Hubby has a particular approach to touts who hassle us in tourist traps. Actually his approach is not limited to that particular context. He does it everywhere to anyone! His inspiration for getting rid of unwanted attention is Clarence Beeks. He was the inside trader in the 1983 film ‘Trading Places’. I know! Shocking! 1983 FFS! 32 years ago! How old does that make you feel? Anyway, when hubby is approached by a stranger, he simply does a ‘Clarence Beeks’. He pauses whatever it is he is doing, looks them straight between the eyes (and this is the only time he will make eye contact – otherwise he says making eye contact with a stranger is dangerous) and says ‘Fuck off” before resuming whatever it was he was doing before the interruption, like nothing happened.
Asked every two seconds, by touts in Times Square this month, if I wanted to go on a ‘hop on, hop off’ bus tour was annoying. They may warrant a classic Beeks but I am not hubby! I have a modicum of emotional intelligence. These people are just trying to survive in a tough city. I have no idea how much they make per sale but I suspect it is commission based only and shite. They might do better though if they didn’t snatch the leaflet they hand you straight back when you say ‘No thank you’ (because I am polite). I might have perused it at my leisure in a Starbucks and decided to hop on one of their open top buses in 90F in an exhaust fume filled city, if they had given me five minutes to think about it. When this hassle happens all day even a Clarence Beeks seems like a mild response. Sometimes you get a jolly ticket tout. One tout asked ‘Why not?’ when I declined. I was able to honestly tell him I had a plane to catch in three hours. It made him laugh in a way that Clarence Beeks would not have. He wished me a good trip.
Sometimes using hubby’s approach would be better. We asked for directions once in Atlanta. A very friendly man offered to lead the way. One wrong turn later down a rather dark back street and we were asked for money. We deducted the cost of dry-cleaning our immediately soiled pants and gave him all the remaining money we had. Luckily we aren’t entirely stupid and only had $20 cash. You can’t be too careful in big cities!
New York claims the title of the most unfriendly city in the world. Of the Cities I have visited I think Moscow wins. When I nicely asked a 6’ 8” cubic Muscovite doorman to pose with my cute little 4’8” son he did a Clarence Beeks on me! How rude!
Knowing the dangers of big cities I made the mistake of making eye contact with a New Yorker and asking for help. I say ‘mistake’ because I am conditioned by past experience and Hubby into thinking we should never ask for help in cities. Our biggest arguments stem from us being lost, traipsing around in unfamiliar places and his abject refusal to ask anyone for directions. In fairness to him the Atlanta experience favours his approach. This time, I was desperate for help and needed insider knowledge. Part of my mid-life crisis has involved getting my nose pierced. I left my nose stud at home and had scoured New York for days for a replacement before it healed up, but to no avail. I was stood outside a pawn shop and a woman asked if I needed help, so strictly speaking I didn’t ask. I didn’t do a Clarence Beeks either. She said she could help and phoned a friend. She spoke to him, possibly in Russian. A New Yorker Russian… How unfriendly can you get? She handed the phone to me and told me to tell him what I needed. I resisted saying ‘Big cocks and vodka’. It didn’t matter anyway – he couldn’t understand me. She tried a different tact and told us to follow her as she meandered off 5th Avenue and up a side street. She said she would be sacked if her boss noticed she was missing. I was panicking. Images of Atlanta and Russian mafia combined in my head, which wasn’t nearly as scary as the look hubby gave me. Full Clarence Beeks! Still, I didn’t want to be as rude as he is so I resisted running away and I followed the lady politely in my best British accent. She talked incessantly and kept stressing that we were tourists and British. I couldn’t work out if this was in sympathy or mockery. She took us into an indoor jewelry market – which seemed auspicious given my need. She introduced me to an Egyptian man. I started to wonder if I was in a James Bond Movie and I might get some vodka after all. The Egyptian said he could help. I waited for the punch line… the angry boss making a cameo appearance…waving a gun, her hand held out for payment…waving a gun, Marilyn Monroe singing ‘diamonds are a girls best friend’… anything other than the totally unexpected ending. The lady simply wished us a lovely stay in New York and left. I was shocked!
The Egyptian sold me 2 gold and diamond nose studs so cheaply I accidentally said out loud ‘Is that all?” when he told me the price. She delivered! There was nothing in it for her. She was just genuinely nice and helpful. I left the jewelers in a daze, needing a cup of tea and said rather too loudly ‘Where’s a Starbucks when you need one’. A complete stranger said ‘Over there’. And sure enough there was!
How sad is it that we expect the worst – to be cheated, ripped off, fleeced or worse. Had I done a Clarence Beeks my hole would have healed …and I would have missed out on a wonderful New York life affirming experience.
Clarence Beeks… “Fuck off!”