How to deal with touts? Travel often and you’re bound to be touted. Around the world, salespeople in the tourist industry are competing for your money and many will go to great lengths to get it. Some touts use gentler methods, like the woman who stood outside a shop in Santorini reciting her rehearsed pitch and tempting us with with a sample from her dish of honey-coated peanuts. Others descend on you like mosquitoes, fanning menus in your face, blocking your path, shouting prices, listing goods, offering free drinks, even tugging at your shirt sleeve as you try to avoid eye contact and go about your business.

Here are some tricks and techniques for when the touts attack:

How to deal with touts: Respond in Slovak

Few people outside of Slovakia understand Slovak so it’s a perfect secret language for responding to touts and making them think you can’t understand them. (Many touts in touristy places know German, Spanish, or French.) Here’s some sample phrases you could use and the tout will likely move on to the English speaking tourist behind you:

  • Nerozumiem. [Nyeh-roh-zuh-mee-ehm.] – I don’t understand.
  • Nehovoríme po anglicky [Nyeh-hoh-voree-meh po anglic-kee.] – We don’t speak English.
  • Čo hovoríte? [Choh hoh-voree-tyeh?] – What are you saying?
  • Nie, ďakujem! [Nee-eh, dya-kooh-yehm.] – No, thank you!
  • Moje vznášadlo je plné úhorov! [Moh-yeh vznaa-shadloh yeh plneh oo-hoh-rove.] – My hovercraft is full of eels!

This doesn’t always work. Crafty touts have laminated menus with photos they’ll gladly keep shoving in your face. Fortunately the ones in Bangkok advertising ping pong shows usually don’t.

How to deal with touts

Salesmen at Istanbul’s Spice Bazaar are notoriously pushy.

How to deal with touts: Ignore the taxi touts

While I empathize with many of the restaurant touts and sales people who are just trying to fill tables and get you to buy a trinket or two, I have very little respect for taxi touts. They notoriously target rookie tourists, who don’t know any better, and charge several times the going rate. They get away with this by refusing to turn on their meters. And they will outright lie, like the taxi tout who told a group of us waiting at the Santorini airport that the public bus was no longer running. “Better come with me,” he warned, and several people believed him and got in the cab, which likely cost them 25 euros. Each. The bus, which cost us 5 euros total, showed up ten minutes later.

Even if you need a taxi, it’s really best practice to ignore the taxi touts, especially if they tell you there is no other transportation into town. Don’t believe them for a second. A little research will tell you where to find the local bus or train, or how to order a cab from a reputable company. Whatever you do, don’t leave the Bangkok airport in an unmarked vehicle with three sketchy-looking men.

How to deal with touts: Stare them down

I had to pass an aggressive tout’s souvenir shop Istanbul’s Sultanahmet neighborhood four times in one night as I was scoping out the location for my cooking class.  “Lady! Hey lady! Ceramics! Carpets! Come! Come! I have something for you! Lady! Where are you going?” The large Turkish man stood in the doorway and bellowed at me as I circled the block. The second time I had to pass him I crossed the opposite side of the street, hoping he wouldn’t see me. “Hey! Hey!” he yelled even louder than before. “Come here! Take a look. I have something for you.” This guy was really starting to piss me off. I stopped and stared hard at him. “Come over here!” he yelled and I glared back. I knew he wouldn’t cross the street and leave his store unguarded. I kept staring and when it was obvious I wasn’t coming over, he stopped yelling, and I went about my walk. When I had to pass him a third and fourth time on the way to my class and then after, he was quiet, perhaps preoccupied with customers or perhaps he finally caught a whiff of my cold indifference. Sometimes you don’t have to say anything to get across that you want to be left alone.

How to deal with touts

Some tourists had a hard time getting through the taxi tout blockade at Koh Lanta’s ferry pier.

How to deal with touts: Low-ball

Usually touts are trying to get you to purchase goods and services you don’t need, but occasionally you actually do want the meal, taxi ride, or cheap souvenirs they’re pushing. If this is the case, it’s time to practice your haggling skills. Offer a ridiculously low price. Plan to walk away a few times before you and the tout agree on something reasonable.

When it comes to the tout-customer relationship, the customer definitely has the upper hand. Some people will argue that this doesn’t work with restaurants, but a fellow traveler we met in Greece said she got a great deal on a meal after negotiating with a restaurant tout. He was offering a set meal with wine for 25 euro for 2, but since she was by herself, she negotiated a low price for one, but it ended up being the same amount of food and wine as for two. Usually, the mark-up is so high to begin with that you can haggle a tout down to a reasonable price.

