Last month, a 20-year dream came true: we visited Italy. While it was an amazing lesson in history, I was also taken by surprise at the Bangladeshis in Italy.
I heard estimates of between 200,000 and 600,000 Bangladeshis in Italy.
I saw them in Rome, Florence and Venice (but not in Siena.) The ones I saw all had small to medium-size businesses. In Rome, they were selling handbags, sunglasses and tourist material on the streets. In Florence, we walked into a store selling "Indian-looking" things - "monohori dokan" - only to find the owner was a Bangladeshi who had a chain of these stores in the city.
In Venice, they were selling trinkets - like little puppets made from balloons - on the Accademia bridge and in San Marco Square. The seller told me these would not sell in Rome, but in Venice the tourists buy them.
They were incredibly kind and polite to us. The person in Florence - much to our protestations - fed us Cokes and ice cream, and sold things to us at large discounts. When it came to prices, they said "Pay us what you want - we are so happy to see a Bangladeshi tourist here." It was a kind of haggling in reverse. One street vendor in Rome, after selling a sunglass at 18 Euro to an European person, turned around and sold me a similar sunglass at 4.5 Euro. I wanted to pay him more, but, incredible as it seems, he would not take it. I think this covered his cost, barely.
At a mini-flea-market of Bangladeshi stalls at the Tiburtina station in Rome, I fell into a discussion of the business. It costs them 1000-2000 Euros a month to rent each stall. The work is very hard, and they live frugally. So they are able to save some money which they send home. One seller in Venice said he can save up to Euro 1000 a month, but only if a lot of conditions are met (eg, he has to sell an average of 50 euros' worth daily; his food expenses cannot exceed Euro 80/month, etc etc.)
I was inspired by their entrepreneurship and touched by their generosity and hope their dreams come true soon.
Here is a stall at the mini-flea-market outside Tiburtina: