Thursday, July 31, 2008

Scammed is scammed

The overnight flight to Paris is brutal. Hurry, hurry eat dinner, out go the lights. Then three hours later they wake you up for breakfast, the sun already well into morning. Of course we didn't sleep, we were in coach where the little blanket and eyemasks offered did little to alleviate the discomfort of essentially a tight chair. As we disembarked, we had to file through the first class section where every seat becomes a bed. As if we peasants needed another reason to hate the rich. I'll just bet you they got hot washcloths in the morning.

I don't know when it happens exactly, where you get to the point of exhaustion that could be called bleary-eyed. But it happened sometime that morning between landing and getting to the hotel. At the front desk, the lady was very nice and had our reservation all ready for us but sadly, no room until two in the afternoon. It was now 11am. She suggested we visit Sacre Coeur just nearby and gave us a map. Off we went to hike up the hill, a big gnarly hill whose steep stair-lined sides seriously attempted murder on us. (I wonder how it would be now, now that I'm nicotine free) At the top, panting, we joined the crowds of tourists that made the place feel more like an anthill. Touristy. It would become tiresome early on, this constant badgering by souvenir peddlers, petition signer uppers, tour operators, and scammers. I thought Mexican beaches were a pain in the ass, but European sightseeing locales really (take the cake is too hackneyed and I can't think of a suitable replacement), and I do mean really. As we were descending the stairs, admiring the panoramic view of Paris beneath us, we heard something we would hear hundreds of times during the trip.

Do you speak English?

Often it was in a pleading voice, the kind of way someone who was lost or needed help would ask the question. The man was just in front of me, searching my eyes for a response. If I may, I'd like to blame the bleary eye for what came next. I said yes. Then suddenly he was so grateful to have found someone who spoke English, where am I from and when did I get here, is it my first time. As I'm answering his questions, I'm all off-kilter by his needing-help vibe being replaced by a jovial welcome-wagon guy vibe. He asked me to stick out my finger, and in a flabbergastingly bad move, I complied. He promptly put a thread around my finger and started to tell me his story and where he was from. Now Serge, who had already been down a couple more flights of stairs, has come up, and these are his words later, "to rescue me". Within moments, my guy had a friend who had Serge's finger out and was doing the same macrame thing with the threads, peppering him with questions. Mind you, we hadn't slept in 30 hours at this point. Now I'm no idiot, though the evidence would surely suggest otherwise, and I did have a nice friendly chat while the man fashioned a little bracelet and tied it around my wrist. It was a clever little mafioso technique - you have to destroy it if you want to take it off, so now we owe 10 euros, and we're lucky because, as he confided, he charges the Americans 12 euros. I laughed and said, I'll give you one euro, that's a ridiculous price, it's a bit of thread, what does it cost two cents? Then they got mad and threatened to get the authorities. I said, look, I'll give you the change in my pocket. As it turned out I had I think 8 euros in my pocket. Totally scammed we were, and believe me, after that, whenever I was approached with that question, I acted like I didn't hear anyone speaking. It was not the nicest way to be christened by the city, but who knows, maybe that eight euro scam saved me much more by sharpening my awareness and keeping my wits about me. It took a few days, but it wasn't long before I was grateful.

After it happened, Serge and I both felt ashamed, how could we be such country bumpkins, rubes, suckers. We got over it fast enough (Hello, we're on vacation in PARIS) and soaked up the sights with a little bit better caution about us.

And it's weird, because that whole drama last week, though more of an emotional scam than financial, made me feel those same feelings. And in similar ways, I've a bit more caution about me.

20 comments:

Lemuel said...

I think all of us, who have some sense of decency left in us and who have not yet become completely jaded and calloused to the needs of others, have been scammed at one time or another.

For me it is important that we learn from it (as you and Spouse did) and move on, alert for similar scams but yet still having an open heart. The sad ones are the ones who continue to fall for the same scam over and over - like a certain segment of the American population who learned nothing in the last decade.

"Just David!" said...

That's why I hate going to Europe in summer. It's like every scam artist is out for you. As far as Cooper's thing, I don't know what to think. I don't let myself get too invested in anyone else's life via blogland, I've got too much going on in the "real world". Ha! It's a great way to meet people though. I've met several bloggers and some have turned out to be more interesting in blogworld than the real one, present company excluded, of course.

Dantallion said...

Well, this serves as a pretty good PSA as far as traveling in Paris goes. I might very well have fallen to it as well.

