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3 Fun Strategies to Deal with Hasslers, Hawkers, and Touts

“My friend!” This is the universal greeting offered by those who want your money. They may or may not be offering a service in return. They are well versed in the art of psychological warfare. The more touristic the area, the more practice they’ve had.

I used to play a lot of Toe Jam and Earl for Sega Genesis. Around level five, the mad scientist would appear. If you stayed on his periphery, the mad scientist would not hurt you. But if you got within range, he would prick you with a needle and laugh maniacally. If you were playing as Earl, the fat one, your fate was sealed. Unless you had rocket skates or super fast high tops.

Hasslers are like the mad scientists. If you walk confidently and ignore them completely, you probably won’t be bothered. They will of course cycle through five different languages and they may also start shouting and whistling. If you slow down, make eye contact, or god forbid, start talking to them, your life just became a bit more complicated. If you are me, you don’t want to buy a necklace, or even look at one, and you certainly don’t want to pay someone to “guide” you to your destination. What do you do?

Have some fun with it.

1. Ask for Money

All hasslers speak English. Where I’ve been traveling, they will usually start in French. When I ignore that, they will switch to English. If they are doing this in my face and it’s obvious they are going to start following me around, I ask them for money as soon as they switch to English. Example:

“Mon Ami!!! Mon Ami!!! Ca va?”
“My Friend, where are you from?”
“Oh thank God, you speak English. Listen, yesterday I was robbed. My wallet, passport, everything was stolen. Could you spare me just a few dirham (20 – 30 cents) to help me out?”
They are surprised. Then apologetic.
“Oh, I’m sorry. Good luck.”

Then they walk away. Usually. I have done this maybe five times now. On one occasion the guy told me he could help me sell my jacket. Or my tshirt. Or anything of mine that wasn’t “stolen.” I didn’t ask, but I’ll go out on a limb and say that he most likely wanted a commission for each sold item. Marta. He was relentless. I doubt that will happen again, but it is a possibility to consider. Other downsides: you are being dishonest.

2. Try to Sell Them Something

I always carry around a shitty old Casio watch. I don’t use it to keep time. I carry it in case I need to bribe a border official. Or if I need to fend off a hassler. I reciprocate the “my friend, how are you” greeting and before their question/offer/whatever I ask them if they want to buy a watch. I pull out the Casio, make up some specs, and promise a good price. If they try to say something, I just keep blabbering about the watch. “It’s waterproof!! You can switch it to military time!!” The price of the watch? 5000 Dirham (about 500 hundred US dollars). Baffled by the exorbitant price, they will try to convince me that no one will buy it. I tell them otherwise. Then we have a funny argument about a stupid watch in which I am the one trying to recruit a customer. See how that works?

3. Act Insane

In a fifteen minute time period in Casablanca, I was approached by 12 people (I counted). Most of them were trying to sell hash. The others were “guides.” I was tiring of approach 1 and 2, so I tried something else. In my 8th grade French class, a popular student-created chant was “je mange trop de petits gateaux. Ou sont les grosses tomates?” (I eat too many cookies. Where are the big tomatoes?) When the hassler started in French, I started repeating the chant. Je mange trop de petits gateaux. Ou sont les grosses tomates? Je mange trop de petits gateaux. Ou sont les grosses tomates? Je mange trop de petits gateaux. Ou sont les grosses tomates?

His first response? He offered to “guide me” to the central market where I could buy big tomatoes. This was funny. For many reasons. One of them being that the central market was a block away. You could see it from where we were standing. When I continued the chant despite his offer, he gave me crazy eyes and walked off. I then spent the next five minutes laughing in a phone cabin. Maybe I’m actually crazy.


I take no responsibility for what happens to you if you use any of these strategies. Keep in mind that I reserve these tactics for the truly aggressive – the obnoxious salesmen who are convinced that the hard sell on the sidewalk is a good idea. I understand that in many countries employment opportunities are limited. I also realize that some hasslers may be legitimately friendly and offering an honest service. If you are respectful, I will be as well. If you are confrontational, demanding, or unreasonably persistent, I will tell you that I eat too many cookies and I will ask you where I can find big tomatoes.

How about you?

Oh, and here is another camel drawing session from Bamako. Camelroo is more like it.

link if you can’t see video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b0HFOTdZZiA

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{ 25 comments… add one }

  • Maureen Brady Johnson November 30, 2010, 7:01 pm

    Mr. J and I are really enjoying your travels…and the blogs entries that keep coming…
    Thanks, Phil!!!! Living vicariously thru you 🙂
    Mr. and Mrs. J

    • phil December 1, 2010, 4:56 pm

      Thanks guys! Glad to have you following along!

  • Nick Laborde November 30, 2010, 10:57 pm

    Great tips Phil, That is the one thing I dislike about traveling. Dealing with all the Hawkers, and Touts. I like the 2nd one, flip the sales game on them.

    I do have to admire their persistance.

    • phil December 1, 2010, 4:57 pm

      Hey Nick, Thanks. I admit their persistence is impressive. And maddening.

  • kim December 1, 2010, 1:43 pm

    Hey Phil!

    love this one! I’ve definitely used the second one here in phnom penh. Walking close to my apartment you always get “tuk-tuk, sir?” about 10 times per block, no exaggeration, regardless of your gender. And even if someone two feet from them just asked you if you wanted to ride their tuk-tuk and you said no, they will undoubtedly ask if you want to ride in their tuk-tuk. I have chosen to refuse to respond to anyone that screams from blocks away, whistles, claps at me or calls me sir. But a good technique here, when someone asks “tuk-tuk?” is to just say “yes, it is a tuk-tuk.” They get really confused and have no idea what you mean.

    hope the rest of your trip is awesome!

