Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Old Tricks, New Tricks

Old Tricks, New Tricks / Yoani Sanchez
Translator: Unstated, Yoani Sanchez

Hands fly over the table. So fast you can only see the slipstream of the
fingers and the brilliance of a golden ring. You can divine — at least
the first time — under which container is the small wad of paper. It's
just for you, you're the prey, the only audience for the spectacle.
You're in that room in a dark tenement to buy a pair of shoes more
cheaply than in the stores. But when you get into the maze-like hallway
the youngster who suggested those great prices vanishes. So you remain
standing there, a few yards from two men who play as if you weren't
there, but at the same time direct their gestures to your eyes. In a few
minutes they suggest you bet and you believe you can discover where the
slippery little ball is. In less than an hour you will have lost all the
capital you had on you.

So far, a succinct narration of one of the most common scams in our
country and in the world. A brilliant swindle which, despite its
simplicity and repetition, hasn't stopped working. In Cuba new methods
have recently arisen to separate people from their money. There's
everything. One peso bills with crudely drawn zeros to "pass them off"
as if they were hundreds. Bags with jeans sold from a doorway, but when
you get them home they just contain on old sack of harvested potatoes.
Even "boat trips to Florida" that end with the takers eaten by
mosquitoes, never with the appearance of a boat. I repeat, there's
everything. Although recently there is a new type of theft that almost
always involves a supposed foreigner.

Even the technique is sympathetic, if it weren't for its effect on the
wallet. Someone, with an Argentine or French accent, rents a taxi. He
offers the driver an amount of money to hire him for the whole day. With
the car in motion the foreigner, upset, begins to talk about all the
problems he has with his Cuban wife, while also describing a profitable
business he's setting up on the Island. The itinerary always includes
going to a hotel, going by a hospital, picking up some suitcases at the
home of some "friend" and even having a beer in a bar. When the driver
has already struck up a certain friendship with his client, the latter
asks for some money to pay for some transaction, with the excuse that
they don't accept hundred peso bills or all he has is euros. "Lend it to
me for a couple minutes and then we'll go to the bank to change the
money and I'll pay you back." And the tourist in his hat and flowered
shirt gets out of the car. After waiting for more than an hour, the taxi
driver begins to get suspicious, but the scammer is already a long way
from there.

If the trick with the little ball under a cup appeals to our ego, making
us believe that our eyes are faster than the player's hands, the trick
of "the tourist who asks for money" is based on the widespread belief
that foreigners "can never be more cunning than we are." So taking
advantage of this false stereotype, the Havana scammers are making a
killing. By training their hands, or waiting for their "prey" to enter a
dilapidated room looking for a pair of shoes, or deciding whether
sounding like Buenos Aires or Quebec will lead to a greater gain. A
certain smell of sunscreen, dark glasses, bermuda shorts, and curious
looks toward the buildings seen through a taxi window… just that and the
scam is on the point of making off with the contents of your pocket.

28 August 2012


No comments:

Post a Comment