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Spanish Words of the Day: Top Manta

The Local Spain
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Spanish Words of the Day: Top Manta
A member of the People's Union of Street Vendors walks the catwalk during a fashion show to present the t-shirts of their new crowdfunded trademark project 'Top Manta' in Barcelona. (Photo by PAU BARRENA / AFP)

If you've spent time in any major Spanish city or tourist spot, you'll have no doubt seen 'top manta' happening.

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Top manta is a Spanish expression used to refer to the illegal sale of fake and counterfeit goods on bedsheets and blankets in the street.

Known as manteros in Spanish, these street hawkers are usually from sub-Saharan African countries, and they sell fake and copied products such as CDs, DVDs and phone cases, as well as imitation clothes (often football shirts), handbags, watches and shoes.

Selling in this way is illegal in Spain, and the idea behind using bedsheets is that they can quickly wrap up their stuff in a sack (there's often a string attached) and disappear whenever the police pass through the area.

The phrase is pretty simple: manta means bedsheet, blanket, or throw. Top is the English adjective (as in best), used to refer to the supposed quality of the goods on sale.

Many manteros are undocumented migrants, so street selling is often the only form of income they can find in Spain.

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However, that hasn't stopped a group of migrants in Barcelona forming a clothing collective and launching their own clothing brand 'Top Manta' that sells its own brand of shoes with the slogan: 'True clothes for a fake system.'

READ ALSO: In Spain, migrant-designed trainers kick against system

Top manta is illegal but still a common sight in Spanish city centres. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)

Though top manta sellers are a familiar sight on streets around Spain, manteros have gained traction in the Spanish media in recent years.

Amadou Diouf, a Senegalese mantero, told El Diario that "a person who dedicates himself to top manta does so because the law on foreigners forces him to do so", despite the fact that one "arrives in Spain with a desire to work and integrate into society."

READ ALSO: Spain to debate blanket legalisation of its 500,000 undocumented migrants

If the laws were changed, Diouf said, manteros "would dedicate themselves to their own trade", and he stressed that he and many others were not street sellers in Senegal or their home countries, but started to do so in Spain because they had no other option.

Top Manta used in the Spanish press.

Some years ago a top manta seller who goes by Lory Money went viral on Spanish social media for his song in which he talks about 'doing a Santa Claus' (hago el santa claus) referring to the way street sellers quickly turn their manta into a sack, like Santa Claus, before running away.

Examples of top manta in speech

Aunque el top manta sea ilegal, los que lo dedican a ello lo hacen para sobrevivir (Even though street hawking is illegal, the guys who do it for a living need it to survive).

Creo que la policía ha pillado a algunos de los manteros, (I think they caught some of the street vendors).

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