Köszönöm, nem

Seven years ago, I took. I took repeatedly. I took whatever was proffered regardless of the hand it came from or the message it carried. Then I learned the words: nem, köszönöm (no, thank you). Then I learned to put them in the right order: köszönöm, nem (thank you, no). Now I’ve added a smile and occasionally a shrug of the shoulders, but no matter what I do, when I refuse, I feel as if I’m single-handedly doing someone out of a job.

Surface from any underpass or metro in the city and you’ll be met at the top of the steps by someone handing out flyers. They could be for discounted English lessons, for half-price pizzas, for good deals on old gold, for car services, for whatever. They’re advertising of some sort or other and, by all accounts, this form of direct marketing is very effective. I know. I asked. Well…I Googled.

This from a printer: In my experience, customers always tell me how well a certain flyer worked for them in gaining valuable business. I can see how it might, were I to get it in the post or inserted in a newspaper and glance at it idly over breakfast one morning and I just happened to be in the market for three metres of silk and a spool of thread that particular Tuesday.

This from a marketing adviser: The purpose of your flyer is to get your prospective customer to take a specific, desired action. Great – but if I don’t have a dog, a car, need English lessons, or have gold to sell, what then? Is the desired action to bin it?

From a university course: Flyers can be useful tools to communicate with new or existing customers. But perhaps this customer doesn’t want to communicate with you or even be communicated with. Some distributors can be quite in-your-face and take the delivery part of their job just a little too seriously. But rather than say no to you, I have to say no to them. And suffer the look. And feel as if I’m jeopardising their job.

Many people make their living from handing out flyers. I hope they are paid by the hour and not by the number of flyers they distribute. Hats off to them for their perseverance and their patience; I don’t think I could engage with people and so many köszönöm nem all day every day.

So while I struggled initially and did what everyone else seemed to do and took the paper proffered, it soon got to me. No matter how I looked at it, it added up to one massive waste of paper. And it couldn’t be good for the environment. All those trees wasted. Books and newspapers and bulletins – they can be read, reread, and passed on. But flyers?

I’ve watched. Just the other day, 13 of the 13 people I saw taking flyers, binned them. Five glanced at them first. The other eight binned them without even looking. That had to rankle the distributor, I thought, but he didn’t look too bothered. Perhaps his job is done once the flyer leaves his hands. But those eight who accepted the flyers and then didn’t even read them were little more than passive conduits, moving paper purposelessly from A to B. And I wonder, too, if they were even aware that they were doing it?

So, jobs or the environment? I know now why I’d never make a politician.

First published in the Budapest Times 18 July 2014

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