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  • Nicholas J Johnson

Manners maketh the mark

Amy was on holidays in Beijing when she made friends with a young Chinese student. The young woman was excited to be able to practice her English on Amy and Amy, who was travelling alone, was excited to make a local friend. 

The student, who called herself Mei, told Amy that she was on her way to have tea with friends and invited her to join them. Amy, keen on that authentic local experience that all travellers crave, eagerly agreed.

And that’s how Amy found herself enjoying a traditional tea ceremony in a small, backstreet tea house with half a dozen young Chinese students. Amy made fast friends with the whole group and they made plans to meet up again.

When the bill came, the students threw their credit cards on the table without even looking at the amount. Amy craned her neck to see the bill. It seemed high but she couldn’t do the math quick enough in her head. And so, not wanting to be rude, she threw her card in as well.

As soon as she got back to the hostel where she was staying she checked her bank details. She had been charged $300USD for a cup of lukewarm tea.

She had been scammed.

The question is, was Amy gullible?

Not really. After all, she knew instinctively that something wasn’t right. She knew to check her bank details as soon as she got back to the hostel. 

Amy wasn’t gullible, she was polite.

“I knew something was up,” she told me. “But I just didn’t know how to say something. Everyone had been so friendly up until that point I didn’t want to ruin the vibe.”

In other words, when given the choice between being rude and being scammed. Amy chose the later.

Our obsession with being polite at all costs is one of the leading causes of scams, particularly these small scale swindles. 

This might explain why one in six seniors has been the victim of some kind of fraud. Older people come from a generation that values manners and etiquette, often to their own detriment.

Security consultant Gavin De Becker talks about this phenomena in his book, Protecting The Gift: “If perceived as a rude woman, you are far less attractive a target than a polite one.” 

Most of De Becker's work involved protecting his celebrity clients from physical attacks and advising the public, particularly women, how to avoid being sexually assaulted. 

“Never worry about being rude to someone. If somebody asks you if you want help carrying your bag, you can say, ‘Fuck off,’ and you can run away.” he said recently in an interview. “I’ve seen literally hundreds and studied so many where the decision of the woman to allow someone to remain in her environment because of fear about appearing to be not nice was the direct advantage that the bad actor used.”

One of the best first steps in avoiding being a victim of scams is to learn to value our safety and our money more than our desire to be seen as polite.


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