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Multi-Sited Ethnography Project:

Professional Selling to Tourists

by Tatsuru Kimura



“At first, merchants came.  Next, missionaries came.  At last, military came.”  One of my high school teachers told us that this is a typical process of colonization.  Why did merchants come first?  It is because, I think, trading is the easiest way to start an intercultural communication because both buyer and seller have desire to get benefits and it requires the least amount of information exchange.  Today, a lot of tourists from economically developed countries travel around the world and buy souvenirs and transportation services such as taxis.   Local people also target those wealthy travelers and try to sell them things in various ways.  Various communications occur between buyers and sellers.  Of course, I bought some stuff during the voyage and became involved in such kinds of communication.  Sometimes, I felt uncomfortable at arguments with souvenir sellers, and sometimes felt anger, but I am still interested in communication with these people and their technique of selling. 

This paper is a multi-sited ethnography about those souvenir sellers and drivers.  In Ethnography in/of the World System: The Emergence of Multi-Sited Ethography, George E. Marcus explains that multi-sited ethnography takes the place of conventional single-sited ethnography because of the need for tracking an issue in the context of global connections.  In my case, comparing behavior of local souvenir sellers at a particular site to that of another site will make the specific characteristics of each site clearer.  I am going to describe the behavior of souvenir sellers or drivers' behavior in Vietnam, India and Egypt, and then make a comparison among them.  

Following articles are my personal experiences and interpretations at each site and are the basis for my observations below:

  1. Rickshaw Drivers in Chennai (India)
  2. Souvenir Sellers around Ben Thanh Market (Vietnam)
  3. Souvenir Sellers in Giza (Egypt)


There are some souvenir-selling techniques which are common only within a particular limited area.   For example, pretending to walk away is only seen around the Giza pyramids.  I did not see this strategy in any other area in Egypt.  Another example is the distribution of Japanese words in Ho Chi Minh City.  A particular Japanese phrase is only known to a particular area or group in Ho Chi Minh City.  I guess these phenomena happen because vendors often share their techniques or information within a small group of the same business.  Around the Giza pyramid I often saw souvenir sellers gathering.  Especially, around eight o’clock in the morning, several of them made a circle and enjoyed their breakfast together.  I guess there is also such community of souvenir vendors around Ben Thanh market in Ho Chi Minh City, although I did not see any gatherings of souvenir vendors there. 

The way to bring their commodity to market was also shared only within a small area.  In Giza, all souvenir vendors walking around the Great Pyramid bring their commodities in duffle bags.  However, at streets in Cairo, souvenir vendors bring their commodity in a box, which is similar to what the souvenir vendors around Ben Thanh market hang from their neck.   This difference may come from the environments where the souvenir vendors work.  Around the pyramids, small scale storms are common and they deal with relatively light weight commodity such as turbans.  To protect a commodity from sand and wind, a duffle bag is more suitable than a shallow bottomed box.  How souvenir vendors bring their commodity to their sales site largely depends on their working environment. 

I felt some common dishonesty between Indian rickshaw drivers and Egyptian souvenir sellers.  Although I did not mention it in my articles, I also found similarity between the way to ask for money by rickshaw drivers and camel riders who works for tourists.  It is interesting that they use similar techniques despite working at sites that are so far from each other.   I assume there is a common reason they use a similar technique, although at this point, I am not able to explain why this similarity occurs. 

In Becoming a Participant Observer, Gerry Tierney explains about her fieldwork on the lives of homeless people in Anchorage, Alaska.  She mentions the frustrations and advantages of staying in the field for long time to observe and participate in every activity.  I sympathize with what she says, although I am not a professional anthropologist.  I sometimes felt uncomfortable about cultural differences that I encountered even though I only stayed in each country for five days.  On the other hand, I really did not have enough time to understand what is going on because I could only stay in each country for such a short time.  I think that participation is an essential part of fieldwork.  When I looked back on my experiences in each country to write this paper, I realized that I did not participate the souvenir sellers’ lives.  As you can notice, I wrote papers only based on my observation, not on participation.  I interacted with souvenir sellers and drivers only as a buyer or interviewer.  I sold my jacket in Giza to a souvenir vender and I learned how difficult it is to sell something at the price that I wanted to sell it at.  It is my only experience as a seller, and I know this experience is so much different from selling souvenirs to tourists.  Through this experience, I reconfirmed that I could only expect to have the view of a traveler who goes through local people’s lives so quickly.  When I was writing a paper for the anthropology class, I had to admit my lack of knowledge about the people whom I was writing about and my halfway experience. 

In Lessons from the Field, George Gmelch explains his students' field experience in Barbados.  They encountered a lot of culture shock through living with local people.  This is another example of participant observation.  I have stayed in the U.S. as a foreigner for two years, and I think I have experienced something that I would not experience if I had just traveled for a short time in the U.S.  Living in a site which is unfamiliar to me gives me a different perspective from traveling through there.


            As I mentioned above, there are some similarities and differences among behaviors of souvenir sellers and drivers in the three countries I have discussed.  Even in a given city,  I saw differences among behavior of those people who work in different areas or social groups.  Differences are often caused by the difference of geographical, social and economical environments that people are surrounded by.   In terms of similarity, I could not draw any conclusion.  

The behaviors of the souvenir sellers and drivers will keep changing.  All of the three areas that I mentioned are now in the process of quick development and are expecting significant social change.  I just observed a moment of those developments.  I expect that if I visit these sites few years from now, I would see completely different techniques of selling souvenirs or rickshaw service.  When I visit one of these sites next time, I want to pay attention to these people again.

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