How to deal with Pushy Street Vendors in Vietnam
Daniela also know as Mrs. Fancy Pants is here to tell us how she dealt with street vendors in Vietnam:
One of the biggest culture shocks a traveler from the first world can experience when visiting a developing nation is the shopping experience – not the products on offer, but how they are sold. We’re used to going to nice, orderly buildings, with stock reasonably easy to find, usually being pretty much left alone by the store staff apart from the odd “can I help you?”, and not receiving a hard sell. We pay the price on the label unless we live in a country where sales tax isn’t obvious until we reach the checkout. Maybe there will be some effort to upsell at that point depending on the goods being purchased, but it is usually pretty tame. Even street vendors in the more touristy areas of the US usually accept a polite “no thank you”. Our shopping experience, though, is in sharp contrast to the that of many other countries.
Me in a cyclo
Upon arriving in Vietnam on a 2 week vacation, I felt bombarded wherever I went, as it was definitely not something I was used to. At first I felt like I was seen as walking cash, and it affected how relaxed I felt exploring, to be asked by every vendor I passed to buy from them, accept a cyclo ride, manicure etc. It is exhausting and I can see how you could get a bit resentful. At the same time, I had enough experiences with the locals to see that most were good, honest people, just selling the way that was appropriate in their country.
While walking in a market in Hoi An, my wallet fell out of my bag and a woman selling cheap postcards chased after me to return it (and then went on to sell me a postcard, because duh). I was later told that the amount of cash I had in my wallet was equivalent to 3 months wages for the average person in Vietnam, so she would have done very well to quietly keep my wallet. But she didn’t. On another occasion we stopped to eat at a restaurant which had a staff member at the front urging us to come in, and enjoyed chatting to her while we waited for our food and then while we ate – in between her dashing in and out every time she saw tourists about to walk past. Because that was her main role, to urge customers to come inside and eat. We see it as pushy, but it is just a different way to sell. So how do you deal with it when you don’t want what they’re selling, but you also don’t want to be a jerk to people just trying to make a living?
Tip 1: Don’t say “No thank you”
This is how I would politely decline offers in Australia or the US, but it certainly wasn’t effective in Vietnam. If anything, it seemed to confuse people. Most vendors had a functional level of English, so I think they understood the words, but it seemed the “thank you” after saying no was throwing them. We’re saying no, then saying thank you as if they have or are about to do something for us? Do they even use that expression to politely say no in their own language? Or does it just make us sound more assertive when we drop it? I have no idea, but dropping the thank you really made a difference. It feels wrong, especially when you don’t want to feel you are being rude, and since it is so automatic for us, but no one seemed taken aback by or offended. I guess they are being very forward with us, so are more accepting of us being forward with them.
Tip 2: Learn the word for “No”
I found that many vendors treated the English “no” as if we had said “maybe”. Judging from the level of English many vendors spoke in the city, I was sure they usually knew what “no” meant, but it did not have as much impact as saying “no” in their own language. Once our guide taught us the Vietnamese word to use, we were set – you usually only had to say it once, and not harshly.
Those 2 small, simple changes in dealing with vendors really improved my experience of Vietnam, and I suspect they would work well in other countries with a similar style of selling as well. It is always worthwhile finding out prior to arriving in such a destination how to deal with situations such as these, and with the internet available, it wouldn’t take long to find out how to say no in the native language and how to avoid offending the locals. My trip to Vietnam remains the best vacation I have had in my life, and I really look forward to returning to Asia again some day.
Me near temple steps (Ho Chi Min city)
Tips on how to make yourself take that first step to
cross a busy Vietnamese road? Sorry. You’re on your own!
Thank you Daniela for taking the time to share your experience with dealing with street vendors.
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