The Rose Sellers of Milan

From the comments on the previous post, I felt it was time I spoke about the rose sellers on Milan’s streets.

Italy, as you probably know, has very porous borders and illegal immigration is a big problem, here. This, in spite of the fact, that, as a throw-back (or so I believe) from the fascist era, everyone is required to carry identity documents with them at all times and show to any policeman, if requested – and we have a lot of policemen around and about.

Still, it seems that illegal immigrants are everywhere. Of course, having got here, they have to support themselves in some way. It seems that many people from eastern Europe become restaurant waiters or openly beg in the streets; people from the Philippines/Indonesia areas become cleaners/nurses; people from Africa sell bags/belts/CDs on the street; the Chinese work in China town or as cooks in restaurants and, people from the Indian sub-continent sell jewellery on the street or roses.

And it’s the last category that I want to talk about. They come out, generally at night, as that is when most people are out dining for pleasure. They carry a bunch of roses – about 10 to 15, long stemmed in a single colour (red, pink, blue) and they sometimes sport an instamatic camera.

They are, from what I can tell, given an area to work. I don’t know whether they buy the roses or are given them. Either way, they must have to sell a certain number or they have no money/get beaten/something else. They are persistent. As smoking is, generally, not allowed in restaurants and many people here still seem to smoke, it is common practice for small groups of people to leave the restaurant during the meal to get their nicotine fix. These are the people first approached by the rose sellers. The rose sellers proffer their roses by pushing them right under the potential punters nose. Usually the man but sometimes the woman. They don’t move. A ‘No, grazie’ doesn’t seem to put them off. In fact, they are quite happy to stay there, smiling and, if they have the camera round their neck, proffering the camera to explain that they can take a picture of you with the rose. They are likely to proffer the rose more than once and often will not depart until you show signs of obvious irritation or, even, anger.

Some restaurants let them enter and some restaurants don’t. For the ones that don’t, they will, sometimes, risk the wrath of the owner by going in anyway before being chased out.

Obviously, the best places are the more touristy areas. I guess these places are saved for the best ‘agents’.

So the real question is – should you buy a rose or not? If, by buying the rose, you are perpetuating this problem, shouldn’t you NOT buy a rose? I know someone that will always give them the €2 (or whatever the amount is) and not take the rose. Some time ago, I made the decision never to buy and I never do but I do feel a little guilty, knowing that they have to earn some money somehow. And I do feel somewhat sorry for them. It’s hard enough being a legal immigrant somewhere without having the illegality of it all to the problem AND having to work watching the rich people (comparatively speaking) enjoy an evening out – and all you want is to sell them a rose for a couple of Euro.

Incidentally, I often see them holding the bunch upside down under the many drinking fountains to keep them looking fresh. Be assured that these roses will be lucky to last the night let alone any longer. And, for goodness sake, don’t do what a friend once did – buy the whole bunch for his wife. This enraged the restaurant owner who, probably, wasn’t happy with them hanging around in the first place.

2 thoughts on “The Rose Sellers of Milan

  1. I pick and choose. I never buy from elaborate beggars (which is essentially what these people are) on the theory that once you make this an occupation, begging is a choice. If you’re entrepreneurial enough to keep roses looking fresh, then you can damn well get a job.

    I do tip people who work in low paid work. We need to reward work better. I wrote something about this in a post called “Almsgiving or Tipping” (

  2. Yes, I understand what you mean. The only thing in their favour, if you like, is that, if they are illegal, they cannot get ‘real’ work.
    I do agree with you about the tips for low paid workers. It’s a little different here, in Italy. The pay differential between someone who has a salaried job and, say, someone who is a waiter in a restaurant, is not so big, nor are the waiters expected to ‘earn’ part of their salary via tips, whereas, in the US, from what I understand, tips are a part of the salary. However, I will read your post.

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