Regardless of where in the world you’re traveling, you’ll likely run into street vendors and performers. From the sweet to the entertaining to the downright scary, interacting with them is an essential and edifying experience.
Over the course of my travels, I’ve been in some intriguing situations involving rather compelling individuals who have both successfully and unsuccessfully attempted to make money off of me. While not everyone can be categorized, these are three types of vendors you’ll find no matter where you go.
The Heartstring Pullers
When traveling though less developed countries you’ll often encounter child street merchants. These clever children can both break your heart and make you smile. Some will chase you down a street while others will shyly ask you to buy their products.
I had a fascinating experience with one while on the subway in Mexico City. It was late, it was hot, and I was fatigued. Everyone around me looked as though they’d had an equally long day.
Suddenly, a little girl, no older than four came around the subway car, placing individual pieces of gum on people’s knees. No one acknowledged her while she did this.
As she came to my knee, I looked down at her and smiled. She gave me a half-smile in return and moved to the next knee. I reached down to pick up the gum, when the woman next to me whispered in Spanish, “Don’t pick it up unless you want to buy it for more than it’s worth. Her father will make you pay for it.”
Before I knew it, we were at the next subway stop. Like clockwork, the little girl came back around, took the gum back, grabbed her large father’s hand, and walked to the next subway car to try again. This girl was one of many children merchants I came across in Mexico City.
How to deal: It’s very hard for me to not give these children money. But at some point, you have to take a step back and realize that it’s likely that this is how they raise money for their families.
If you feel like contributing go ahead, but know it might make you a target for every other street merchant. So if you must, be discreet.
I’ll never forget one of the strangest and most frightening experiences I had in Mexico. Again on the subway in Mexico City, it was a late night when two shirtless, unkempt men boarded our car. At first, I didn’t think anything of it. With public transportation, you get all walks of life.
Quickly, I realized that both men were covered in scars and carrying something loose under their shirts. Before I knew it, they had laid their shirts flat on the subway car floor, along with the contents – shards of broken glass.
They then proceeded to fling themselves – back and stomach first – onto the shards over and over. Their bodies dripped with blood and pieces of glass stuck in them like shrapnel.
After their “show,” they went around the car angrily demanding money from passengers. Many scrambled to give them cash while I hoped they wouldn’t notice me as an outsider. When they came to me, I let them know that I did not have any money.
They were not happy and gave me a few choice words, but they quickly left our car at the next stop.
How to deal: These street-sellers reminded me how important it is to be vigilant and aware of your surroundings at all times, regardless of where you find yourself or how you feel. And while they may be pushy, they’ll often move along quickly. Everyone has to work somehow.
The Consummate Entertainers
Street performers and buskers are known for entertaining large crowds of people around the world. In fact, the first mention of busking in the English language dates back to the 1800s.
From Hollywood to New York to Edinburgh, performers can be found singing, break dancing, painted as statues, robots, and mimes and even doing terrifying acrobatic stunts.
While visiting London’s Covent Garden, a friend and I found ourselves singled out by two street performers.
One was dressed as a golden Roman warrior while the other was a silver robot. Both men were in head to toe body paint. It must have taken hours to prepare themselves. It was obvious that both of these men had spent countless days perfecting their acts, right down to the small movements and facial expressions.
If I’m honest, both of them got a little inappropriate with us. However, we took it in stride. The silver robot planted a huge kiss on my friend, leaving her face full of silver paint while the Roman warrior found it hilarious to flash me his very golden undercarriage several times.
Regardless of their lewd senses of humor, my friend and I could not help but throw them a few pounds.
How to deal: My best advice is to remember that all of them are trying to support themselves, many have put in a great deal of time perfecting their pitch and their performance, and most importantly, all of them are human.