Thursday, February 26, 2015

Not in Buffalo: How many times can I say "no, gracias"?

When we spent any amount of time in central park in Antigua, Guatemala, I continuously needed to say "no, gracias" to the very numerous products and services being offered.  Americans are not used to being approached and often are either offended or nervous.  I felt bad saying no so often, of course.  Many of the items were total bargains, like necklaces or beautiful pieces of fabric for a dollar, but when you don't need something, you don't need it.


The experience made the family think, however.  We don't have commercial tv in the living room and no cable, so most ads we see are limited to online and billboards.  We have escaped the repetitious constant attempt to get us to want things we don't need.  Corporations get away with repeating messages with little effort or personal contact creating a sort of one-sided cultural dialogue.  In Antigua, where there are relatively few big box establishments and certainly not the large suburban type with big parking lots.  Small businesses and private individuals on the street rely on personal contact and expect some haggling over price.  This makes most Americans uncomfortable, but isn't it more authentic?  Isn't it more of a free market?

Anyone who wants to sell must have the guts to approach you and ask you to buy.  In return, of course, you should give an answer, even if it is almost always, "no, gracias".  There are also the businesses that can't exist in our corporate controlled environment.  We saw someone selling cigarettes one at a time, not much different than the odd person buying one off someone at a bus stop at home, but certainly, the regulations are set up to prevent an individual from carrying out such as a business in a more ongoing manner in the United States.

I am sure we haven't thought about the implications of all the differences, but clearly our trip has prompted more and more thinking about economics and marketing.  I think most Americans, and other relatively affluent Westerners, would benefit from embracing such travel experience rather than succumbing to fear.

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