The other day, I took a few people to San Remo. As soon as I drove into the parking lot, I knew we would be in trouble with the vendors. In recent years, major European tourist destinations have been flooded with black men with sacks (mostly from Senegal) whose sole job in life is to make some money for themselves (and their bosses on up the chain of command) by selling fake purses, watches, and other “designer” items. There were five or six such vendors with blue plastic sacks slung over their shoulders like Santa Claus, waiting to pounce on us as soon as our car doors were open. Ha, I fooled them by pulling through the parking spot and choosing one at the far end of the lot.
My sneaky ploy didn’t fend them off for long. They attacked as we were making our way to the parking exit on foot. Like sharks attracted to a bloodied swimmer, the men with sacks approached the most vulnerable of the group. Brenda, with a real Burberry bag slung over her shoulder, was the easiest target. She had proven to be what you would call a “shop-a-holic” over the last two days. When walking down the street, it was as if she had a magnet inside that drew her to anything requiring a purchase. Kid’s clothes, handbags, sandals, designer clothing, or even a hair salon were not to be passed by without a look inside to see what was available. So it was no surprise that when approached by the men with sacks, Brenda went to them with open arms, eyes, and pocketbook. I still thought there was a chance to save us, so I hurried along telling those who were not captured to look the other way and ignore these vendors of worthless crap. But no, we all had to stop and watch as Brenda checked out the workmanship of knock-off Gucci and Prada handbags. I was in shock when she said she did not want one and called each item a piece of crap. I helped my gang through the gauntlet and to the safety of the parking lot retaining wall. We had a close call, but remained unscathed.
Walking into the town center, I was on the lookout for a simple place to have lunch. Down a small passageway, I located a small pizzeria that looked like it would fit the bill. Now I don’t even remember the name, but it had a few tables outside, an ancient cash register sitting in the bar inside, and a rather rotund and happy Mamma who was doing the cooking in the kitchen. As soon as we sat down, before even the waiter had a chance to speak to us, we were once again attacked by more men with sacks! Where did they come from? I do not know, but within only a moment these “vendors of worthless crap” appeared from several directions. Here we were trying to place our order for pizza, and amongst it all we had forearms thrust at us wearing brightly colored Rolex watches. It was all I could handle trying to interpret the pizza menu, ordering in Italian, and fending off the men with sacks. Brenda looked longingly at one of the guys who had a D&G belt and that was all it took. In swooped two more with the same belt in different colors. Brenda began rummaging around in her purse and pulled out a little bottle of hand sanitizer. The pesky vendors thought she was going for her money and this spurred them on even more.
Thinking back on it now it is a funny story. But at the moment I was getting angry. Normally after ten times of telling these vendors of worthless crap to beat it, they’ll get the message and move on. But I was facing a losing battle. On the one hand Brenda wanted to order her pizza and eat, yet she was drawn to the worthless crap. I’ve never seen anything like it! We did get some relief once our pizzas arrived. The vendors honed in on another unsuspecting family who had just sat down to order.
About midway through our meal it began to rain. That was ok because we were protected by an awning and roof overhang. Then to my disbelief, more men with sacks appeared out of the back alleys like buzzards attacking a dying animal. Now they were brandishing every style and color of umbrella imaginable. This was too hard to ignore. My dining companions suddenly turned into mad men in need of an umbrella. To heck with their pizza, they had left their protective rain gear back in the hotel room. I gave up, ate my pizza, and let my friends deal with the ever-present vendors of worthless crap.
In Italy, these vendors of worthless crap are known as vu cumpra. It is apparently a reference to the vendor’s grammatically incorrect interpretation of the phrase “Do you want to buy?”
A few years ago, the Italian government decided to crack down on this illegal activity. But instead of targeting the actual vendors and their mafia suppliers, the new law punishes those who purchase fake-designer merchandise. This new law makes buyers of counterfeit goods liable for fines of €3333 to €10000, and some tourists actually have been fined! A Reuters news story from August 2005 quoted the deputy mayor of Venice as stating, “Our fight against the illegal street trade is untiring.” HA, give me a break! Have you ever seen one of those men with sacks in handcuffs? But I guess the fact remains that some foreign tourists have already been nabbed and whacked with huge fines.
To further complicate matters, the Italian Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that counterfeiting isn’t a crime unless the buyer thinks the counterfeited item is the real thing. But I think this is highly unlikely given the fact that these vendors sell their goods out of sacks and towels spread out on the pavement in tourist areas. The article went on to say that Italy’s annual sales of fake goods is estimated at four to six billion euros. The authorities are under growing international pressure to bring counterfeiting and piracy under control. Hence, the new “law” to crackdown on those who purchase the fake goods.
WHAT DO YOU THINK? Have you ever bought stuff from one of these vendors? If so, did the product look and feel real? Did you feel you got a good value?