A Physically Un-intimidating Woman’s Guide to Street Vendors
You understand the concept from your family holidays to Majorca and Greece. Hoards of (usually) men line the major tourist areas, selling bric-a-brac of paper roses, giant plastic sunglasses, and flashing objects that you can fling into the sky for no apparent reason. Sometimes they appear to be selling designer gear, – in reality cheap knock offs, like Omoga and Ralex watches, Cucci sunglasses, Abibas snapbacks. On your family holiday, your mum, dad, older brother, granny were there to swat them away. But not now.
Now you and your best friends are on your first girls’ holiday. You’ve spent the last three hours perfecting your outfits and hairstyles for your first night on the strip. You are walking towards the jungle. You only have 100 Euros for the night, and realistically, you only want to spend it on booze. Ahead, you see them, arms full of nick nacks. The dread of the next few minutes washes over you like the Mediterranean waves did that morning. What do you do?
I, a 5ft 3, 64k, blonde, usually sunburnt woman, know exactly how you feel. Here, I will outline my three top tips for dealing with vendors on your travels.
- Be confident
My best piece of advice is to make it look like you know exactly where you are going. A slowed pace and flippant look at the mini Colosseums (strange, since you are in Tenerife) gives you that second of hesitance. It gives them time to swoop in on you. Feign a destination to aim for; lock eyes on a building in the distance; keep your head up and straight; start a conversation with your friends. As interesting as their items may be, don’t look at something unless you want to buy it.
On one occasion in Sunny Beach, Bulgaria, last year, I had to march about 600 metres along the beach to an imaginary destination simply to avoid them. As a rule of thumb, I also make sure my purse or money is concealed as I walk along the street, so I can confidently respond with ‘no money’ as I power past.
Often, a firm ‘no’ will suffice. I am a polite person, and hate to speak to anyone in a rude tone, but sometimes it is a last resort. The Trevi Fountain in Rome is a place where this tip was exercised to perfection. I was sat at around midnight on the highest wall surrounding the fountain and it was rammed with tourists. Street vendors are well aware of this and seem to flock in their hundreds. In one 20 minute period, no less than four men tried to sell me a selfie stick, one tried to sell me a woolly scarf (it was May) and five other men approached me with miscellaneous objects. Each time, I shook my head, saying ‘no thanks’, usually with a smile. At first it worked, but as they became more desperate to sell, they became less likely to accept a polite response.
When walking, you have the power to walk away, to distance yourself. When you are sat on a bench, or in a queue, or eating al-fresco in a restaurant, you don’t have that luxury. Sometimes, an assertive ‘no’ is what it will take. Sometimes, they try to ram goods into your hands, or touch your arms. This is when you have to really stand your ground.
I know it can be scary, responding in such a way to a man in the street, especially if you are by yourself. Often you are in a tourist heavy area, and it’s unlikely that they will respond in any worse way than tossing an insult at you. Remember the first tip, be confident!
3. Sell them your stuff
My favourite response is one that I have not tried but witnessed via Instagram. One of my friends went to Milan for her hen weekend – I am sure it’s not just an Italian thing – and her group was approached by a vendor. One of her bridesmaids turned to him and attempted to haggle over the Minnie Mouse ears she had on her head. Hilarity ensued when it was clear that the vendor had no idea how to react, and he soon backed away.
I’ll be honest, this one needs a little more skill, a little more engagement, and probably a little more security from friends and surrounding tourists. I wouldn’t attempt this while walking through the streets of Benidorm alone.
It is at this point that I should make it clear I don’t want to come across as inconsiderate. I know these people are often living in poverty, unable to pay for food or rent. Many are immigrants, struggling to make a living in a country that often rejects their existence. If I could, I would ensure all these men (and women) are able to make a decent living, and sometimes, depending on the item, I do buy from them. But, as entitled as it may seem, we are on holiday, and we are looking to enjoy our time without harassment, and that is where the problem lies. If the vendors simply sat on the side of the road, with goods in front of them, they may attract more custom, as people are not actively trying to avoid them. It is the overly assertive and persistent actions of the vendors that put you in the position you are feeling now.
My last and most important piece of advice: only buy it if you want it.
Sometimes life throws curve balls. The vendors I am talking about here are your average ‘looky looky man’, those who are unlikely to resort to violent behaviour. Sometimes more sinister behaviour occurs. I have experienced market sellers grabbing my wrists and dragging me to their stall. I have experienced being followed for most of a street. I have experienced three grown men surround me in an attempt to sell hats. I have experienced verbal and physical sexual harassment. In these cases, while my advice often works in the end, it is better to try to prevent interaction in the first place, but remember that actions like this are NEVER your fault. Be aware of what is around you and you will be fine!