ArchiveBlog 13

Consumer Culture

Sales people at the markets in Ghana are very persistent. So much so that they grab my arms and pull and drag me to their shops and tell me they don’t even want me to buy anything they just want me to look, while impatiently, and somewhat frighteningly, pointing at their own eyes. So if I do listen to them and just go to look, the salesman still will pick up some random piece of work and ask me, “How much would you pay for it?” Even if I say, “No, I don’t want it,” he continues, “I give you a good price.” If I briefly let my gaze hover over an object for too long he will snatch it up and ask me, “What you will pay for it?” Of course, he is just trying to be a good salesman, but many people in the group feel that this aggressive approach is too much and is more negative to their business as it drives us away.

Hawkers outside the car, bus or taxi shake their merchandise in my face, and even after I’ve shaken my head “no,” they continue to hold it there, looking at me. They appear to be thinking, “I know you want it, you may not even need this random emergency road side triangle, but you have so much money and buy so many things for luxury, why not this?” It is aggressive, and I think that, while it is amusing at times, lately, I would like to just shop in peace. I am much more likely to buy something from the guy who is just standing by than the man who disrupts my browsing by asking me if every little thing I look at is something I want to buy. It is a different approach than in the US where you browse, you ask questions if you have them, no one is too pushy, and perhaps you make the purchase, but there is never any pressure… unless you’re buying a car. Instead here if I accidentally make eye contact with the lady across the road balancing a huge case of donuts on her head, she quickly starts to make her way to me, and if the car starts to move as traffic moves…then she starts to run after me…and at this point she isn’t going to catch my car so I have to sink down in my seat feeling horrible that she is still running after me. If she caught up with me; talk about pressure. I would have to buy a donut.

At first, I found it amusing that people put their random posters labeling the parts of the human body or listing various vegetables with their pictures too, right up on the window of the car, another thing I clearly need to own. I thought it was funny that they sometimes made expressions or sounds that say, “ Jeez Obruni, buy something because you can!” But after a while, it became annoying to me to have everyone see me sitting in a taxi or car and they make sure to linger an extra moment with the chocolate in their hand and stare at me, expectantly. I started to get annoyed at the assumption that because I’m white, I obviously have so much money that what does necessity have to do with it? They do linger and go up to every car but hearing them shout in delight or outrage, “Oh, Obruni!” when they see me or when I don’t buy anything kind of leads me to think they have expectations from white people.

Now, again after thinking about it, I see it in a different way. I think Ghanaian salesmen have the idea that if they present items to me enough like I need them, I – a consumer cultured American- will be like, “Wait, you say I need that very close to life size fertility bottle opener?”

I think that the idea of white people as rich and as constant consumers of things is the obvious reason for the aggressive approach towards us Obrunis, especially in the markets. That is how the US is stereotyped here, just like how Africa is stereotyped as poor in the US. It would be nice if there was more awareness about these stereotypes, but that is not really the top priority of the awareness list in Ghana. They basically are using most advertising agencies’ approach by telling you constantly that you need something, putting it in your face, and telling you you’re going to get a good deal. They are just physically doing this as opposed to mentally, which is uncomfortable for many but may be a more ethical way to do it. It is often not easy to tell the merchants “no,” just like it is hard not to secretly worry or believe the commercial showing you how ugly you might get if you don’t use face cream. You feel pressured to look at their things and perhaps even buy them after enough pushing. It makes sense, and as much as I don’t like it and think they would be more successful if they would be less aggressive, they seem to have a great understanding of how to sell to people and use those fantastic brainwashing principles to try and get people to buy things.

While shopping (or avoiding overpaying) has its challenges in Ghana, I do love the bartering and trading opportunities. I love that even though the taxi driver is giving me an inflated price, I can keep going lower or walk to another taxi, which usually gets the driver to agree to a better price. While bartering with a Taxi driver who was randomly dressed in a black and white suit and was wielding a small black cane around… I ask, “How much to American house?”  He says it’s 20 cedi to get me there from Labadi beach! I was outraged and had to make sure and show it! “What!? No, no, I paid 8 cedi to get here, I’ll find another taxi.” He says that it is in the middle of the night so it is more expensive. I reply, “Yeah it’s in the middle of the night and there is NO traffic! Don’t give me the Obruni price!” Then as I walk away he counters with 13cedi but I know I can still get lower. I walk to another driver starting at 8 cedi and after a short second he agrees to 10 cedi. I like that I can take all my extra stuff- my hand sanitizer, hangers, shampoo, clothes, and shoes and go try to trade it away for gifts for my family. The system of bargaining and trading will never be outdated and I prefer it to the set price in the US. It is ironic to me because it seems that their free market system in Ghana, and other places, is perhaps a little more free than in the US. Capitalism at its finest!