English | Dutch
Mindelo (Cape Verde), November 18th 2006
You probably know them as well, the mostly Western African men with beautiful shining teeth, typical African costumes and with a scale of products that they offer to you while you are on your holiday. It doesn’t matter what you are looking for: watches, sunglasses or local woodcarvings. They can deliver whatever you want, from stock. Previously, we had a lot of respect for these sales men. At least they try to make a living for themselves, which is difficult in a country where local people do not have a lot to spend. They are often standing the whole day in the burning sun to earn the dollars they need to survive. And that while the local population often sits under a tree to see the world go by. We can appreciate the commercial drive of these sales men.
However, gradually they start irritating us by the way they work. We still have the opinion that everybody has the right to make his own living. That means, as long as they do not bother us. If you are for example on a beach in the South of France, where these guys also operate and where there are thousands of other tourists, it easy to get rid of them. The will look for another victim in case they have the feeling that you are not going to buy. However, if you are in Mindelo on the Cape Verdian islands, you are like the only dog that’s on the heat in a full dog kennel. And that is not comfortable.
Furthermore is the assertiveness and impertinence that we have seen coming up in the western world last years, also present in Africa. It is not easy anymore to get rid of them. A clear "no" is no longer sufficient. It’s even worse. A kind and respectful "no" is interpreted as an invitation to show their entire assortment and to pursue you. It is not so bad as long as you are walking. Just accelerate your walking speed a little bit, and the sales man, covered with kilos of products will have to let you go. This strategy however, is not effective when you are for example taking a rest on a bench in a park.
Also the strategy of a nice conversation with the seller is not always successful. If you try to pretend that you do not speak the language, is not longer effective as well. These sales men speak at least three or four languages. And if you only speak a ‘fifth’ language, they will call a colleague sales man with their brand new and modern mobile phone. There is always somebody in the neighborhood that speaks your language. Technology changes the world, also in Africa. It is also impossible to explain them that you are not interested in the stuff they sell. We do not want local woodcarvings for ten euros. And we still do not want it when the price is reduced to three euros in just a couple of minute’s time. They also do not understand why you do not negotiate: “This is Africa, you have to negotiate about the price” is the argument they always use. Of course, we know that we have to negotiate in Africa, but not for products we do not want. Even not for free.
Altogether, we saw a lot of sales men and accompanying sale strategies the last couple of years. But yesterday we had a new experience that gave us a bad feeling. We hope that this is not the beginning of a new trend. As usual the conversation began friendly and of course, we were the best friends of the sales guy. But when we persisted in not buying something, even after his offer to get a free gift in name of the population of Cape Verde, the conversation took an unexpected turn. "You are racists!" is what he said. According to him is the color of his skin the reason for not buying something. We got up and walked away, not before mentioning to him that this is not the right strategy to sell something. We walked back to the hotel. Our good mind was gone for the day.