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In the Netherlands, it seems to be quite common lately to hire some students, put them on a busy main street or outside a supermarket, and have them target every passerby by asking 'Can I ask you something?'.

These people are always selling stuff I am not interested in (newspaper subscriptions, services that deliver food to your house every week) or they are trying you to sign up to become a permanent donor for a charity (in which I am also not interested).

My approach so far has always been:

  • Do not make eye contact
  • Continue walking without changing pace/trajectory (unless one jumps in front of me, then I swerve)
  • Reply 'You just did' (gentle, joking tone of voice, smile on my face) if they ask me 'Can I ask you something'

Usually, this either generates a weird look if somebody doesn't get the joke, or a chuckle if they do. Even bystanders seem to like it. But yesterday, a lady came to me saying that what I was doing was very impolite.

Are there any better ways to dismiss street vendors?

  • 8
    I agree "you just did" could be construed as offensive and passive-aggressive, at least here in the UK. This is mainly because the butt of the joke is the vendor themselves. – Hashim Sep 3 '17 at 21:48
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    And... reprimanding random people in the street about not listening to street vendors is not rude? I wonder where she came from... – AllTheKingsHorses Sep 5 '17 at 7:15
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    @Hashim Honestly, people would have to have a really thin skin to construe that as offensive. It's a harmless joke. – Rob Sep 6 '17 at 3:44
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    @Rob - Unfortunately, many, many of those people exist, and they need to be considered for the purpose of questions like this. Hell, half the purpose of sites like this is to account for those people. – Hashim Sep 6 '17 at 3:48
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    @Rob But actually, in this context, I kinda disagree. Being British, passive-aggressiveness is probably the most common form of rudeness there is, so it can definitely be offensive. For me personally, I'd only find it offensive if it's clear to me that the person intends it to be so. Usually you can tell the difference between someone being a dick and being light-hearted. – Hashim Sep 6 '17 at 3:51
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Put yourself in the shoes of the person who is making a very small salary trying to get you to sign up for things. They need to get a certain number of "yes" over the course of a day. They know they will get a lot of "no". The ideal no is fast and is not rude or hurtful. A slow no may be of some value if it causes other people to gather round and one of them may be a yes. A rude no just makes the job miserable and soul destroying.

What is a rude no?

  • get out of my way
  • can't you get a real job instead of blocking the sidewalk bothering people?
  • [to other passersby] these things are all scams, stay away!
  • any kind of joke making fun of their script, costume etc

You think that "you just did" is funny, but it really says "I'm smarter than you, so I am mocking you and frustrating your purpose at the same time!" I agree with the lady who told you it was rude. There's no need for it, you just went out of your way to make a joke at the expense of someone who has an unpleasant job.

If you're not interested, don't be interested. Keep on going and let them do their job. Your first two bullets are perfect.

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    The important bit here is a fast no, so you don't cost them money. Spot on. – Rory Alsop Sep 5 '17 at 9:43
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    @Kate Gregory: Thank you for your answer! This really is the most helpful answer for me, since it actually explains why making the joke was considered rude. And with that knowledge, I can avoid being rude the next time. – Tinkeringbell Sep 5 '17 at 20:22
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    Personally I just use the good old 'smile politely while shaking your head no'. Saves me the energy of speaking and the street vendor gets a clear signal. – Cronax Oct 5 '17 at 13:03
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    I'd just also like to add that even if the joke isn't hurting, it's a common joke that those vendors probably hear several times a day, which can become super annoying really quickly, so it's still a kindness to not say them (like cashiers hearing "Then it must be free !" if an item doesn't scan; harmless, but annoying with repetition). – MlleMei Apr 4 at 9:43
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"No thanks, I'm not interested."

That's the boring, but correct way to react. They're busy selling something, so knowing you're so thoroughly uninterested in their product that they're definitely not going to get a sale out of you lets them move on to another target quickly.

You're not wasting each other's time. This is the polite thing to do.


However, they are bothering you, trying to sell their product. So a small harmless joke like

"You just did. Thank you."

...is perfectly all right. Especially if you remain friendly and your tone of voice makes clear that you're not interested.

As long as you're not mean to them and don't waste their time, it's all right.

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    Some might consider a joke at someone else's expense to be mean. – NotThatGuy Sep 4 '17 at 19:51
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    Well, the joke seems to imply that it's a stupid question, and presumably that they're stupid for asking it, so I'd say yes, it is at their expense (although that's not to say everyone would be offended by it). – NotThatGuy Sep 4 '17 at 20:29
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    @NotThatGuy The vendor is fully aware that they are wasting the time of hundreds of people just for their personal gain. If they ignore clear body language and disinterest of someone who is in a hurry - and accept that person may be late because of their personal greed, a harmless joke at their expense is not even beginning to be rude. If they talk to me when I'm clearly not interested, they are bad at their job - because they should target potential customers instead of annoying uninterested people – Falco Sep 5 '17 at 11:52
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    Wish I could upvote Falco's comment twice. So many people lose sight that the vendor is being egregiously rude in wasting the time of hundreds of people just for their personal gain. Worrying about a mild joke in this context is more than anything implicity encouraging the vendor to continue annoying people. – user11886 Feb 12 '18 at 17:18
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    @NotThatGuy .... so what? I'd argue wasting my time is mean. – ell Jul 12 '18 at 19:57
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If they approach you, you can always just say:

I'm not interested, thank you.

