Okay, so since my last blog probably bored everyone to tears about the academic opportunities Rome has to offer, I thought it would be best to discuss some of the cultural norms I have come across in Rome. Every single day, no matter where I walk, there are street vendors, people doing cool tricks in the Piazza, or people selling roses. When it starts to rain, within seconds there are people selling umbrellas for 10 Euros. When I first got to Rome, I always politely smiled and said “No, thank you”. I then realized that vendors use this as an opportunity to pressure you even more into buying their merchandise. One time my friends and I were eating at a restaurant, and it had started raining. We were waiting for the rain to let up before we headed to the bus stop. A vendor came by selling plastic ponchos for 12 Euros, and one of my friends tried to bargain, but the language barrier made things difficult. After inquiring, my friend decided not to buy any ponchos, but the vendor stayed where he was arguing that my friend owed him money. He stayed there yelling at us for 5 minutes asking my friend to pay him, and then was very indignant and angry after we did not buy anything from him.
If you want to avoid an uncomfortable stare down from street vendors, here are tips on how to avoid uncomfortable situations with the vendors:
- Don’t make eye contact. If you make eye contact with a vendor, they will expect you to give them money and will not leave you alone until you do so. On the metro, if a performer is playing a piece, if they catch you smiling and enjoying their music, they will expect you to pay them.
- Be a little wary of accepting help from strangers. If you receive help from someone, be it in the form of accepting directions or having them help you purchase a ticket at Termini Station, they might ask you to give them a tip for helping you out.
- If someone selling roses holds one out in front of you or close to your hand, do not touch it. If you grab it, they will not take it back and make you pay for it.
- If a vendor is talking to you and walking next to you trying to get you to buy something, either say “No” or do not talk to them at all.
- Do not let them sweet talk to you. This one is specifically for girls –vendors, and any Italian guy for that matter, come up to women and say, “Ciao bella” all the time. While flattering, if you smile or respond, they take that as a signal that you are interested. In Italian culture, the women are not easily sweet talked, especially when just being friendly typically sends the signal that you are interested and it is okay for the guy to approach you.
- Do not be afraid to be a little rude. Italians know better than to engage street vendors if they are not 100% interested in purchasing something. The vendors take advantage of tourists and travelers who are trying to politely decline. If someone keeps harassing you to buy something, try saying, “Vai via!” which translates to “go away”.
- If you do want to buy something from the market, do not accept their first price. The good news about street vendors is that they are willing to bargain. Once you decline the first price, they’ll typically give you a “special discount” and cut the price down. Usually I can get an item for a couple bucks cheaper than their second offer.
- Side note: Always watch your bag or your backpack when browsing through the street markets. For instance, the street market off of the Pyramide stop is known for pick pocketing people as they browse through the aisles.
My concluding thoughts about street vendors are that they are just trying to make a living and some extra money. It is by far less stressful to just avoid them unless you are keen on buying something.