There are a few times when being an expat and ‘dumb foreigner’ can be really useful.
Take telephone sales calls for example. When the phone rings at lunchtime these days, I can be fairly sure it’ll be a “do you want to save money on your fuel bills?” sort of call. It is just so nice to be able to say that I’m sorry but I don’t speak the language.
This also works well with door-to-door salesmen. I don’t know much about their schedules but quite often the moment they think they’re going to have to try and work in a foreign language then you wont see them for dust.
The approach can also be useful in city centres when that student approaches you with their clipboard and the “excuse me do you have a few minutes?” opening line that’s usually a prelude to trying to get your name for an insurance sales company.
The technique is great and even allows one to walk around some large exhibitions without being grabbed and delayed at every stand by the hovering sales folk.
The trouble is, sales folk are a bit like a virus. Once you think your antibodies are getting the upper hand, they just change their structure and start to become a nuisance again.
In quite a few countries English is fairly widely spoken as a second tongue and business language. Many telephone sales companies now employ staff with some knowledge of the language to ‘get you’ if you try and play the foreigner card.
Ingenuity and technology is also playing its part. One expat in France told me that a salesman knocked at the door. The expat played the “I don’t speak French” card – basically lying. No problem! The salesman immediately pulled out of his pocket a little tape machine and played a pre-recorded message in English!
Another case I heard of was equally odd. The expat concerned played their card and was amazed to see the salesman take out a mobile phone with various national flags stuck to keys. He only had to press a flag for the phone to connect immediately to someone the other end who spoke the prospect’s language and hey presto – the sale effort could continue via phone!
The students and other sales people collecting names and phone numbers in the street have also been tightened up. They have always operated in ‘hunting packs’ and now their masters tend to ensure that in the pack there is at least one that speaks some English and can be called over quickly to aid the discussion.
So, what’s the answer for the poor expat that’s seeing their trump card trumped?
I’ve a few suggestions that may help scare them off:
1. You could learn a few sentences in an incredibly obscure language and claim to speak nothing but it.
2. You could set up some form of interference grid around your front door that will disrupt any mobile signal or portable electronic device – though you may have to watch out for any poor salesperson that has a pacemaker installed.
3. Claim to be an alien visitor then start making beeping and clucking sounds.
4. Say at the outset that you’re a politician and would like to explain your policies.
Now I think about it, perhaps just hanging up or slamming the door is easier!