug will change colors dramatically when viewed from different angles and in different lighting. For example, this one was a very light wine color with brightly contrasting details when viewed from the angle where I was looking at it, but the camera captured a very different look:
If you like the overall look of a rug, you should then take a look at the back side of it as well. Check that all of the knots are straight and uniform. The smaller the knots are, the more intricate the pattern can be and the higher the price will be.
It's also important to feel the rug. As a general rule, the softer it is the more delicate it is. If you plan to place it in a high-traffic area, you should probably go with something made of wool. On the other hand, if you plan on keeping it in a low-traffic area, only occasionally sitting your bare butt on it, consider a pure silk or silk/wool combination. There are also options available involving synthetics or cotton, but they are only suitable for very high traffice areas, outdoors, or if you're a cheap bastard.
Here I'm feeling a 100% silk rug made in Iran (making it an actual Persian rug). You can shear a lot of sheep for pretty cheap, but pulling enough silk out of those little worms' butts to weave a rug is a costly proposition. I liked it, but it's the kind of quality wormpoop you pay a lot of money for.
If you don't intend to buy a particular rug, you may still get away with rubbing on it for quite a while, but don't push your luck. If your experience is anything like mine, you'll probably get kicked out of the shop after the first fifteen minutes or so.
This brings up the topic of etiquette. Many shopkeepers will offer you tea and a couple of hours of conversation. Take advantage of this. Everything in this part of the world happens through cups of tea and lengthy discussion. In fact, you probably shouldn't even start talking about prices until you know how many kids the shopkeeper has, how old they are, and so on.
I won't discuss prices here. If you'd like to know more about how to get the best price for anything, anytime and anywhere, you can purchase a copy of my book: Haggling, Bargaining, and Gouging: the Fine Art of Pissing People Off at Amazon.com for only $29.95. That's my final offer.
There are a lot of other bits and pieces about rug shopping that you may find helpful. The more you know, the better your bargaining position is, so read up. If you only take one piece of advice from me, this is it: make sure you let the shopkeepers pull rugs out of the stacks for you. This is not a task for the novice.