Getting hustled is not as hard as you think.
A couple of years ago, I got hustled in Paris, and it demonstrated for me how much con games are like martial arts. As I walked down a quiet street between the Boulevard Richard Lenoir and Rue de La Roquette, a Turkish shoeshine guy walking in front of me dropped one of his brushes. I called out “HEY!” I picked it up and handed it to him. He thanked me and put down his kit and offered to shine my shoes. I was wearing new canvas shoes, so I said thank you but no, yet he insisted, and so I let him do his thing. Meanwhile we talked about where we were from; he spoke amazingly good English for a shoeshine guy. He talked about his three babies, and on and on. His cousin soon came over and we all shook hands and exchanged names. During this process, I slowly began to feel like I should tip him something, as his favor in return for finding his brush was taking more than a little effort.
So when he was done, instead of just walking away I foolishly asked him how much he’d normally charge for his services. He said 15 euro. I said, “Fifteen?!” He said fifteen again.
These Turkish guys had
mastered the psychology
of the hustle.
That was a fantastic amount and it added to my growing sense of feeling an obligation to repay him in some way. I also got the impression that he wanted me to pay full price for his services, and that he was not merely acting out of gratitude. So silly me, I gave him five. He and his cousin seemed truly shocked. I told him that really I didn’t think that I should be paying him anything because I just thought he was rewarding me for the favor of finding his brush. It never crossed my mind that that he wanted money, and besides, he hadn’t said he’d be charging me anything. And 15 euro for a shoeshine…a fabric shoe job was crazy! His cousin finally explained that he’d said 10 not 15. I figured I’d tell him I still had another five on me, give it to him, and be done with the whole thing. To my horror, I accidentally pulled out a 50. Of course he offered several times to make change. I said no, I told him that I’d be keeping my 50 and he could have the extra five. He didn’t argue, but stood there with his hands clasped together, silently looking down, guilt-tripping me with palpable disappointment.
Finally my anger overcame my fear of insulting him and I said 10 was all he was damn well getting. I thanked him (kindly), and I walked/stalked away. I felt like a friggin’ idiot for allowing him to pressure me into letting him do me a “favor,” and then for not having the balls to deny him any money.
And for thanking him.
Now here’s the best part. Later that night, I related the incident to my friend in Paris. He said the exact same thing happened to him the week before. He thought an American would be smart enough to see what was happening. I said, “He didn’t drop that brush by accident, did he? Absolutely not.”( I looked it up later. It was a Thing in Paris at the time.)
The scam was an adroit
martial arts sequence,
turning my own
emotions and values against me.
So what is the point of my story? These Turkish guys had mastered the psychology of the hustle. First, they tricked obliging people like me, people willing to pick up an “accidentally” dropped brush. Second, their “marks,” as a result of picking up the brush, grew invested in helping out the poor shoe polisher. The men set up an emotional bond with personal conversations and family discussions. And finally, without direct confrontation, they fabricated, they created from thin air, the expectation of a payment, by stimulating a combination of appreciation and duty. They set the perfect trap and I’d sprung it on myself; I’d even happily asked how much he normally charges. The scam was an adroit martial arts sequence, turning my own emotions and values against me.
Okay, so I paid 10 euros for shoes that looked no different from when he started. But for the lesson I learned, it was a really good deal.
SEE A LIFE COACH IN BATON ROUGE
Frank Hopkins is a life coach in Baton Rouge who is certified as a Professional Coach (CPC) by the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC). Frank has helped numerous people to go through emotional change in a way that is positively transformative.