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Sunday, December 21, 2008


Handling the hawkers

I wrote before, back when I was in Hanoi, about the way so many tourists ignored the hawkers as if they were afraid they would be forced to buy something. Generally I like to to talk to people in the countries I visit. In India I am finding the need for a different tactic.

When I am in a different place I often stop and stare. Others may not realise what I am doing. In my mind's eye I am framing a picture. I am looking at a scene to see if it makes a good composition. If it looks good then I'll take my camera out and shoot it.

This was happening one day in Rishikesh. I had just crossed the Laxman Julha bridge. Already I had said 'No thank you,' politely to several hawkers. I had turned around because there was a group of people posing for photos with a particularly friendly monkey. I was thinking it might make an interesting shot to show the photographer and the models and the monkey. While considering this I was approached by yet another hawker.

'Would you like to look at some postcards, sir?'

'No thank you.'

'I have some very nice...' I can't remember what it was but these guys have a whole heap of things on their trays. If you don't want postcards then they'll try you with something else.

But I'm still trying to concentrate on framing my picture. 'No thank you,' more firmly.

'I can show you some...'

At this point I lost it. 'Do you understand English? I don't want to buy anything. Fuck off!' I had also lost my concentration and walked off.

I admit I didn't handle the situation well. Later on the same day I was browsing in some shops for souvenirs for my grandchildren. I noticed a way that many of the sales assistants treated me that I found off-putting. If they reached a point where they believed I was not going to buy what they were trying to sell, they would ignore me. The wouldn't politely say, 'Well, have a nice day' or close the conversation in some other way. They would behave as if I didn't exist. Not sure what they were trying to achieve but they certainly ensured I would not return to their shop for anything else.

I decided that if this was the way people behaved in India then in this case perhaps I could learn something. Next time I came across the bridge I was again approached by several hawkers. I stared straight through them and kept walking as if they weren't there. It worked.

Maybe those tourists I observed in Vietnam had visited India earlier.

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