Joburg Expat: Street Vendor Sweet Talk

June 4, 2012

Street Vendor Sweet Talk

Look! I bought two beautiful hats! And they almost fit!

The thing is, I most certainly did not wake up this morning thinking "I will buy a hat today! Actually, make that two hats!"

A hat is probably the very last thing I need or want. I already own a bazillion hats, none of which I ever wear, because, well, I don't actually like the way I look in a hat.

Want to know how I became the proud owner of a double
whammy of hats? Read on!

What I did wake up with today was the plan to visit the City of Joburg's customer care center to complain about last week's pre-termination notice. Yes, I do lead that kind of glamorous life as an expat wife. When I don't clamber up stepladders to string up a new clothesline, I pass my time by waiting around in drab customer service centers so that I don't have to pay ZAR15,000.

It turns out I got off the hook easily, for once, with respect to the ZAR15,000. Which might explain why I was feeling so elated on my way home that I let my guard down and didn't pay attention.

I was crawling along in the inevitable traffic jam on William Nicol, which meant that there were a bunch of inevitable street vendors hawking their wares. One of them popped up in front of my car, signaled for my attention, and pointed to my license plate with a look of concern, then signaled to open my window.

If you're new to this blog you might now think, Oh my god, this is where she got mugged. That's what we've been told happens in Joburg when you let your guard down. But no, nothing of the sort, as more seasoned readers will know. I've never once been in any danger when dealing with street vendors.

Or, I should say, no physical danger. Only the very real danger of stupidly parting with my money.

South African street vendors, you see, are the most excellent salespeople They have to be. And my guy today had to be among the best.

Of course I rolled down my window to find out what was wrong with the front of my car. Having just had my car at the dealership for new brake pads, I was now convinced they must have messed something up, as they are prone to do. But instead of giving me a damage report, the guy breaks out into a huge grin, tells me congratulations for driving his absolute dream car, and puts up his fist for a fist bump.

I don't know about you, but when someone does that to me, I bump back. It's just automatic. Even though I've gotten the "you are driving my dream car" line before.

So we're happily fistbumping and before I can roll up my window again he throws a cowboy hat into my car, "for you Mami for driving my dream car, absolutely free just because I love your car, or whatever money you want to give me."

I was in such a good  mood, still high from my recent victory of sorts (though there wasn't even a battle) at the City of Joburg, that I did want to give him some money. What I should have done is toss the hat right back at him, and drive on. Not that I could have driven on, because the traffic hadn't budged one inch.

"Just a hundred rand for you Mami, because you drive my dream car. Some people say x5, but no, the Audi is so much better. You're a very smart lady to drive such a great car," he prattled on.

So I started rummaging in my purse for a bit of money to actually pay the guy for his hat. Or if not for his hat then for his spunk. I was feeling benevolent. Perhaps R50.

Except the guy was always a step ahead of me. Sensing my spirit of generosity he went ahead and tossed a second hat into the car.

I kid you not, here I was now sitting with two hats on my lap. "Only fifty rand more, for you Mami, because you drive my dream car. 150 rand for two hats, special today, you made me so happy."

I know what you will say now but you weren't there, okay? The guy was very forceful and convincing! I made a bit of a half-hearted effort to push the hat out of the window again, but he won. So I rummaged some more, fishing for another hundred, and he waved a 50 at me, for change.

Except when I gave him the hundred, instead of handing me the fifty, guess what he did?

Yes, you're absolutely right. He threw another hat into my car. "Three hats for just R200, I'm giving you a great deal today!"

Okay. Even I can only be pushed so far. Two hats was where I drew the line. I started getting irritated with him, plus by now I could barely see out the windscreen with all the hats piling up on my lap. I told him one fifty for the two hats, or the deal was off.

And he did give me the fifty. And I did drive off with two new hats. Hats that smelled like leather but had the suspiciously light feel of cardboard and a shoe lace for a hat band. Out of the corner of my eye, as the light finally turned green, I could see him in another lane, pointing to the front of a Mercedes with a look of concern on his face.

Maybe I'm not the only one who doesn't look so great in a hat

You know, I actually sometimes wonder how these vendors make a living, standing around all day with the same set of cell phone covers or sunglasses or, in a rather odd variant the other day, pumice stones, with no one ever actually buying anything from them.

Well, now you know how the guy standing around with the same three cowboy hats all day makes his living.

Honestly, I'm just glad I arrived home with my car that day and didn't get out somewhere along William Nicol to hand my keys over to a guy who liked my car.

So what will I do with two ill-fitting cowboy hats, I'm asking you? Maybe we can wear them climbing Kilimanjaro and make total fools of ourselves. Together with the zip-off pants I hear I will probably buy and then realize they're useless. Though I have a feeling I'll have to find an indoor use for these hats, as they look like they might not survive a rainfall.

On a totally different note, I just remembered that I have to buy some presents for our friends in the U.S.who we'll visit in August. I'll have to think of what to get them.

Wait... What about a couple of cowboy hats? They make such nice gifts, don't you think?

Sssshhhhhh... Don't tell anyone.

7 comments :

2Summers said...

This pointing at the license plate trick is happening all over Joburg. It recently happened to me twice in the same weekend at the intersection of Jan Smuts and Empire Rd. in Parktown. I was lucky to get away without any cowboy hats. Now, when a guy points to the front of my car, I just wave blithely and drive on.

Interesting how these trends catch on so quickly!

Sine said...

Aha, I didn't know that - leave it to me to do the research and pay for it:-) But it was fun. And, believe it or not, several people have already commented on the hat...

ePammy said...

I would swear your fellow was the same fellow that almost got us on W.Nicol yesterday - he was charming! Started off the same, and the hats were thrust in the window in seconds flat - he said we were driving his dream car - our rental car from Avis, a VW Polo! Oh, and that I look like Sandra Bullock. The hats - no take them, it's a promotion! Free! Just a donation, if you wish, to benefit the Nelson Mandela Centre... he made us laugh! Didn't keep the hats though...
(Thank you for this wonderful blog - we are newcomers, two weeks in, and your words have helped steer us through several situations - many many thanks!

Sine said...

Hi ePammy, sorry I'm a bit late with my reply, but I'm glad you've found my words helpful and I find it hilarious you ran into the same street vendor. I'm absolutely certain it's the same guy. A VW Polo, ha! At least mine was an Audi Q7 so a bit closer to the idea of a dream car:-) I really just bought the hats back then because I was impressed how good he was! They still adorn my coat rack in my house and make me smile every single time I walk by.

W. A. Jeffrey said...

I would have been tempted to just give him some money and let him keep the ugly hats.

Phil said...

Whoa- this is EXACTLY the same thing that happened to us at Hartbeesport Dam! From pointing at the license plate, to the "this is my dream car line," to the fist bump, to throwing the hats in the window! We also now have two hats we never wanted, but we only parted with R100. I guess it's a thing. They have a dance they do, just like the street corner beggars do with their wave, hand gesture to their mouth, and quick bow with their hands pressed together. You know exactly what I mean. I guess whatever works!

Sine said...

I do know exactly what you mean, Phil! it's a performance and you almost just pay them for that, not for the goods. You say you've only been in SA for 3 months? Where did you move from, and do you like it so far? Glad you've found my blog!