Someone who publicly solicits customers in a bold way.
“Hello, want beer?” “Hi, this great bar! Come inside!” “Good drink here!”
The calls grow louder and more intrusive as you progress down Beijing’s Sanlitun Bar Street, a cornucopia of gaudy facades, neon lights and larger than life beer advertisements. This stretch of Sanlitun is home to a number of bars that depend on touts to feed their thirst for customers, most of whom are tourists. The touts work the sidewalk like carnival barkers, each having only a few seconds to pull passing customers inside before they pass onto the next bar’s turf.
John is a longtime Beijing bar tout in his 30s that we recently interviewed. Contrary to many others in his line of work, John is not obnoxious. He comes off as amiable and genuine. Also unusual is his command of the English language, which is unheard of among touts in this country. He was happy to shed some light on his profession and discuss why some bars have touts and others don’t.
So, you speak English?
Interesting. I’ve never met someone working outside a bar in China who can actually speak English.
In some bars, if you can speak English, it’s easy to get a job.
When did you begin working at this bar?
About 7 years ago.
How did you find this job? How did you enter the touting profession?
A friend of mine was working at a bar like this and he introduced me to the management.
Did you speak English at that time?
I did, but not very well.
Where did you learn the English that you now use on the job?
I started learning when I was 14. Now I practice with foreigners who are walking down the bar street. I’ll say “Hey, I have some English questions to ask you”. I have some foreign friends and I read English newspapers. I also take classes at New Oriental (the largest private language services provider in China).
Did you receive any training as a tout?
No, we just start work and then practice calling out to customers.
Have you trained any other touts?
No, my bar hasn’t hired any new touts in 7 years.
What about female touts? Why are there no female touts?