Anyone who takes a walk around famous monuments in a city like Rome is going to get approached by street traders. Here are the tactics they tried on me outside the Colosseum at the weekend.
I have lived in Rome for nearly 30 years and so I am used to street traders, legal and otherwise, on most street corners and at nearly all the traffic lights. They sell tissues (always) and then whatever might be needed at that moment from umbrellas if it starts to rain to smartphone power banks.
Around the Colosseum the density of traders increases and you have to decide what your strategy is going to be. Do I a) ignore and walk faster; b) at least say ‘hello’ but with a firm ‘no thank you’; or c) engage in a longer dialogue?
I’m usually a b), but on Sunday a young guy (I later discovered from Senegal) threw the leather wrist bracelets he was selling at me and said: “Take them, I will be offended if you don’t”. The often-used tactic is for the trader to get something into your hands, or onto your table in the restaurant, as part of the negotiating process, but throw it at me – this was new.
Part of me was looking around to see if this was a distraction to allow pickpockets to step in (like the one where they say a pigeon has pooped on you) as an excuse to get close. But no – it was just an opening gambit to make me out as some uncaring, ‘offensive’ guy who then had a duty to correct my mistake, accept the ‘gift’ and then make an offer. He of course told me he was about to be deported the next day but judging by his Italian language skills that ‘next day’ was taking a very long time coming!
Those selling on the streets in Rome are usually not Italian. They are in a less than ideal situation ,often exploited and certainly just trying to get by on the way to finding a life better than the one left behind. My own approach, to switch the focus in these situations, is to swap to English and then start asking my own questions: where are you from? How long have you been here … and so on.
This did initially stop my trader from talking and allow me to say to him that I though it was his approach that was offensive and that if he was looking to sell me something or looking for help then this sales-technique was not working.
“I don’t mind helping you but not if you ask like this or throw things at me and my family”.
I managed to return the bracelets, did give him some cash (he of course had change for whatever I wanted to offer) and went on my way after a friendly fist bump. I was left bemused; was the ‘don’t offend me’ line a real tactic or was it just simply another way to achieve the ultimate outcome – help in the form of cash.
Anyway, on down the forum we went, just in time to dodge (option a) the almost extinct fake Roman gladiators in costume and trainers, now with masks – and authentic Roman hand sanitiser I imagine.