Friday, March 6, 2009

Unwinnable Interaction

Until quite recently, I was in the Student Marketing Business. The duties included giving out chocolates, plastering walls with posters and bugging people to fill in Pointless Unwinnable competition flyers. 

Needless to say, it was depressing. The sheer amount of rejection one has to face every minute of of those poorly-paid hours can be overwhelming, especially when it’s from your peers. And as much as I bless my lucky stars that I got out of that thankless job, there were a few valuable things I took from my time as a Brand Ambassador:

  1. I learned how to be fake cheerful for eight-hours straight, a surprisingly useful skill, perfect for job interviews, boring parties and when you Just Feel Down. After your smile has seemingly frozen in place, you discover that you’re actually feeling pretty good after all and that there is no need to pretend.
  2. I lost any sense of shyness when approaching strangers. When my very first “Hey, how is it going?” to a complete stranger was ignored, I waited for the ground to swallow me up and spit me out at some special circle of hell reserved for Unsolicited Stranger Greeters. But nothing happened. Life went on, and another random person was approached. You quickly learn that it’s really not that painful to be rejected by someone you don’t know for a cause that you don’t give a rat’s ass for. 
  3. I realized how closed off/oddly polite we all are. When I was giving away chocolates FOR FREE, no strings attached, people were still reluctant to make eye contact or even acknowledge that I was there. Even with a tray of chocolates and a sign saying “free samples,” I was largely ignored until I singled people out with a smile and a “Would you like some chocolate sir/madam?”, at which point they would adopt a rather silly ‘Who, me?’ expression and timidly come forward, probably waiting for me to throw the tray down, scream “SUCKER!” and run off, laughing maniacally as I go.
  4. I learned how to protect myself from Unsolicited Stranger Greeters like me. My chosen suit of armour includes massive sunglasses, iPhone headphones and a steady gaze into the middle distance. When someone approaches you, you don’t engage at all, just keep moving and don’t worry about breaking their heart. They really don’t care.

All of this was serving me quite well - I managed to get a better job because I smiled all the time, and I can joke with the people around me in the queue at Woolies without any fear of rejection. However, I broke my own rules the other day when I was approached by a coloured t-shirt wearing hawker for Oxfam. When he smiled at me, I smiled back.

I couldn’t help it. It was an instinctual reaction, like saying ‘fine’ when someone asks how you are, or closing your eyes while sneezing. I immediately regretted it, but by then it was too late. He signalled to take my headphones out and remove my glasses. Obediently, I Engaged.

Dangling one of those non-biodegradable annoying armbands in front of me like a set of keys for a toddler, he asked, “Would you like to make poverty history?” Involuntarily, I pondered it for a second. It’s a serious question. “Yes,” I replied, “I suppose I would like to, eventually.” With a broad smile in place, and clipboard reading to snatch my bank account details, he then asked if I was over 21. I’m not (until monday), and I told him so. What he said after that was one of the most unintentionally hilarious things I’d heard all week -

“Ok then, I’m sorry, you can’t. Have a nice day.”

I wonder if crushing the philanthropic dreams of under-21s was part of his training...

And the photo, of course is a candid shot of me Interacting With My Peers as a student marketer.  

P.S. I don't mean to suggest that Oxfam isn't a remarkable charity or that charity itself isn't up my alley. It is, but I (like a lot of people) really do prefer to take the time to research where the money is going before I commit to anything..


  1. It was sooo lovely to find this wonderful entry sitting up pertly in my Google Reader when I returned from my Body Balance class!
    I'm so glad, Maisy that you reveal an affinity with the 'Fake it Till you Make It', school of Human Interaction. It's always worked for me.

  2. Happy belated birthday Mae!! Looks like you had a great time (from your Mum's blog!).

  3. It sounds a bit like trying to sell German wine (or anything weird) door-to-door. I'm so glad you got the humour that random human interactions can bring. Keep up your great writings.
    Mr G