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Illuminations from the throne

Dealing with charity accosters.

A charity accoster.
Photo Credit: Tim Mossholder

Commuting in a big city has its perils. Other people for the most part.

A good portion of my seething wrath is reserved for the inconsiderate boneheads who block entrances or refuse to make space on busy trains, but it’s perfectly acceptable to hold a day-long grudge against someone who beat you to the last free seat that morning.

Once the public transport ordeal is over, the next hazard you’re faced with on the home-to-work gauntlet is the charity accosters.

It’s one thing to get annoyed with a person who believes the several square metres of space in front of them is best left empty while 20 others are trying to squeeze into a carriage. It’s another to rudely ignore those endlessly upbeat people who come bounding over to you, smiling and waving, to ask how you’re doing and if they can talk to you for just a few seconds, before cheerfully wishing you a nice day as you stride on past.

If you don’t want to stop, simply blanking them is the obvious approach but that makes me feel bad. I really admire these guys. Their day has to be draining and I wonder how they feel about humanity in general by the time they get home. I’d prefer to evade them in a friendlier manner. But how?

Smiling back and apologising for your lack of time allows too much room for a second attempt. Even a shake of the head, while making sorrowful, ‘I really wish I could’ eye contact, means you're still vulnerable to a follow up strike. It did seem like the only way to convey a firm no was to pretend they weren’t there. Until I came up with the perfect response.

Before I share my secret, I should warn you that considerable upfront effort is required but once that’s been invested, I can guarantee results.

Next time a charity accoster confronts you, stop. Greet him or her in turn with the same bountiful enthusiasm. This will confuse them for a few seconds which is long enough for you to take the initiative.

Ask how they’re doing. Say how great it is to stop and chat with them today. Ask what they had for breakfast and, whatever it was, exclaim with surprise that it’s also one of your favourites. If you have football stickers in your pocket get them out and ask if they have any to swap. Tell them you only need Cheikhou Kouyaté to finish the Senegalese squad.

The rest of the conversation is discretionary, the idea being to engage your new friend for as long as you possibly can before wishing them a wonderful day and continuing on with yours.

Repeat in the evening on your way home. You’ll probably be talking to a different person so you can cover similar ground although variances in the conversation helps to keep things interesting for you. Do it often enough and it won’t be long before you’re running into the same people over and over again. It’s unlikely they'll remember you at first but pull out the football stickers and they’ll suddenly realise, ‘Oh jeez, it’s this guy again.’

News will eventually spread throughout the network. That guy with the football stickers, he takes up way too much of your time and never so much as signs up for the mailing list. Avoid him.

Now, whenever a charity accoster sees me coming out of Hackescher Markt station, with a big, friendly, ‘Yes, I do have a minute and talk to you!’ smile, spread all over my face, there’s just enough time to catch a fleeting look of horror pass across theirs, before they turn heel and flee toward someone, anyone, else.

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