Santa Maria Street Vendors

Your friendly street vendor.

Your friendly street vendor.

Selling stuff to tourists is something merchandise vendors in Santa Maria pursue with jihadist zeal. And they do not wait for you in their shops. They track you down on the streets.

The Vila do Farol resort is a twelve-minute walk from the city center.  Santa Maria is a city of approximately 3,000 residents and is one of three major cities on Sal Island. web-construction2Aside from a huge construction effort, every other element of the economy seems to revolve around tourism – resorts, water and land tours, and selling stuff to tourists.

Here is a typical scenario. Someone approaches you as you walk on the broken cobble stone sidewalk. As a tourist you are doubly marked. Only 20 percent of native residents are white. And the resorts require you to wear colored wrist bands with each resort picking their own color.

They ask where you are from. They pretend to have visited there once or to know something about the place. Or based upon the color of your wrist band they pretend to work at the resort but have a day off, or they have a relative that works at your resort. They offer to help you find what you are looking for and will escort you to a nearby location. Then you simply have to take a look at their shop. Well it is usually their aunt’s or their mother’s shop.

The first few times, if they have been helpful and you don’t want to be seen like a SOB, you go to the shop. Big mistake!

First they give you or your spouse a gift, such as an elastic bracelet with seven small sea shells, or an equally cheap necklace. It is almost always for good luck. Now you are even more obligated to look at their wares, which from store to store all seem to look the same. It is as if some place in West Africa sells a Cape Verde souvenir store kit you buy, unpack, and then you have everything every other store has.

Marie walked into town once with me. That was enough. I walked in a second time in search of pipe tobacco, which, by the way, is not sold anywhere on the island. We may, against our better judgment, venture in once more before we leave, but there is a strong aversion to doing so.

I spoke to a mid-level manager, Antonio, at the resort who reported the aggressive sales people are not Cape Verde natives. In his words, people who grow up in Cape Verde are lousy at selling stuff. The aggressive vendors, he said, are from West Africa – Senegal, Gambia, Nigeria, etc.

All this prompted Marie and I to brainstorm various strategies to thwart aggressive vendors.

1). Pretend to only speak Hebrew. Make a lot of deep guttural sounds. 2). Pretend to be deaf and fake sign language. 3). Carry an empty wallet and display it at every occasion. 4). Have a partner wear a light jacket filled with trinkets inside. When approached, try to sell them something. 5). Perhaps the least politically incorrect, wave and never, never, stop walking.

According to Antonio, resort management and the city successfully removed aggressive sales people from the beaches outside the resorts. Now he says there are plans to reduce aggressive sales tactics on city streets.