That could still be considered a little rude (although for the Netherlands, it's probably fine), but less rude than simply ignoring them (or making a joke at their expense).

A middle ground between this and ignoring them would be looking at them and shaking your head (in an "I'm not interested"-kind of way, not in an "I'm judging you so hard right now" way).

Both of these can be somewhat awkward if the person is not actually trying to sell you something but is rather just trying to e.g. get directions.

If you want to be even less rude, you'd need to actually hear them out (but who has time for that...).


I personally tend to opt for just ignoring them, but I also don't really care if they think I'm rude.

  • You're really that important that you don't have time to hear a person out? – Hashim Sep 3 '17 at 21:50
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    @Hashim what benefit is gained for either party if you're not interested in the product? You waste your time listening and theirs trying to sell to someone who has no interest in buying. – Catija Sep 4 '17 at 3:39
  • @Catija You can only know there's a product by hearing someone out. A person could just be in need of directions or some help. It takes less than 20 seconds to find out. Of course this assumes you're aware someone is a street vendor, but the impression I got from this answer was that he'd ignore anyone that approached him on the street. – Hashim Sep 4 '17 at 3:42
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    @Hashim You clearly don't have the same vendors we do. If you get caught they will trap you uncomfortably for the better part of five minutes. – Catija Sep 4 '17 at 3:44
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    I would like to add, that it is really obvious these people are vendors: sponsored jackets and banners. – Tinkeringbell Sep 4 '17 at 5:04
7

In Japan nodding/bowing is really common, so it may not be as applicable in your country, but I just nod my head in their direction showing that I acknowledge them as a human being and recognize/respect their efforts, but continue walking as I am not interested. This shows that you aren't judging them or being condescending, but rather you really are not interested in being sold to, or are in a hurry.

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    This would be really confusing in the Netherlands. - Nodding implies "yes" here and people will think you are inviting them for a follow up question. Shake your head instead. (Or just say "no thanks".) – paul23 Feb 14 '18 at 3:11
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No, I'm not interested, thank you

This is good enough. It may be good to know that street vendors in The Netherlands have to stop trying to sell you a product once you have made it clear that you want them to stop doing that.

In case you find the above a little too rude, you can always let them say their thing first and then tell them you're not interested. You're not the only person that doesn't like street vendors and that's why they often try to keep their first message short and to the point, so it usually shouldn't take more than five seconds for them to finsih their first message.

However as someone from The Netherlands myself I wouldn't consider directly saying that you're not interested rude.

3

Trying the classic "Sorry but I'm not interested" should work in most cases, but if the vendor still persists, try this:

Look, I don't want to waste your time by letting you tell me everything about your product and then walking away without buying it because I'm not interested (busy/in a hurry). So, thank you but no, thank you.

It would be a good idea to keep your smile natural and tone gentle while conveying this message and most of the times, people will understand.

  • Compared to, "May I ask you a question?" it's a long speech. "No." doesn't waste their time or yours. "Not interested." wastes very little time and conveys to some more strongly that you're not going to change your position. In the time your answer takes, they could've pestered five other people. – Ed Grimm Apr 5 at 4:00
2

Please be sure that this type of street vendors has a good salary indeed. It is reputed to be one of the best earning activities for time & money pinched students these days.

I try to keep it silent always.

Once one of them is inside my trajectory, first I spy if I'm targeted. If I am, I seek eye contact and shake my head to indicate I'm not interested. And I smile very nicely.

99% of the time this works, no problem.

In the rare case my preferences are ignored they receive my dagger stare and possibly the word 'NO' (emphasis intended).

By this time I'm seriously annoyed and any further attempt to reach out to me comes full stop.
Hopefully this will work for you too :-)

2

If they are trying to me sign up for a charity I reply;

Thank you, I am already a supporter of your organization.

They seem pleased and do not engage me any further.

  • Simple, yet effective. A very elegant solution. – Vylix Sep 5 '17 at 6:47
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"No thanks" and walk on. Polite and doesn't waste your time or theirs

This is even appropriate no matter what their specific question is. It doesn't have to address the wording of their question. e.g. Even if it's not an offer, or if they are making a request to you.

e.g.

Q: "Can I ask you a question?" - A: "No Thanks", walk on.

or

Q: "Have you got a minute?" - A: "No thanks", walk on.

This might seem like an odd answer, but there is a reason they phrase the question in such a way - it's a sort of psychological sales trick or tactic to get you to stop so they can talk to you, they are trying to play off your politeness.

They know that if they phrase it as if they are asking a favour of you (e.g. by saying "Can I ask you a question?" or "Do you have a minute?") and you just say "No", you will feel rude or uncomfortable, therefore you'll be reluctant to do that.

So If you just say "No thanks", no matter what they said, they'll get the message, and you'll get to keep your feeling of politeness.

  • This is my default answer even to less polite queries or demands. In some cases their reaction shows slight confusion, but I consider that a plus. In any case, it gets the point across. – Ruther Rendommeleigh Apr 10 at 9:48

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