    • phil December 1, 2010, 4:59 pm

      Haha, I like that. At least it is fun to say tuk-tuk. Do you know how long you will be there yet?

  • Andi December 1, 2010, 4:05 pm

    Hahahaha, too funny! I wish I had the courage to do this, but well usually I just smile and walk away.

    • phil December 1, 2010, 5:03 pm

      Smile and walk away is what I typically do as well. But sometimes they don’t get the message.

  • Melvin December 1, 2010, 5:56 pm

    Nice ones! I like to go the funny way, but with the time it get’s quite exhausting. You always have to remember that their job isn’t really the best ones. In the end you can have a good chat about totally different things.

    • phil December 2, 2010, 2:27 pm

      Melvin, thanks for the comment. Yeah, all of these strategies will take some time. Indeed, many times I do end up talking to them about something altogether different. Especially if I have nothing else to do and then I understand I won’t be buying anything. B well, Phil

  • Amanda December 2, 2010, 10:05 pm

    Hahaha. This made me laugh out loud. I would love to see some of these tips put into practice!

    I have a friend who did something similar when a homeless man approached him in a McDonalds. My friend was on his computer (a nice Macbook), and the man was insisting my friend must have money to spare if he had such a nice computer. My friend then explained that college had drained all his money, and proceeded to sign onto his online banking account to show the man his $0.71 balance. The homeless man ended up giving my friend a dollar. Priceless.

    • phil December 3, 2010, 2:54 pm

      Ahh the less than a dollar bank account. I’ve had that before. Hopefully never again. THat’s pretty funny though.

  • Ayngelina December 2, 2010, 10:23 pm

    The first one made me laugh out loud, would love you see you in action.

    • phil December 3, 2010, 3:04 pm

      come to morocco. The show is only running for a few more weeks though!

  • Matt December 3, 2010, 12:31 am

    Haha!!! You really crack me up. In Indonesia they always call me “Mister.”. “Hey Mister!” I always like to talk to people so when they come up to me I always talk to them. My wife always got upset with me. She told me not to say anything, just ignore them and never express an interest in what they are selling no matter how cool it might be (like the blow dart gun in Yogyakarta at Prambanan). Then she started saying something to them in Indonesian and they would make a face and run off. She never would tell me what she was saying. If I ever find out it could be #4 on your list.

    • phil December 3, 2010, 3:05 pm

      Matt you need to find out this information, and I will indeed make it #4. Did you get the blow dart gun anyways? I hope so.

      • Matt December 5, 2010, 1:14 am

        Haha…no I didn’t get the blow dart gun. The guy shot it into a nearby tree and while he ran to fetch the dart my wife and I ran the opposite direction. Hey, there’s another tactic. Just start running! Maybe throw in the crazy too.

  • greg urbano December 4, 2010, 11:48 pm

    acting crazy turns to “crazy eyes” for me, very effective!

  • Gillian December 8, 2010, 1:57 am

    I remember in India I had some peanuts in a sack and every time someone would approach me I would ask if they wanted a peanut. They often looked askance and didn’t know what to do/say. I found it terribly amusing…and they left me alone!

  • Kyle December 13, 2010, 5:49 pm

    Holy crap, I put up a guest post on Vagabondish last week about this very same topic: http://www.vagabondish.com/amusing-ways-deal-with-touts/ . Man, and I thought that I was being all unique and stuff. Sigh.

    Well, at least no one else has the idea of teaching people how to draw camels. I still have that one.

    • phil December 14, 2010, 11:07 am

      Hahaha. Thanks for the comment Kyle. Looks like we were both thinking along the same lines 🙂 Glad to know someone else is having fun with it. Teaching people how to draw camels? That’s crazy. B well, Phil

  • Jodi December 14, 2010, 3:12 am

    I still think you need to expand your camel-drawing to include other species in the camelids. I’d love your second book to address how to draw llamas. They seem much trickier than camels and I would assume a chapter would be devoted to drawing how they spit.

    In Asia, when the touts ask for tuk-tuk rides, I just ask them how much it would cost for a helicopter. Their momentary confusion gives me the extra second I need to slip away unencumbered.

    • phil December 14, 2010, 11:09 am

      Jodi, I’m totally doing “How to Draw Vicunas” next. Llamas after. I agree they are trickier to draw and there may have to be an included video for drawing how they spit. HAHAHA I love the helicopter line. Brilliant. B well, Phil

  • Lisa | LLWorldTour November 4, 2011, 11:54 pm

    Ha! ha! I’ve totally tried a few of these. I’ve spoken only Spanish occasionally, but usually did turn to humor…because if nothing else, I amused myself instead of getting annoyed.
    Like one of your commenters… in Vietnam I was always asked “Motorbike??” and I usually replied…’yes, that is a nice motorbike!’ The women there are much more persistent – “buy from me. buy from me. banana?’ Rinse and repeat 6.5 times per woman. They don’t get the jokes as much. 🙂

    • phil November 5, 2011, 11:17 am

      hehe, yeah, sometimes the humor doesn’t get off the ground. Sounds look those women were pretty relentless 🙂 Thanks for stopping by, Lisa.

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