When you first walk through the markets here in El Salvador, it looks like people are just sitting or standing around and not doing much. If that’s your impression, look closer.
First consider the dynamics of whether you sell food or other goods. Those selling food have the advantage that people need to eat every day. Unfortunately, food has a definite shelf life, especially sitting out in the market. If you don’t sell before the food spoils, you lose. Meat and fish lose their value the quickest. People selling other goods, such as belts, watches, electronics, and a countless other things, have the advantage that their goods last a long time. Unfortunately, these are not everyday purchases. Some augment the goods they sell by also selling a service. The man selling watches, can also make basic repairs on watches, replace the battery, or fix your watch band using the supplies in his fanny-pack.
No matter whether people have food or goods, they need to work on selling. People selling food are often stationary. They might be sitting there but they are looking for people to sell to. Some are calling out to people all of the time. They are using their energy the least efficiently. Most are watching you carefully. If you even let your eyes briefly rest on their wares, they will begin talking to you trying to sell to you. Some people selling goods wander are more mobile. They may sit down at times that tend to be slow for sales. Then during times at which they are more likely to make a sale, lunch hour for instance, they are up and trying to find customers.
Then there is the maintenance and marketing of their goods. People selling fresh fruits and vegetables want their food to look the freshest. They sprinkle their goods with water or rotate better looking items to be more towards the front of their display. While waiting for the bus in La Palma, I stood next to a woman selling tamales and other cooked foods. It looked like she was just sitting there and occasionally calling out that she had food to sell. But, every ten seconds she waved a cloth over her food to chase away flies. People here do not like flies and other insects. People also have to be prepared for inclement weather and often have to bring their young children to the market because there is nobody else to care for them.
Selling is challenging, make no mistake. It may look like they are not doing much, but looks can be deceiving.