Louise Elliot– Even the linguistically-challenged understand looky-looky.
“Looky-looky!” we hear as we drink morning coffee, order lunch or relax over dinner.
“Looky-looky,” street vendors command as they trudge from bar to bar, from restaurant to restaurant on every promenade and paseo along the Mediterranean coast and on every island from Mallorca to Tenerife.
You’d have to be naive to believe you are being offered genuine Versace sunglasses or a Prada bag. The big labels complain about fakes, of course, but there is an upside for them because their names resound amongst those who cannot normally afford them. There is no such thing as bad publicity even if it’s from fake goods sold by someone who is probably an illegal immigrant.
And – let’s say it – someone who is a black, illegal immigrant. This isn’t racism, it’s a fact and that this man risked so much to scrape a precarious living in Spain is a tribute to our imperfect society.
However bad things are here, they are a hundred times worse in the place he left in sub-Saharan Africa and paid a fortune to leave.
That’s why he gives you a ready smile although the most persistent vendors are harder to shake off than a heavy cold. That smile can rapidly sour into something less amiable as their approach becomes more persuasive or even aggressive.
Unless they are bored or can’t tell Hermes from H&M, few residents or tourists want to be talked into buying and the more fluent your Spanish the easier they are to get rid of. A foreigner is easier prey than someone who knows where and how to complain about being pestered.
Everyone knows that you are supposed to haggle with a street vendor, but the €20 that a tourist eventually spends on a rip-off designer bag is €20 less for a legitimate business-owner.
Shopkeepers who pro-vide employment, pay Social Security, income tax, IVA value-added tax and comply with everything that the law demands of a business-owner resent this competition. They are eaten away with over-heads as they grapple with the economic crisis while they see their opportunist rivals make profits without responsibilities.
But the looky-looky men remain. Given that the majority of the clients on a bar or restaurant terrace regard them as a nuisance, why are they allowed over the threshold?
There are dark conjectures that owners fear reprisals. Not everyone dismisses as a conspiracy theory the suggestion that they pay protection money and the looky-looky men are not what they seem. Some vendors are in thrall to people-traffickers owed money for their illicit passage to Spain or those who supply their wares.
One of the biggest financial-corruption scandals of 2012 centred on a still-remanded Asian businessman, ostensibly an impeccably upright citizen, whose alleged crimes include tax fraud, money-laundering, prostitution and drugs. Is it entirely coincidental that the fake goods offered by looky-looky men are made in China?
What is undeniable is that if they are asked the right way, some looky-looky men sell drugs although they are seldom found with enough on them to be charged with dealing.
It’s generally agreed that the police are little help but the law is not on the side of law-enforcers in this area. An arrested looky-looky man will soon be out on the street again, minus his wares and whatever money he has been fined but ready to return to the nearest paseo.
And there he is, ready to accost you again, bags and scarves with a covetable log over his arm, and fake Rolexes or sunglasses tucked into a toolbox.
But who does he really work for?
Editor’s note: No tax, no IVA, no social security, no overheads, no red tape.
How the many business people that advertise in the Euro Weekly News must wish they could get away with the Looky-Looky business model!
They are legal, pay their dues, create employment and, through their taxes, help provide the many services we all enjoy. But what do they get in return?
For them the struggle against the infamous Spanish bureaucracy is a daily battle. A little of the leeway given to looky-looky men by the authorities would go a long way to helping their businesses thrive.