Snooze said...

When I was in Morocco vendors from one of the stalls followed me all the way back to the ship claiming that I hadn't paid them [I had]. I was so freaked out but they disappeared instantly when one of the guys from the ship came up. Scam artists prey on our shock and kindness. If you'd told them to go ahead and call the police they might have disappeared. Good thing it you didn't let that incident mar your vacation.

Paul said...

The first time I got scammed by a fictitious Blogland friend, it took me months to get over it. With Cooper, I’m moving on, with empathy.

It’s not because I’m wiser, but the situations were totally different. The first guy continued for months (hell, he still continues) to claim his authenticity. Cooper, on the other hand, has allowed a fairly public confession to come to the surface. I just can’t help but feel like he/she has got a tremendous cross to bear.

David said...

I was scammed years ago by a guy right here in NYC. He pulled the "you bumped into me and made me drop my bag with a bottle of liquor in it, you have to reimburse me" game with a plastic bag full of broken glass. Unfortunately for him, I had one lonely dollar in my wallet and that's all I could offer him. The look of disgust on his face was quite memorable.

RJ March said...

As Bugs Bunny would have said, "Whatta maroon!"

Hopefully, your nicotinelessness will make you a better judge of character. Imagine, letting a stranger tie you up and assail you with questions while you simply stand there! You never got your rude gene, did you?

Patricia said...

That's the trade-off. Living with a fair sense of caution, but still expecting the good in others versus always being cynical and looking for the worst in others. Eight Euros seems like a fair price once in a while in order to live with a happier attitude.

I loved the (Hello, we're on vacation in PARIS) 'cause if you hadn't said, I was going to!

Father Tony of the Farmboyz said...

There's a thin line between being wary of scammers who approach you and rude to strangers who approach you. In one's own city, it is easier to instantly know the difference and act accordingly. In a foreign country it is sometimes harder to differentiate. I tend to hold to the flinty/suspicious side whereas C is more trusting/open. I've been more often right than has he.

GayProf said...

As I have said, people who run scams have lots more practice perfecting them than we have in detecting them. If they were as obvious as e-mails about a Nigerian bank, they wouldn't ever get their money/emotional investment/sympathy (or whatever they desire).

em said...

I have read a few times in relation to the Nicky thing, that we are all capable of falling for scams. I think that is right. Sort of like we are all perfect parents until we actually have children.

Mark in DE said...

I thought you were going to say that while the guy was tying the thread around your finger his accomplice was lifting your wallet. Glad that wasn't the case.

Regarding the Nicky scam, it has always been my rule to assume any blogger could be someone else than whom he/she says they are. I'm more disappointed in the plagarism than surprised by the fake personality.

Mark :-)

Lewis said...

ANOTHER holiday? You dweebs. You're irritating me.

Greg said...

"gets my knickers in a twist"? How about that one...

The string around your finger, how bizarre...who'd know to look out for that one?

Colleen said...

My father landed in Italy only to have his wallet pick-pocketed.

My sister, who was travelling with my parents and who'd been to Europe before, said "Well it's a good thing I warned you about carrying your money on your person, to ensure it was safely tucked away."

And that's when he told her he had been carrying all his cash on him - $1,000.

Butch said...

I'm aware of the "pull my finger" ruse but never the "tie a string around it." I probably would have fallen for it myself. That trip is a brutal one and one usually feels like they've been beaten up when one finally arrives. Have a great time and be thankful they didn't think you were an American travelling. We aren't as welcomed in the world as we once were, and gee, I wonder why?!

Patrick said...

Yes, caution seems like a sensible response, I'm using more of it too, but speaking for myself only, I'm aware that if I get scammed, it's usually my pride that sustains the real damage. I'm definitely of the fool-me-twice-shame-on-me school... but I'm also not letting my ego run the show as much as it has in the past.

Laverne said...

That's so weird. I must look like an evil woman. Not one person approached me when I was in Paris with any of that nonsense.

Hmm...

You aren't a softer touch than me now, are you?

Monty said...

Yep, it's a shame that such a lovely place can be somewhat ruined (or at least, your perceptions) by these scammers. I too had the same sort of thing attempted on me when I was in Paris last year.

Pete said...

came back from the Czech Republic two weeks ago. I understand the trip. 11 hours 30 minutes from Frankfurt to LAX in coach. Now renamed refugee class. Lufthansa sucks. Two years ago my wallet was taken outside Vacatian City. Didnt get scammed.