Knocking At The Wrong Door

Close to Praca do Comercio, in Lisbon, there’s a street on the bank of the Tagus river, filled with terraces. It’s the first street of the Alfama neighborhood, a place that I started to like very much lately. Ever since the Covid restrictions have been lifted, a couple of weeks ago, there’s quite a bit of activity on this street. Tourists are starting to flow in again, probably not as much as before, but still relevant.

Also, the regular sun glasses street vendors are out again.

If you don’t know what a “sun glass” street vendor in Lisbon is, here’s how it usually goes: you walk on the street, minding your own business, and then, in front of you, you see a guy with a lot of sun glasses for sale on his arm. He is obviously approaching you, and asks politely, from a distance: “Sun glass, mister?”. And no matter if you answer “yes” or “no” to this question, he is invariably approaching more, and asks again, now from around a meter, in a very low voice: “hash? marijuana?”.

A “regular sun glass” vendor is a drug dealer.

As in any parallel, mob-like type of business, there’s a lot of territoriality involved. Meaning there are places occupied by the same vendor, which probably owns the “rights” to that area. At the end of the terrace street that I talked about, there’s a small, narrow passage to another street. It makes people walk close to each other, more than usual.

One of these “sun glass vendors” occupies that specific place, which is probably considered good, because you can’t avoid it.

When he talked to me for the first time, I almost responded, because he was so natural, almost like a normal person asking for directions. Only after he finished talking I realized he was trying to sell drugs. So I avoided eye contact ever since.

But he keeps asking, every time I walk by. Every single time. There are days in which I think he’s almost angry at me, because he says something like: “name your price, man, c’mon, say it!”. Almost like he knows that I want to buy, but I’m just, you know, teasing. Of course I don’t. I don’t even look at him. I do my best to walk as far as I can, to the edge of the street, but the place is still so narrow that I can’t avoid the guy.

After a couple of weeks of this back and forth, I realized he doesn’t even know who’s talking to. I doubt he remembers every person that walks by, and he’s just using some visual marks to identify potential targets. If you dress like a tourist, or look a bit unusual (and I don’t look Portuguese at all, mind you) then you’re guaranteed to be approached, and you’re talked to.

Knocking At The Wrong Door

He is basically knocking at the wrong door, hoping someone will respond. He knows beforehand this is a wrong door, because he doesn’t know beforehand whether you want to buy or not. He can’t know that, because he never met you and he doesn’t remember if he talked to you before, he just tries his luck.

This is a very unproductive approach. I’m not, by any chance, trying to improve a drug dealing business, by the way, I’m just identifying an annoying and toxic approach. Bear with me, it will get interesting.

Every time you knock at the wrong door, you alienate a little bit your odds. It’s like doing Google Ads without any previous audience management – you just throw money on advertising, hoping someone will click that banner. Or like approaching random women on the street, PUA style ( PUA = Pick Up Artist, a type of business in which shy guys are “coached” about interacting with women). In all these cases, you’re just shouting out loud, hoping someone will hear you. You shoot randomly, hoping that one of your arrows will land on some prey.

Utterly ineffective, annoying and alienating for the potential target. As one of these potential targets for the “sun glass” vendor, I can say I almost started to avoid walking by that specific area, the only reason being the presence of that annoying guy, shouting at me to name my price.

There is another level of this, though, both more subtle and more impactful than all of the above. It’s when you randomly knock at “life’s” wrong doors. It’s when you don’t know what you want to do, but do a lot of stuff anyway, hoping that something will “catch”. It’s when you keep chasing shadows, without asking for a second from where the light comes in. It’s when you try to counteract confusion with overdoing.

We’re guilty of this so many times. I know I’ve been guilty of this, more so in the first 30 years of my life. I know I’ve been one of these guys, shouting randomly at strangers to name their price. And now I get to see, in karma’s unavoidable processes, the same behavior targeted at me.

I’m not complaining. I’m just sharing this in the hope that someone who needs this will read it at some point.

I’m not knocking on any door, just walking around, sharing what worked and what didn’t, for me.

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