Dealing with a market trader or hawker in the UK is easy. He or she stands on a corner or behind a stall and shouts. If you aren’t interested, you just ignore him and he will shout at someone else.
But what about elsewhere in the world.
Brazil is really laid back. The hawkers walk along the beach and offer you their wares. “Sunglasses, T-shirt, hat?”. If you say no, or point out that you already have sunglasses, T-shirt and hat, they laugh, might have a chat or a joke with you, show off their English, then move on to the next potential customer. They know there is no point badgering you if you’ve said no.
The Caribbean is an extension of Brazil. There you are, relaxing and unwinding on the beach, and along comes the hawker. “Hat, jewellery, CD?” You point out your hat, jewellery and iPod, and he or she will laugh, and give the appearance of being friendly, then “Hat, jewellery, CD?” (And in Jamaica at this stage the hawker will also tell you he is a “farmer” and adds “smokes” to the list) Again you point out that you already have all three (and in Jamaica add that you don’t smoke ganja). “Mine is better than yours?” (Or “Everyone smokes ganja”), To which you reply in the negative.”I’ll be back tomorrow in case you change your mind”. And you can be sure he will be – with exactly the same conversation taking place. Every day until you fly home. It leaves you in need of more beer or gin to restore your holiday spirit.
After that, it gets a bit more difficult. In India, they approach and dangle their wares in front of you. It can often be accompanied by some comment such as “best price” but often there is no comment at all. They just stand there, lurking, goods held out in awkward silence. If you move, they just follow you along the street in hope. Eventually they give up – about 2 miles usually does it. But whatever you do, do not talk to them unless you want to buy. The mere acknowledgement of their presence will waste about 2 hours as they follow you around not just for two miles, but into every shop, restaurant and tuk tuk. Peace only comes on arrival at your hotel, and even then, they and the dozen others who by now have joined in sit outside hoping that you really only went inside to get your wallet.
Journey from India to South East Asia and the ante is really raised. No I do not want a t-shirt, a taxi, or a fish massage. You can’t ignore them as they shout after you and accuse you of being rude for not responding. When you do respond with “no” they then give a price. A shake of the head or another “no” just results in a lower price. Sorry, mate, it isn’t the price I am arguing over, I just don't want your tacky T-shirt or your fish nibbling at my feet, and on the basis that I have only a few seconds ago got out of a tuk tuk and arrived in the centre of town, what makes you think I have the slightest need to get straight into another one. No, I came here for a few beers. But after that exchange, I need something stronger. Payback is when it is time to go home. Walk out of the bar and there is a clamour of tuk tuk drivers all shouting and offering “best price”. I take great pleasure in walking past them and finding the most disinterested looking tuk tuk driver and getting in. The mystified looks on the faces of the others as they all start shouting at each other is priceless.
Finally there is the Arab world. All stall holders have watched English television – unfortunately endless repeats of “Only Fools and Horses” and supermarket adverts. As you try to casually wander the markets and souks, you hear shouts of “lovely jubbly”, “Asda price” and the occasional ” looky looky free”. If you say no, they, like those in south east Asia, assume it is the price, and just drop it, or tell you how cheap it is. Again, no concept that you might not actually want their gaudy Berber rug in your living room, even if you could get it home on the plane without incurring ludicrous baggage charges. But worst of all is even when you say a firm, and not so polite no, then try to walk off, they will physically grab you and try to persuade you to buy their wares. The only answer (short of threatening or actually using physical violence, which is not too be advised anywhere let alone a foreign country, is to put your hand in your pocket and pull out a few small coins., offer them and shrug your shoulders. The hawker will be mortally offended and walk away. Even Asda price, it seems, has a bottom line.