Touts and Tourist Traps

nathanielkiddnathanielkidd on 1222955190|%B %d

Energized by the beautiful moments of Tuesday evening, yesterday Sarah and I hit the streets wearing a newfound spirit of openness and friendliness like a big yellow button. And as a result, we spent most of the day being shuffled from one tourist trap to another.

All we really wanted to do was find a quiet place to make a call. Cell signal can’t penetrate the thick brick walls of our little hotel room, and there is no ebb in the crowds of Main Bazaar for at least two blocks in any direction.

But it turns out almost everyone in central Delhi who speaks any English is working on commission for one racket or another. Even when Sarah and I explained that we were not interested in buying anything they insisted, “Come come. No buy, just look. Spend ten, fifteen minutes, and they pay me twenty rupees.”

By the end of the day, Sarah and I had concluded that spending fifteen or twenty minutes in a high pressure sales situation is not worth twenty rupees, even if it comes with free air conditioning. We had half a mind to buy off our last “guide,” but fortunately, by that time, we had another excuse.

“Thanks, but we’ve already been there,” I said, as he pointed to the door of the first shop.

“Yep, we’ve been there, too,” I told him, when we arrived at the second one. “Twice, actually.”

It’s disheartening when “friendliness” turns out to be aimed at earning a quick buck. It’s one thing to be shown to a shop when you are looking to shop. It’s quite another to be aggressively herded into travel agencies and big, pricy bazaars when all you want is to have a cup of tea. I have to work to stifle feelings of cynicism about the friendliness of the folks I meet on the street.

Or is this just what the rest of the world thinks of Americans? Are we seen as a people who are secretly eager to spend money, even if we say we don’t want to shop? The prophecy of the Kashmiri carpet dealer haunts me. “You will buy a rug. I know you Americans.”

Sarah and I have come to India because we have been called by God to pilgrimage, not because we want to accumulate a suitcase full of cheap knickknacks. But how do we communicate this to touts on the street in a way that is at once friendly, simple, and convincing?

This is all a part of our adventure. We must learn how to state plainly and firmly what we want, and politely but strongly refuse those things we do not want. We need to practice short-circuiting the sales pitches we find on street corners. And above all and in all circumstances, as Christians we must seek to see and to love the humanity behind the scripts that govern these everyday encounters.

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