The content and opinions found on this blog are mine alone, and do not reflect any position of the United States Government or the Peace Corps.

August 14, 2011

Bus Salesmen

On a recent routine bus ride to Kampala, there was an obnoxious salesman selling some kind of minty balm for soothing headaches. Salesman are a common feature of long distance Ugandan bus rides. They give long-winded speeches about how a particular herbal tea will cure HIV or how a certain brand of soap will boost your man's libido, and inevitably some poor, ignorant passengers will believe the outrageous claims and shell out the money for snake oil.

I hate these sales pitches with a passion, partly because I want to enjoy my bus ride in peace, and partly because I feel like I need to protect the less educated, who are more susceptible to such exploitation. In America, advertising like that on a bus would never fly. At the very least the bus lines would have anti-solicitation rules. More likely, the salesmen would be afraid of getting sued for spreading misinformation to sell a product. Here, though, there's no protection for the consumer. It's up to the individual to make their own judgement on whether a goods or service provider is being truthful. There is so little threat of being caught for, well, anything, that people will lie blatantly and engage in egregious acts of deception if it means they'll get paid at the the end of the day. Which obviously enrages me.

It doesn't help that Ugandans generally have little business sense, because the bus companies would probably never think of banning on-board advertising to improve the customer experience and give themselves a competitive edge. Often, I am driven by a self-righteous vigilante streak to directly tell the bus salesmen to stop their endless babbling, or to tell the passengers near me that the salesman is lying and nobody should buy his products, but these tactics have so far failed to change anything.

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