How to deal with street sellers in Rome
Those visiting Rome, especially at peak season, may be intrigued by the amount of street sellers near any major landmark – the scene is similar to those seen in the suqs in North Africa, or any street market in the Middle East. The circumstances, though, are very different.
A by-product of the recent recessions and the increase in foreign migrants trying to make a living, we understand that it’s people trying to make ends meet, and that selling trinkets it’s mostly a second or third day job, but we also need to stress that said second or third job is illegal. Street sellers pack light for a reason: they get chased away from certain locations by the local police (“vigili urbani”) just to reappear somewhere else, trying to sell their stuff to unsuspecting tourists before the police shows up again.
We use the term “unsuspecting” for a reason: the most part of those who travel to Rome are unaware that, again, street selling is illegal (we’ll touch on the new city rules on decorum as they’ve been just approved in a dedicated post later!).
They also don’t know that they could be fined for buying from unauthorized sellers. Or that some of them can get quite forceful when trying to get their attention. So this is why we’ve come up with a few pieces of advice to help you deal with their category!
Tip no. 1: Street selling is different that a street market
When we speak about illegal street sellers we are referring to those who just lay down a sheet on the pavement and proceed to display their stuff on there. Or to those walking peddlers carrying their merchandise in backpacks or plastic bags.
It’s perfectly ok to buy from street markets such as Campo de’ Fiori‘s or Porta Portese. Anything that has a stall is fine in the eyes of the law.
Tip no. 2: Ignore & keep walking
We can’t say this enough: whenever you are accosted by someone trying to sell you anything, you must ignore them. Don’t slow down because some African guy has complimented on your shoes or asked you where you’re from: it’s their “in” and they won’t leave you alone until they get money from you.
Don’t acknowledge them, don’t make eye contact, don’t talk to them. The same applies to South-asian people offering you selfie sticks, bottled water, umbrellas, or shoving red roses under your nose.
Yes, it is rude, but rude is what will get you through your visit at Rome’s monuments without ending stressed, angry or with less money than you had before. These sellers know what they’re doing, they’re not improvising and they are aware that people will stop and listen if engaged with. Don’t allow them to.
Tip no. 3: The cheap stuff they’re selling you can find for even cheaper
The usual objection when we talk to people who did indeed buy junk from street sellers is that “but it was so cheap! And I just needed a straw hat/umbrella/bottled water!”.
The thing is, you can find all of the above, and more, at any local equivalent of a Seven Eleven or at a grocery store. And they will be cheaper than what sold in the streets!
Just an example: small bottled waters are usually 0.50 a piece, sometimes less, and street sellers try to sell them at 2 Euros each (and more). Most times they store them in manholes (we’re not kidding!) so they’re not healthy in the slightest.
Plus, you don’t even need to buy bottled water in Rome – fresh water is free and good at the city’s nasoni, the small water fountains found at most corners in the city center. Specific examples aside, just wander around in some small supermarket and you will discover how cheap your holiday essentials are!
Tip no. 4: A uniform doesn’t mean they’re legit
Imagine the scene: you’re just out of the subway train at the Colosseum stop, you climb the stairs to the exit and you’re faced with dozens of cheery guys and girls wearing vests or official looking shirts offering to sell you tickets for the museum there at a special price. Now, do you really think that in 2019 a reputable tour company would do this in the middle of the street? Every legit worker in the field will use the Internet for that, sometimes in liaison with such services as Viator. They would never accost you in person.
When we talk about “reputable”, by the way, this is not a subjective opinion: tour guides must pass a strict state examination before being able to work, demonstrating that they are well-versed in history, art, archaeology, architecture and more subjects. Nylon vests do not make the professional, and people harassing you in front of Rome’s monuments has just memorized a Wikipedia page, counting on foreign visitors being unaware of the local rules in terms of tour guides (and more!).