Travel unvarnished: The Vendor Assault.

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Vendor in MexicoThis is the second post in a five-part series on travel situations we’ve encountered that are never part of anyone’s plans but you’ll be sure to remember long after you return home.

Like gazelles at an African watering hole, tourists tend to go where other tourists gather. They also have disposable cash and like to bring home trophies — statuettes, funny hats, t-shirts and other trinkets — to remind them of their trip and prove to others that they did indeed visit Florence or Cabo.

A species of local, the Vendor, knows this. Also known as touts, hawkers, peddlers and hucksters, they circle and infiltrate tourist zones in an entrepreneurial attempt to separate you from your cash.

And whether you consider yourself a “tourist” or a “traveler,” if you wander into one of these zones you instantly become a mark. Maybe all you want to do is find a bottle of water, or go out to eat. There’s no escape.

“Buy something, buy something!”

“Hey mister, where are you from?”

“Here! Here! Almost free today!”

“You! Come in to my shop.”

If you respond, you’ll find yourself pulled into a one-sided negotiation for a crappy souvenir that you wouldn’t want anywhere near your beloved knickknack shelf.

When we enter a tourist zone, we either ignore the pleading for our cash or just say a quick “No thanks” in the local language and walk on. However, this doesn’t always work when you are a captive prospect.

Our first day in Lisbon we were eating at a street-side restaurant in the touristy Baixa district and had successfully repelled a stream of African trinket vendors. Then a man with a beaming grin appeared at our table and in one slick move slipped leather bracelets over our wrists.

“No obrigado,” I sputtered, still chewing and watching — fascinated — as he tied the bracelet on me.

“It’s okay. It’s a gift,” he said. Yeah, right.

Julie was blunt. “No, really, we don’t buy souvenirs.”

“I told you, it’s a gift,” he insisted, then to disarm us “Where are you from?”

“Uh, the United States,” Julie said. Great. Now we’re in a conversation with a guy who just wants our euros and my vegetables are getting cold, I thought.

“I’m from Cameroon!” he grinned.

“Oh nice, but really we can’t accept this,” I said in what I thought was my firmest voice.

“But it is a gift,” he repeated. Okay then. I turned away and started picking at my lunch. Of course I knew better because the man from Cameroon just stood there, staring expectantly.

I could have made a statement, laughingly saying “Thanks for the gift, now see you later,” but my willpower was low, my empathy high and my stomach still empty. Not to mention, Julie was looking at me with those Come-on-you-cheapskate eyes.

We ended up buying a total of four of his “gifts.”

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