Posted in Travel at 13:36 by RjZ

I like to travel and usually put a positive spin on the annoyances and downright dangers one encounters. That’s a bit hard to do when describing the inevitable creeps you will meet when wandering the streets of a city you don’t live in (or even one you do.) Keeping your mind open and your eyes open wider can help you avoid anything too nasty.

I’ve met my share. It’s not always easy to know if a person is a genuine creep or just creeping you out. Usually, they’re interested in selling you something, or swindling you out of a few bucks. Sometimes they might have more nefarious desires, but there are plenty of victims out there, so if you’re not easy enough, they’ll move on pretty quickly. Sometimes, rarely, meeting someone who offers too much attention might be a way to make a new friend. More likely, too much attention from someone way too friendly is a good tip-off for a creep.

Take, for example, this guy. Just north of the train station in Amsterdam is a den of small streets that house all manner of markets selling t-shirts, jeans and sunglasses to tourists and locals. I was exploring this area with no intention of buying anything when an older gentleman approached me and asked me a question. I was 19, I think, and it was my first time in Amsterdam, so I didn’t understand him and apologized that I didn’t speak the language.

He switched to French and asked again. Not sure what to do, I simply repeated that I didn’t understand, this time in very poor French. “Oh, English?” he asked. “Yes,” I said. “Where are you from?” he continued, “English, or American.” I really doubt it was that hard to tell that I am American, but I imagine he must have thought this might be a compliment. “American,” I responded. “And you speak French,” he added. “Not really, sorry.”
This is how it often goes. I bet women already know this, but this is a popular method for people who want something from you to strike up a conversation. They ask questions for which there must always be an answer. Even one meaningless response is a conversation starter, so off they go. In many parts of the world the most common thing you will here will be “Hello, where from?” or some variation. People trying to sell you little camel dolls, scarves, or cheap jewelry will have a better chance if they’re already having a conversation with you.
The Dutch gentleman continued his interview with questions about why I was in Amsterdam and what I was hoping to do there. He seemed harmless enough, but I wasn’t really interested in chatting with someone at the time. I was looking for something to eat and, eventually revealed that, hoping that something changing directions might shake him off.

“Oh, you must have a boterham [cheese and ham sandwich] then, I know a place just up the street!” “Um, I was looking for something cheap….” “Come with me!” I ended up following as far as the sandwich and he sat down with me, but didn’t order anything. He kept talking at me and I kept feeling awkward, waiting for the drug pitch (this is Amsterdam, after all, I wasn’t that naïve) and wondering how I was going to get out of this.

I finished eating and excused myself, learning not to reveal what I had in mind to do next, as he’d surely be planning on doing just the same thing. He finally became more direct:

“Don’t you want to do something fun?”

“Um, no, I am going to go now.”

“You don’t want to see a movie or a concert?”

“No, I guess.”

“Wait, you don’t, um, like…men…?”

“Oh!” I blurted, shocked a little that this was just an older gay guy picking me up. I stifled a laugh and just said “No. Thanks though.”

I just walked off, leaving him standing there wondering if he should have confirmed my interest before he’d spent so much time. It’s not easy to know what to do when you’ve suddenly acquired a new friend in a foreign country. Some are harder to shake than this gentleman, but, well, freaking out isn’t nearly as effective as a firm “Go away!”

1 Comment »

  1. Traveling Hypothesis » Chopsticks really aren’t that difficult said,

    July 28, 2009 at 12:15

    [...] he’s not likely to be offended. It’s an easy question and safe conversation starter that I’ve mentioned before is often used by touts and [...]

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