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2:55pm on Friday, 28th July, 2006:



There are lots of illegal street traders in Florence. OK, so there are lots of legal ones (mainly selling leather goods, tourist guides and more leather goods), but it's the illegal ones that catch they eye as they're generally in the way.

The thing about the illegal ones is that they all sell the same goods. The posters sold by one poster-seller are identical to those sold by every other poster-seller. It gets so you can look down and think, "hmm, he must have sold his ballerina". The best thing is when the police arrive, because the posters are all put down so that they slightly overlap, which means the seller can scoop up a line of eight in about a second — very impressive! They must practice at home or something. The posters are A2 size and on some kind of canvas-effect plastic, so they can take this kind of punishment. The illegal bag-sellers, on the other hand, have to lay out their wares on a blanket which they can pick up by the corners if any law enforcement officers are spotted.

Here are the goods being sold illegally:

Interestingly, these items are sold entirely along ethnic lines. The posters and cars are sold only by Arabs; the bags and sunglasses are sold only by (I think) Somalis; the shawls, animals and letters are sold only by Chinese people. The Arabs and Somalis are exclusively male, but the Chinese involve women, too (women sell shawls, men sell letters, both sell the straw animals).

I've no idea why there's this breakdown. Apart from the animals, which are made by hand as you watch, there would seem to be no reason why Somalis couldn't sell shawls or Arabs sell sunglasses, but they don't.

It must be to do with access to supplies...

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Copyright © 2006 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).