The most common interaction I had with craft vendors in Cusco went something like this:
“Excuse me miss? Miss you buy from me?”
“No thank you.”
“Miss, miss, why not, you buy from me?”
“It’s very nice, but no, thank you.”
This could go on for seconds to many minutes if the person decided to follow me up the street, convinced that my resolve would break.
I don’t begrudge people this method of interaction. I get it, they are simply trying to make a living and I am one of the most likely people who can help make that happen. I hated saying no, but unfortunately saying yes to everyone would have limited my stay to a day or two instead of two months. What was frustrating, however, was my desire to connect to these people, to understand a bit more of their world. I just couldn’t seem to get the conversation past the constant urge to sell.
One day I was sitting in Plaza San Blas working on some Spanish homework. A woman came by with her hand woven belts to show me and asked if I would buy any. I replied with my standard ‘No, thank you.’ She was very polite, and continued walking around asking other tourists. Then she came back to my bench and sat beside me. My initial reaction was ‘Crap! I already said no, I just want to sit here and study!’ But I have the polite gene in me, so I greeted her again, saying hello. Then the strangest thing happened. We started a conversation. We spoke for about half an hour about her and her husband, her children who were studying in University, the town where she lived, and what her life was like. She asked me questions too, and I shared with her a bit of my story. The most amazing was at the end, when I had to go to class. I said I hoped to meet her again and talk more, and she expressed a genuine desire for the same to happen. And I left. And never once in that entire interaction did the question of a purchase come up again. I was elated. I finally connected with a woman who talked to me just to talk to me. Later on, when I wanted to buy some belts for gifts, I sought her out. It was the best way I could thank her for the gift she had given me.