Personal photo of T. Aucoin. Link to Dulles International Airport website in photo.
Most people want to think the best of others. Our relationships hinge upon giving new people the benefit of the doubt until they overtly prove otherwise. If they are friendly, then their behavior must be genuine. If they are helpful, then they want the best for you. If they are charming, then their amiable nature makes it easy for one to let their guard down. There is, however, another possibility. Friendliness, charm, and amiability could be tools for manipulation in order to take advantage of an unsuspecting and trusting--albeit naive person.
It is important to make it clear that this is not always the case. What is about to be discussed is definitely an outlier in our interactions with people during our various travels. However, it is something that needs to be mentioned and examined. When traveling anywhere, it is important to keep your situational awareness at the forefront. Make friends, but keep them at an arm's length until you are absolutely sure of their intentions.
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia. Link in photo.
In June of 2015, we took a trip to London a couple days ahead of our European cruise. We got an apartment in the heart of the city so we could explore the area. After a day of partaking in typical tourist activities, we decided to have a few drinks at a pub to close out our night. Quite honestly, we over-imbibed, but the excitement of our impending jaunt around the continent and jet-lag kept us awake far longer than practical.
Photo By Ewan Munro from London, UK. Wikipedia link in photo.
We continued having lively conversations amongst ourselves and with pub patrons excitedly questioning us about our American accents and what we were enjoying about London. We even had a delicious dessert thanks to our lovely waitress--even though the kitchen was already closed. All-in-all it was a wonderful evening that was beginning to draw to a close.
That was when someone sitting at the bar took notice of our little, unassuming party of three. He spun around and began to engage us in conversation. He was conventionally handsome and wearing a classic button-down shirt and slacks. He appeared to be genuinely interested in our first visit to London. We chattered away about how excited we were to be in the city, and he charmed us with his smile and sense of humor. Normally, we would have exchanged pleasantries and left it at that, but he clearly knew we were disinhibited due to our consumption of alcohol.
After about fifteen minutes, he invited us to a party. Alarm bells immediately went off in our heads. Why would a total stranger invite three American foreigners to a party? He did not know us, and we certainly did not know him. We were concerned, but we kept our true thoughts undisclosed. We did not want to immediately accuse him of predatory behavior or nefarious intentions. Perhaps he was just being overly friendly? We did not want to be rude, so we inquired about how much he thought a taxi to this destination would cost.
At that moment, he excused himself to go to the restroom. This left the three of us able to openly discuss his true motives. We morbidly joked about us being robbed or murdered. We made the observation that his hypothetical boss probably sent his most clean-cut, charming goon into the pub to scout for drunk idiot tourists he could easily take advantage of. We decided amongst ourselves that we would play along until we left the pub. Then we would politely extricate ourselves from this questionable situation. We continued joking about it as if our over active imaginations were getting the best of us. This was because we did not want to seriously entertain the possibility that we were in danger.
As the pub began to close for the evening, the man continued to smile in an attempt to disarm us. He was spinning tales about how much fun this party was going to be. We nodded in agreement as we nervously exited the pub. We walked a few yards, and the man pointed to a car that was sitting on the street. He said that was his friend who was going to bring us to the party. This confused us because we were under the impression that a taxi was necessary. We looked at the car and saw an expressionless man sitting inside. He hardly looked enthused about attending a raucous party. Even though we had been drinking, we knew something was not right about this predicament. Once again, he excused himself for another moment and walked down a dark alley. He exchanged words with another man in the shadows. The three of us immediately huddled together and felt our initial suspicions were probably correct.
The man eventually came back from the alley and tried to usher us into the car. We immediately started questioning him and his motives. Why was that car conveniently sitting there when he originally told us we needed a taxi? Why did he need to have a conversation with a man in an alley? He tried to brush off our worries, but we could tell he was starting to get desperate.
At that moment, our group abruptly decided this interaction was over. We told him we had to get up early, and we were uncomfortable with how things had unfolded. We walked to the nearest and brightest lit business without a goodbye. We looked at each other in total disbelief once we stepped into that pharmacy. It was clear that his intention was to take advantage of our excitement, of our slight intoxication, and of our naivety. Quite honestly, we are not clear on what would have happened had we actually gotten into the car. We are just grateful that we were able to maintain situational awareness throughout the incident.
The fact of the matter is that we had several things working against us. At any point the jet-lag, inebriation, and exhaustion could have made it far more difficult for us to make a clear decision about our safety. We could have decided to trust and go along with this total stranger and ended up in a far more dangerous ordeal.
While he could have just been an overly friendly person with a strong desire to hang out with middle-aged American tourists, the other aspects of the situation made that possibility far less likely. We trusted our instincts and entered a populated business until he left the area with his "friend."
Our evening ended with us safely ensconced in our apartment with far more Kinder chocolate and prawn crisps than I care to admit.
The main point of this is to make people more mindful of the fact that even if it appears that someone has good intentions, they very well could be using predatory and exploitative behaviors. Sometimes citizens of other cities or countries are aware of tourists and their lack of knowledge about the area they are currently exploring. They are able to size up people and exploit weaknesses in order to commit crimes of opportunity. It is an unfortunate fact.
Meeting people who have ulterior motives is a definite probability at some point in life. Trust your gut instinct. If something feels wrong, it probably is. Do not discount your intuition while interacting with strangers while traveling. It does not matter how friendly or likable the person seems to be. You can maintain politeness while developing awareness of others and your situation during travel. It is of paramount importance to do so to ensure safety. While we all hope to encounter genuine people, it is not always the case.