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Thursday, July 22, 2004

One great thing about travelling is those small observations you make about the crazy way that the locals do things, in contrast to how they are done at home.  I sometimes wonder what it is that we do in Australia that a traveller would notice enough to comment on.  

I imagine them going home and having conversations like:
"Well you wouldnt believe what they do in Melbourne.  They have this bizarre turning system where they turn right from the left hand side of the road in the city.  I think it has something to do with trams, but man, it's so confusing!  You never know if you have to turn right from the right lane or the left until you get to the intersection!  It's amazing there aren't thousands of accidents cause of that weirdo rule."

South America had it's fair share of unique and often crazy local things, too many really to recount.  But for now I will tell of one particular Argentinian practice that left us somewhat bewildered. 

We had been in Buenos Aries for about a day, and had boarded a local bus to La Boca neighbourhood.  After one or two stops, a man gets on the bus and hands everyone on the bus two foil packages.  All the passengers take the foil packages and hold them, most still looking blankly out the window.  The man then does a little speech, I guess about the contents of the foil packages becuase my Spanish is a bit rusty.  I managed to get "triple" and "chocolate" out of his speech.  As he is talking, we are looking at each other with puzzled looks, and one of my friends almost opens one of the packages to see what is inside.  The man then finishes his speech with the only other words I understood, "dos pesos".  Ok, so he wanted us to buy the things for two pesos (they were some sort of triple layer chocolate biscuit as I discovered later when I saw a billboard advertisment with the same packaging).  He then proceeds to go back around the bus collecting the packages and putting them back in his box.  Nobody bought anything, nobody refused to hold the packages, nobody really even acknowledged the man.  He just gave out his goods and then collected them again. 

This made me wonder why you would actually buy these biscuits, when they had no doubt been handed to five hundred other people before you.  It's not like it is difficult to find snack foods given that every corner has a street stall selling food of some kind.  I wondered what the strike rate for this guy would be - how many people actually bought this stuff? 

As we travelled around the city over the next few days this type of strange "hand out the goods" selling technique was comonly practiced.  Eating dinner in a restaurant would usually mean a visit or two from someone selling magazines or pens or tissues, and they would wander through the restaurant handing out goods and then wander back collecting them.  I never saw anyone make a sale, but I also never saw anyone refuse to accept the goods.  The locals would just kind of ignore the person selling, but still let them give them the goods that they were trying to sell, and then just give them back again.

I wondered if it was considered rude to refuse to accept the goods (although we started to do this - there are only so many times someone can give you a pen to hold without being tempted to stab them with it!)  Maybe this is something that the better off Argentinians tolerate in the face of the country's economic problems.  Or maybe this is just something they have always done, so do it without thinking.  Maybe this is the way that everyone buys their pens and magazines and chewing gum and triple layer biscuits.  Maybe we do it wrong in Australia. 


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