How to deal with touts: Bring out the rooster

What about the ones who follow you down the street, block your path, and shout prices and services at you so rapidly you don’t have a chance to get in a “No, thank you” ? With extremely aggressive touts you may have only one option, one way to really escape besides resorting to violence. Start crowing like a rooster at the top of your lungs, spin around three times, and run down the street flapping your arms, crowing the whole way until you’re sure you’ve lost them. A good strategy for any unwanted attention, really.

How do you respond to aggressive touts who won’t leave you alone? What’s your advices on how to deal with touts?

11 Responses

  1. Emily

    We’ve come across some interesting touting experiences…most memorable was when a little girl of no more than five swore at me when I didn’t buy her bracelets. The old f-bomb from a young Cambodian girl somehow really got to me – normally I just play dumb with touts. I like your rooster technique though – I’ll have to whip that out next time I am getting hassled!

    Reply
    • Lindsay Sauve

      In Sarajevo a girl punched me in the shoulder blade for not giving her money. Funny because Peter was the one who was more firm with his no than me, but I got the punch! That was definitely a shocker. Playing dumb definitely tends to work in most occasions for me too.

      Reply
  2. Steph

    Do you think speaking to each other in Pig Latin would work? I find it hard to believe that most touts learned that variation on English, and given that any language Tony & I have any chance of communicating to each other in is one that they’ll probably speak (maybe French or Spanish one day), I’m thinking Pig Latin is our best bet…

    Reply
    • Lindsay Sauve

      Pig Latin might work, maybe spoken really quickly like Italians. Is it possible to speak Pig Latin quickly?

      Reply
  3. Victoria

    Brilliant piece! I like your tips especially the roosting chicken and slovak bit. I didn’t think of that as I can actually speak a few basic words of Polish. I usually bombard touts with German but they’re catching on! Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
    • Lindsay Sauve

      Thanks! Polish definitely works too. Also perhaps Hungarian or Romanian. Or, like one Steph from 20 Year’s Hence suggested, pig latin!

      Reply
  4. Michelle Peeters

    This is one of my favorites of your posts!

    I was thrown into a haggling experience without forethought one afternoon in Nairobi a few years ago. There is a sprawling ground display near the center called Masai Market, where countless vendors mark their spaces with cloths, arrange their product beautifully, squabble with neighbor vendors over boundaries, and aggressively pitch at “reds” like me, who obviously don’t live there.

    I had a certain amount of money and some definitive items I wanted to take home as gifts. My first mistake was giving a man my name when he asked. Within minutes, tens of ppl were calling my name from various areas of the market. When I told someone what I was looking for, many ppl started following me around shoving those items in my face.

    I took a moment away from the market to have a coke. It was hot. I was already tired. I came back and bought a couple things, and asked my Kenyan family to go purchase some things using their best judgement and haggling skills.

    People were still shoving things in my face so I had to get firm, even almost rude (or curt?) to get ppl away from me. The chorus of my name started overwhelming me.

    The most memorable purchase was of a wall mask I was buying for my parent’s lodge. I made an offer I thought was reasonable upon first walking in, not realizing he would expect me to meet him halfway between his exorbitant offer and mine. Many times during the 2 or so hours I was there, he came to me and tried to talk me up. I was firm the whole time and eventually gave up on the mask. Just as I’d really had enough and was leaving, he ran up to me and said “Ok lady, your price”.

    So you see I was totally unprepared. Major lessons of this experience include keeping to yourself, talking only when necessary, keeping a tough skin, and not being afraid to be firm. Being reasonable in your head, not outwardly. It’s all a game.

    Reply
    • Lindsay Sauve

      Great story, Michelle. Yes, it is such a game. One that they have played over and over but is totally new to us. I also find it strange to be firm, or as I see it rude or curt to salespeople. In Istanbul’s I would watch locals just push past the touts shoving things in their faces and go about their business. It’s just not our way, but sometimes the only effective way to manage and not get completely overwhelmed.

      Reply
  5. Angela Seager

    Interesting read, I have to say when my family was in Bangkok this Christmas, yes the touts were out but a simple ‘no’ nod with a smile worked every time for me…
    Haha…yeh, the ‘ping-pong’ touts, that would be funny….again droves of them but a nod and a smile worked…
    Currently in Santorini and as it’s the winter season, literally no touts, loads of construction workers, dust, uplifted paths, and….can I mention, the Chinese….haha….seriously I did my research, and at no point did I find that there’s an abundance of Chinese here all year apart from July and August….I took the ferry from Athens to Santorini. The boat was full of Chinese. As it was February, I thought they were celebrating their New Year on the island. I was wrong…when I asked at my hotel, they informed me that the Chinese visit every single day…I love this, why? Because they are so touristy with their cameras all day, every day…they really do their homework and know the best places to take photos….haha…

    Reply

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