Latin America: Vendors Aboard City Buses

The following scene may take place in any number of large cities across Latin America. A person, of any age, man or woman, steps aboard a city bus, provides a brief introduction, thanks the driver for granting permission to board, and then begins to pitch a product to the passengers along for the ride. For both the seller and the passenger, this has become such commonplace that one hardly notices one another. Andrés Rodríguez of Modestamente Humano [es] points out that “almost all use the same speech, and that is why many people like me are forced to memorize this speech out of repetition, which is not exactly the same, but it has the same tone,” which is often monotone in nature.

Photo by Esteban S and used under a Creative Commons license.

Photo by Esteban Suástegui and used under a Creative Commons license.

Rodríguez is from Quito, Ecuador, and observes that there are some vendors that stand out from the others [es]:

Hay casos excepcionales en esto. Hoy hablo de uno de estos casos. Se trata de un vendedor de caramelos, un poco malencarado, pero siempre que se sube al bus vende por lo menos unos 2,50 o 3 dólares, es decir logra que entre 10 y 12 personas adquieran su producto. Justamente logra esto porque hace la diferencia. Al llegar y vender sus caramelos él logra captar la atención de la gente, habla de política, de índices y estadísticas del país, habla de religión, hasta un poco de charla motivacional se manda. Al final siempre dice que aunque él sea solo un vendedor de caramelos eso no implica que no pueda darse un tiempo para leer, estar informado, navegar por internet para poder hablar de cosas interesantes a sus clientes. Luego de su discurso que resulta ser más largo que el del común de los vendedores somos muchos los que nos quedamos con 5 caramelos en el bolsillo y 25 centavos menos, que en verdad no enriquecen ni empobrecen a nadie.

There are exceptions to this. I'll write about one or two of these cases. There is a candy vendor, a bit unfriendly, but he every time he boards the bus he sells $2.50 or $3.00 worth of products, meaning between 10-12 people buy from him. He accomplishes this because goes the extra step. When he boards the bus, he grabs the attention of the people, he talks about politics, about the country's indices and statistics, he talks about religion, and at times he even provides a motivational speech, he looks through the internet in order to talk about interesting subjects with his clients. After his talk, which ends up being longer than the usual vendor, many of us end up with 5 pieces of candy in our pocket and 25 fewer cents, which honestly does not make or break anyone.

In the comments section, Estertor shares his experience of another vendor who went above and beyond when selling a liquid to clean scratches off DVDs. He brought a portable DVD player aboard the bus to show how after scratching the DVD with sandpaper, all it took was an application of the liquid so that the DVD would play like new.

Even though for many passengers, the interruption may or may not be welcome, there is a segment of the population that respects the hard work that is put in by these vendors. They may not always make much on an individual trip, but the sales add up throughout the repetitive day. Esteban Suástegui, a Guatemalan blogger at Pensamientos de un Suástegui [es] looks at the labor of these individuals with an appreciative eye:

Pero a pesar de todo, con todas las artimañas que solo un religioso podría saber, y con productos de mala calidad o que vencerán en un mes, a pesar de toda esta bulla, todas las molestias y tanta desesperación que cusan, es agradable cuando uno se pone a pensar que, como ya dijero, intentan ganarse la vida trabajando, que hace todo ese esfuerzo para alimentar a su familia, para no tener que delinquir, para poder hacer de este país un país menos pior…

Despite it all, with all of the tricks of the trade that only a religious person would know, and with low-quality products or which will expire in a month, despite all of that noise, all of the bother and all of the desperation that they cause, it is nice when one begins to think, as they said, they try to make a living by working, with all of that effort to feed their family, to not resort to crime, to make this country less worse.

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