I wonder whether there is an international training course on how to be a tout. I believe that in this world there are many universal consistencies, and one of which is the sales pitch.
"Hello, my friend! Come looky my shop, good prices, no like no buy!"
It's always the same rap: first, the attention-grabbing loud greeting, then the assumption that we're long lost close friends, then the high-pressure no-pressure promise that if I just look I won't be forced to part with my cash, and then the full seven stages of grief upon a declination, with a heavy emphasis on the pleading stage.
From Kolkata to Lisboa, Paris to Addis, Petra to Patras, it's always the same. I can imagine the training course, led by an Israeli in a brown suit, tinted, squarish glasses, and a Camel cigarette. The training course is somewhere in an unseen-by-tourists suburb where there is an office park and a building with taupe carpeting that smells like stale smoke. The instructor points at a giant easel that depicts the sequence of events in a properly grating sales pitch:
"OK, now repeat after me, 'Hello my friend!'"
"Hello my friend," in unison.
"No! Louder! And roll that 'r'!!! HelLO my frrriend!!"
"Hello my frrrriend!!"
"Bah! You will never make it in the real world! You will be peddling bananas at a ferry terminal if you are lucky! I can see that we need to continue to work on the fundamentals, so we will postpone our lesson on grabbing the customer's arm until tomorrow."
It occurred to me in Kolkata that the vendors, touts, and tuk-tuk drivers are the pop-up ads of the real world. A tourist walking down an urban street is assaulted more often than an college student browsing for porn on the internet. From all directions, and often from a great distance, the shouts arrive, completely unsolicited by the browser.
"Hey! You! You! My friend!" they would begin, in Ethiopia.
"Take a look; for you, student price!" the Israeli shopkeeper would slyly suggest.
"Lucky money! Lucky money!!" the Burmese blanket weaver would exclaim.
"Tuk-tuk? Bang-bang? Boom-boom? Lady-boy? (Want a tuk-tuk ride? Want a prostitute? Want to go fire a gun? Want a transsexual prostitute?)" runs the sales pitch by the tuk-tuk drivers in Bangkok.
"Ping pong show?! Ping pong show?!" urges the strip-club tout in Pat Pong.
I wandered into a market in Kolkata and was wishing for my mouse, so I could shut the windows as they popped up.
"No looking money!" Click.
"No like, no buy!" Click.
"Just look in my shop; you don't buy!" Why would I look then? Click.
"Just looking!" No shit? Then keep looking! Click.
Just walking down the street, the traveler needs to be wary of making eye contact with the gentlemen leaning really casual-like against a fence. They tilt their heads up, open their mouths, and despite any vigorous head-shaking on your part, will start in anyway.
"My friend! Bigger penis?" What?! Click.
"No problem! You no grow, you no buy!" Ack! Click.
"Free membership to my website! Just looky!!" Click.
"Sunglasses? Hashish? Gold? Cocaine?" Click. Click. Click. Click.
"Hey! YOU!! Cialis?!" get away from me! Click.
"Come back to refinance! I give student priiiicce!!" AAAHHHhhhhh!!!
I swear to god, when Google can create a human pop-up blocker, the traveler's world will be forever changed. The touts will shift to contextually-relevant text signs that politely request the traveler's attention, in proper English. And I will venture a guess that sales will increase, as tourists that otherwise ran from the touts will venture in, unwary of yet another hard sell.
In the meantime, I shake my head upon the approach, ignore them or speak in tongues when they engage me, carry a bundle of postcards to demonstrate that I already bought a set ("oh, same-same, but different!") and declare loudly down the hallway of the market in Kolkata: "Hey! Everyone listen to me! I am walking into this shop here, not yours. Why? Because the man in here has not yelled at me! He is quiet! I may even buy something!!!!"
"No like, no buy..." smiles the quiet shopkeeper.
Damn straight, my friend.