One of the things I love most about having The Cup&Mug, as many of you know, is that it allows me to me indulge in one of my greatest pleasures – people watching. We encounter all sorts of interesting people and situations and here is the tale of one such occurrence.
At home, I have a reputation of being very gullible. We’re all still laughing about the time that the 14-year-old Ashley took me in, hook, line and sinker when, completely straight-faced, he said he’d learnt at school that adolescent boys grunt because their jaws are literally slack and it is physically difficult for them to speak. I’d like to think I only exhibit this credulity when I'm in the company of people I know well and trust and that I am a touch more healthily suspicious in other circumstances.
Although a very broad range of customers pass through the doors of The Cup&Mug, there have been only a handful of times when my intuition has switched to “high alert, though not alarmed” mode. One of these few occasions occurred recently.
A young couple came into the shop late in the afternoon, when I happened to be there by myself, and looked around at the pottery. The attractive, very out-going young woman declared it beautiful and said “What is your name?” and told me hers. It’s not at all unusual for us to exchange first names with customers but somehow this was way too early in the piece and without good reason and I was immediately on guard. I wondered if she was “a bit simple” or under the influence of some substance, or casing the joint.
Their reaction to everything was completely over the top: the tea samples smelled like the best tea you could ever encounter; this was the most unforgettable shop - they’d walked past but just had to return; this was the most amazing chai latte (despite the fact that she didn't want it sweetened and Tim assures me that no-one has unsweetened chai latte) and when I said my son-the-barista had taught me all I know they asked to meet him so that they could compliment him themselves.
Would I like to join them at their table? I politely declined.
The man said very little, but the woman was extremely forward with her questions: Was I the business owner? How long had we been here? How was the business going? Are we intending to open another shop? Why did I open this business? What did I do for a living before? What do I like about working for myself?
She was very smooth and flattering – told me that I am obviously a very perceptive and together person and someone like herself, running my own business and being in control of my life. At first I tried very hard to stop the flow of questions by answering as minimally as possible without sounding rude. It was quickly obvious that approach wasn't working so I remembered the number one tactic from my childhood basketball days - offence is the best form of defence- and started on my own 20 questions. She told me she has a business and was visiting Melbourne to learn more about this amazing business model.
After 15 minutes or so, she asked me if she could take 15 minutes of my time to explain her business which I might like to be involved in. By this time I’d guessed it to be some sort of pyramid scheme and said that I didn't want to be offensive but I have no interest in being involved in something which is not inherently worthwhile. She assured me that this is inherently worthwhile because it gives people both money and freedom to enjoy their life without the pressure of a 9-5 job.
When I stood my ground she asked if my son is an open minded person and could she have his phone number. I politely said I wouldn't give his details to her but if she wanted to leave her details I’d pass them on.
I felt completely scammed even though I gave them nothing but time. If they’d come to my front door at home or rung as a telemarketer, I wouldn't have given them 2 minutes but because they came to my shop I felt trapped.
In retrospect, I saw where all the questions and flattering comments had been leading and felt as though I been cheated by having to a play a game where they knew what was coming but I was kept in the dark as to the true meaning of their engaging with me. They weren't at all unpleasant but it was the insensitive zeal of the newly converted and manipulative “evangelising” tactics that I found offensive and distasteful. I’d bet money that she was trying to prove to him that she could sign up a new recruit in less than an hour.
Anyway, no harm done and hopefully I'm a tad wiser. As a result of checking up on the information provided, and following a few leads on the internet, I now know quite a lot more than I did about pyramid schemes (which are illegal in Australia), multi-level-marketing and the grey area in between, which seems to be pyramid schemes masquerading as multi-level-marketing. There is no end of people sharing their bad experiences on forums on the web.
Tim also now has a slight knowledge of such things and a few nights later was able to reply to the request from a friend “Do you want to contribute $10 to my pyramid scheme” with a resounding “No” which also killed the subject dead for those present who had never heard of such a thing.
Most days bring new, interesting people or experiences our way. We just enjoy the lovely ones, feel sorrow at the sad ones, laugh at the tricky and sticky ones and try to learn as much as we can.