Saturday, September 3, 2011

Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile

I live in the Old Quarter, a decision that leaves many expats shaking their head incredulously wondering how I could do it. "It's so loud and crowded!" they exclaim, "And don't you get bothered all the time with people trying to sell you things?"

This can be a major point of contention for foreigners in this country, both ones who have decided to live here as well as the ones just visiting. It is very difficult to be foreign and walk down the road without being approached, whether it be to buy some fruit, a t shirt, or offered a xe om (motorbike taxi) housemate was even asked how much it would cost for an hour with HER but that's a whole other story.

I admit, that it tries my patience at times that I can't even walk half a block without being solicited, and am ashamed to admit there have been times that I haven't always exercised perfect manners in my response (in my defense, I've only gotten snappy when the seller is persistent, following me down the street and not taking no for an answer and shoving things in my face) but as "annoying" as it may be at times, I, and other foreigners have to accept that this is a way of life here. This is many people's livelihoods and as frustrating as it can be, there is never an excuse for rudeness.

It's taken me a fair while, but I think I have finally mastered the effective brush off to these vendors. As I mentioned before, I can't condone bad manners (blame my parents who imparted proper etiquette on us from a very young age-to this day, I still write thank you notes, eat everything put in front of me/not starting my meal until everyone's been served amongst other things that to some seem fake and contrived but really are so ingrained in my subconscious that I'm not even aware that I'm doing them) nor do i have a stomach for the VERY common foreigner response which is IGNORING the sellers. I can't really bring myself to do it without feeling like a disgusting human being. No one deserves to be ignored, to do so is so elitest. It is not ok to treat people like they don't exist. (Now I know many people will disagree with me on this one, especially the expats who are harangued regularly and don't want to spend a huge amount of time each time they go outside fending people off.)

So what is one to do? How can we be left alone and be nice about it? To keep the peace while maintaining a level of respect towards the people whose country we're residing in? The answer is so simple it's almost laughable: be nice. I have discovered that a big smile goes a long long way, even if I am saying "no" when presenting it. In fact, not only do I find that with this approach I am usually left alone for further attempts, BUT I get a smile back. It doesn't take any more time to do so either, I go along with my business, flashing my grin and polite refusal without even a skip in my stride.

I, am by no means, saying that I am perfect or the best person in the world. Nor am i saying it's easy all the time, because believe there are times I want to scream LEAVE ME ALONE, especially when my "No" isn't accepted the first time around, but I am making a conscious effort to ensure that I am always pleasant and respectful. Not only because that is the type of person i want to be, but because when you sit down and think about it, why shouldn't you be? These people live a much more difficult life than i do, i don't have to sell fruit or a taxi ride to provide for my family. I'm not outside all day competing with 100 others just like me to earn my salary. Not only are these vendors working very hard, much harder than I do probably, but I am also living in THEIR country, and have no right at all to be anything other than grateful and respectful to them for them allowing me to do so.

Being nice is easy. Smiling is powerful tool. Try it.


  1. I do agree, but I also really struggle with this. A lot!

    I am constantly skeptical that shoving 3 pairs of sunglasses in a person's face, after they have said "no" to you and are clearly walking away is ever a good marketing strategy. Do they ever make any sales that way?

    I don't think that you have to be polite to someone who isn't polite to you - and chasing you down the street shouting "tay oi!" is not exactly polite, so I don't mind ignoring or pulling a grumpy face at those ones.

  2. I would agree with that. Listen, we all have our limits. I am nice for the first one or two but after a while, enough is enough.