I’m in downtown Vancouver heading back to my hotel at around 9pm. Walking down Seymour St a guy is walking in the opposite direction and catches my eye from a distance. As we pass each other he slows down, does a small double-take and says something like “Hey, where are you from?”
The guy looks North African; short curly hair, dark skinned, close-cropped beard, Tunisian style cap and a charming, friendly smile. In other words, save for the cap, very much like me.
I hesitate but say “Malta”, curtly but not rudely.
His smile broadens into a grin. “No way”, he says, “I know Malta! I’m from Morocco. Parlez vous Francais?”
“Oui, un peu” I respond.
“Fantastique! Que plaisir reencontrer quelq’un Méditerranéen. J’ai été loin de là depuis si longtemps,” he continues slightly poignantly. “But you’re probably more comfortable in Italian or English I guess?”
I chuckle and say that yes I understood him but English or Italian is easier. At this point although being drawn into a conversation I’m aware of pickpockets (bitten before) so I’m keeping my distance and make double sure my stuff is safe.
“K fai qui a Vancouver?” he asks. “Ero qui per lavoro e adesso ho qualche giorno libero primo di tornare a casa,” I say. And then the fatal mistake: “And you?” I ask.
So he describes how he’s been travelling all around the continent up from Mexico, through the States with a friend, and just got back to Vancouver this week. At this point I kind of smile, say that’s really awesome and start to indicate I want to leave.
So he kindly asks me if I need directions and I say I’m good. We start walking away and he goes:
“Hey listen, sorry to take up your time. But I’m kind of in a fix. Us Moroccans sometimes have a hard time over here and I’m stuck waiting for papers.”
“Ah that’s pretty shit,” I say. “I get that at border control at times. Wish I could help mate.”
“Well, I could do with seven dollars for my shelter tonight.”
Boom. Hook line and sinker. There’s nothing for it but to dig into my pocket, bring out my change, and give him the five dollars or so of loose change I have running around there.
I walked away smiling and then stopped dumbstruck at how cleverly executed that sales pitch was. Here’s what he did in a total time of about 3 minutes:
- He chose his target carefully. Somebody he guessed he could build a rapport with.
- He found a topic of mutual interest establishing common ground.
- He offered me assistance making me obligated to him.
- He got me to commit to helping him when I said “I wish I could help”
- At this point there was no way I couldn’t give him the money without feeling like an asshole hypocrite.
If you’ve read Influence by Cialdini this is practically textbook. Follow me on Twitter for updates.