Friday, 15 December 2006

Understanding Brazil – The Sellers

Brazilians don’t appear to be lazy, at least not to my eyes. Unlike at home, there aren’t many people who do absolutely nothing. This might be a product of the welfare system, but even the streetkids juggle to get money. Everyone else is at least trying to sell something, and what they sell varies greatly. I enjoy seeing what people are hawking at the major road junctions. It makes me wonder just how many people set off for work in their cars first thing in the morning and got halfway there before realising ‘Oh no! I’ve forgotten my binoculars! Where the hell can I buy a new pair around here? Aha! What a stroke of luck!’ Or how many of them gnaw their way through the plastic steering wheel covers due to the stress of driving in such a Metropolis. Perhaps the binoculars are to see the front of the traffic jam. One thing I haven’t seen is the (probably male only) drivers portable toilet for use in traffic that I saw in Bangkok. Perhaps I should import some.

It’s not an easy job though, selling glove puppets in the middle of a 10-lane highway, which is probably why the sellers have adapted their tactics. On public transport in Brazil, you will always see at least one seller per journey entering the carriage or the bus, distributing their wares to the passengers, and collecting them up shortly after giving a speech about the benefits of rubber hairbands. I find it hard to understand why people are willing to hold some goabinha for a while without wanting to buy it. Will the smell encourage them to buy it? Personally, I know immediately that I don’t want to buy some chocolate, especially if has been through the hands of 18 different people in the last half an hour in the sweltering heat of the number 856. But at least on the buses it seems possible to travel for free just by pretending to sell some combs. I don’t know if the sellers have licences but they seem to get on at the back without paying. It might take a few trips to complete an already long journey, but at least you can save R2, and maybe even make a bit of money on the side from those combs. Also, you know there is an easy way to get rid of unwanted presents or goods on public transport – a litter of puppies say – if necessary. You can climb on the back, place them on people’s knees, and then make an emotional speech to encourage people to buy something they didn’t realise they wanted.

So don’t be alarmed if, after a power-nap on a Brazilian bus, metro or train, you wake up to find a plastic turtle on wheels on your lap, or a baby crocodile looking up at you with Bambi eyes. It’s all part of a day’s work for the sellers in Brazil.

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