2014 Grateful 17

Way back, many moons ago, in my first year at university, I came across two guys I knew from third-year Engineering debating which word best described me: innocent or naïve. Although I can’t remember what they decided, I was reminded of that conversation this week in Istanbul.

Referring to a blog post I’d written earlier in the week about indecent proposals and other first impressions, a Hungarian friend commented that we shouldn’t blame others for our own ignorance. It took me a while to assimilate and on reflection, yes, what I had experienced was culture shock and my ignorance of Turkey and its ways of life certainly contributed.

The lessons continued this week. Going back to the hotel one evening, we passed two shoeshines. One dropped a brush. I picked it up and ran after him to return it. He took it and smiled his thanks. I rejoined my colleagues. Then he came after us, offering to shine our shoes. I took it as a gesture of gratitude – those brushes cost money. My Romanian colleague was a little more sceptical; my Czech colleague was leaning that way, too, but wanted to believe.

I was wrong. Shoes shined, they asked for payment. Seven lira each (about €2.50/$3.20). Not exorbitant by any means but it was the principle that was at stake. I was quite upset by it and said as much but eventually passed over what coins I had. Even still, I refused to believe that the chap had dropped his brush on purpose.

The following morning, on the way to the conference with a fourth colleague (Serbian), we passed a shoeshine in transit. I saw him deliberately throw down his brush. When my colleague went to pick it up, I stopped him. That evening, I passed a couple embroiled in an argument with the same chap. They, too, had been taken in.

Shoeshine in Istanbul

Shoeshine stand in Istanbul

It is quite a clever scam and one that clearly plays to people’s humanity. The more I think about it, though, the more attached I get to my particular brand of innocence/naivety. Were I to live in Istanbul for any length of time, I would be afraid that I’d lose it. I’d like to think that I would be able to keep laughing at the good of it all, but deep down, I’m sure my idealism would fade and I’d become cynical.

While there’s room for cynicism in the world, that space might be better served, methinks, if complemented by an innate belief that people’s intentions are good.

At the end of what has been an energy-sapping week – both in terms of the level of people interaction endured and in terms of culture shock – I am grateful that I get to travel and to experience new places and different attitudes. I’m even more grateful for those people in my life who, in taking the time to challenge and comment, make me think. Socrates had something when he said ‘the unexamined life is not worth living.’


Mistaken identity

There are days when I wake up and wonder who I am. What I’m doing here. It usually takes just a couple of seconds for my life to come flooding back and for that sense of contentment that I’m enjoying lately to flood through my veins. On good days, when everything is going to plan (even though I didn’t have a plan to begin with), life is better than good – it’s great. And on days like these, I don’t have an identity crisis. I know my name, where I live, and although still not too clear on my purpose in life, I know who I am.
So when I get an email that starts off with:
Jo napot, Jiang Yi vagyok Yuan, a befektetesi menedzser dolgozik egy neves bank Hong Kongban. en vagyok a kapcsolatot, az uzleti tranzakciok tekinteteben azt akarjak vegrehajtani, azt illetoen, hogy egy alvo szamla, amely osszege tizenegy millio otszazezer dollar tartozo nehai ugyfelnek. Meg kell felelniuk a meglevo ultimatumot a bank, hogy egy csaladtagja, es minden olyan erofeszitest, hogy keresse meg a mar bizonyitott sikerrel. Szeretnem bemutatni onnek, mint a tъlelo csaladtag lehetove teszi hogy egy allitas, hogy az alapok. Kerjuk szives jelezze erdeklodeset tovabbi informacioert azaltal, hogy valaszol az en privat e-mail cim: [email protected] Koszonom, Jiang Yuan Yi
… I start to wonder. I know one person in Hong Kong and it’s not Jiang Yuan Li. I am wary of anything that has to do with banks or business transactions with strangers and I detest ultimatums. But I know I’m not Hungarian and I know that my Hungarian isn’t up to a correct translation. So I read on. And, as if sensing that I might be confused about my identity, Jiang Yuan Yi tries out my German.
Hallo,Ich bin Jiang Yi Yuan, Investment Manager, die fuer eine seriose Bank in Hong Kong. Ich kontaktiere Sie in Bezug auf Geschaeftsgang Ich mochte, dass wir ausfuehren, ist es in Bezug auf ein ruhendes Konto, die elf Millionen, fuenfhunderttausend Dollar Zugehorigkeit zu meinem verstorbenen Kunden Mengen. Ich habe eine bestehende Ultimatum von der Bank treffen, um ein Mitglied seiner Familie und allen Bemuehungen zum Auffinden jeder bewaehrt hat erfolglos sind. Ich mochte Ihnen als ueberlebende Familienmitglied praesentieren, damit Sie stellen einen Anspruch auf die Mittel. Wir bitten Sie zeigen Ihr Interesse fuer weitere Informationen durch die Reaktion auf meine private E-Mail-Adresse: [email protected] Danke, Jiang Yi Yuan
No better. However much Hungarian I might have gleaned over the last few years, my German could be written on the back of a postage stamp. Yet for whatever reason, Jiang Yi Yuan seems to think that if I am not Hungarian, I might be German  – why else would I be living in Hungary. This is where it gets interesting – this email was sent to an old UK hotmail account. And just in case I wasn’t German, my new friend Jiang Yi Yuan decided to be sure that I’d get the message.
Good Day, I am Jiang Yi Yuan, an Investment Manager working for a reputable Bank in Hong Kong. I am contacting you with regards to business transaction I want us to execute, it is in respect to a dormant account which amounts to Eleven Million, Five Hundred Thousand Dollars belonging to my late client.
I have to meet an existing ultimatum from the Bank to provide a member of his family and all efforts to locate any has been proven unsuccessful. I want to present you as a surviving family member to enable you put a claim to the funds. Please kindly indicate your interest for more information by responding to my private email address: [email protected] Thank you, Jiang Yi Yuan
I’ve had lots of these but never one in three languages. Does anyone ever really fall for them? Are there people in the world who would actually believe Jiang Yi Yuan? Thank God I know who I am – and that I am in no danger of mistaking myself for a gullible, senseless, trilingual cretin who fails to notice that it’s not possible to be reputable while at the same time asking complete strangers to impersonate a relative of a dead man. What is the world coming to eh?