The first in a hopefully short series about the annoying bastards I encounter travelling
This first character, the Presumptuous Opportunist is most prevalent on the African continent and will always be the kind of friendly, chatty guy that normally is a pleasure to encounter in the street, as they can offer an insight into people’s lives. Their true nature will only become apparent when it’s time to pay the bill, when it’s evident that they never had any intention of contributing anything towards it or even thanking you for paying for it.
Let’s take a recent encounter as an example par excellence: Ali, in the town of Tiznit in Morocco. Typical of the genre, he was friendly and helpful, showing me the more direct route to the hostel I was looking for and making suggestions of places to eat, though he was the sort that insisted on coming in and making himself known to the manager, which is usually a sign of commission seeking, despite him having nothing to do with my choice of accommodation. When I went out ten minutes later he happened to be lurking nearby and insisted on joining me on my search for a bottle of water and suggested we go for a tea, although to be specific, he did invite me. Needless to say, his invitation did not extend to any prospect of him making a financial investment in the affair. Of course at this point, although on a technical level he has abused the contractual terms inherent in an invitation, I was happy to pay the modest sum, after all he had been pleasant and helpful, even if he didn’t say thankyou, but you can’t go through life begrudging such a paltry sum for someone who has been prepared to engage in a bit of conversation. However, it would be best to point out that his interpretation of conversation was one that didn’t involve much paying attention to anything I said, while he rattled on at high-speed. Also it didn’t seem to occur to him that I might not be the kind of person who would be particularly impressed by casually racist remarks about the alleged over abundance of black people in European capitals, like London and Paris, neither of which he had ever visited, but causal racism has never been too concerned with trifling matters of evidence has it? Obviously he hadn’t considered that the kind of Londoners and Parisians who might be indignant over the numbers of dark-skinned people in “their” capitals would unlikely to be welcoming slightly less darkly skinned Moroccans with open arms. I made it quite clear that I was perfectly comfortable with the ratio of non white skinned people in my capital and that it was a ratio that could be increased quite substantially in my books.
He miraculously appeared later that evening when I had just ordered a meal, immediately sat down and very charitably ordered a bowl of soup for a beggar as well as one for himself. When the beggar, left making no effort to offer thanks we agreed it was a forgivable sin in this case due to his apparent mental health condition. I revealed that many people over the years had not offered thanks for my efforts at charity, which he heartily agreed was an unfortunate state of affairs. One can only assume that the details of this entire episode had entirely evaporated from his skull in the short space of time it took for the bill to arrive, as, despite leaving a long enough interval to allow him to consider the financial responsibilities involved in ordering food in restaurants, he made absolutely no comment on any potential payment proceedings or even say thank you after I had paid.
As is usually the case in these situations I am not really concerned with the sum of money involved, it is a matter of principle. Even if he had gone to the minimal extent of getting his wallet out I would have insisted on paying, what I find intolerable (and please tell me if you think I am being unreasonable) is the assumption all along that I would be paying, even though at no point in the day had I made even the slightest indication that I would do so. In other, similar situations such as Ethiopia and Liberia there was a definite sense that the behaviour was driven by a, “fuck it, the rich white guy can pay for everything” attitude. On other occasions such as Dakar in Senegal it was a premeditated plan to exploit my generosity. But with Ali and some others, I never had that impression from their behaviour, it was as if it had never occurred to them that the situation demanded any other course of action.
Ali’s story doesn’t finish there however. He suggested we go for a walk, which seemed perfectly agreeable to me until it transpired that our destination was his previously unmentioned gift shop, where he proceeded to introduce me to a whole series of items, as if I might possibly be interested in any of it, which of course I wasn’t. After fifteen minutes of repeating, “I am not looking for any gifts”, I had well past the point of feeling I was under any obligation to be polite about it but he acted as if he was the aggrieved one. “If you had asked me if I wanted to look at gifts I would have told you no, to save you the bother, but you didn’t bother to ask me, did you”? I had to inform him at least twice for the message to sink in, which seemed like a good time to leave but he said. “at least give me a little something”. If I wasn’t such a gentleman I would have said, “you’re taking the fucking piss aren’t you”? However I did remind him that I had already bought him drinks and soup. Even after this, he managed to interrupt my morning coffee the next day to order himself one but somehow he summoned up the resources from a remote crevice in his brain to say thank you this time.
While characters such as Ali may not have been rich, they have almost never been the kind that don’t know where their next meal is coming from, which would only merit a more sympathetic response. Feelings such as shame may mean people are reluctant to say outright at the start of proceedings that they aren’t able to pay for the meal or beer in question but a bit of umming and ahhing would easily give me the opportunity to make an offer. When I have discussed the matter with African friends they have largely been of the same opinion of me, so I am confident that there’s not some gaping, cultural chasm I have failed to see. I sometimes wish that I wasn’t such a polite Englishman and made more of issue about it with some of these people, although on occasion, instances of brazen hypocrisy have obliged me to resort to ungentlemanly language, such as when a Liberian who had lectured me on the true sincerity required for Christian understanding and forgiveness, before expecting me to pay for his meal and drink despite having joined me and some other Liberian Presumptuous Opportunists uninvited!
Dear God, please give me the strength to be fucking rude the next time I have to deal with any more Presumptuous Opportunists.