Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Evolution of Gypsies (the Pick-Pocketing Kind)

Back when I visited Italy in 2003, I encountered gypsies for the first time. It was in Taormina, Sicily, early in the morning as we were descending from the active volcano of Mount Etna. I distinctly remember a bedraggled gypsy in a tie-dyed shirt, orange hair, and seemingly pregnant, although whether her belly was full of alcohol or a blossoming child, I couldn't tell. She was begging. I even wrote a poem about her. My mother once said that seeing a beggar first thing in the morning denoted bad luck. Coincidental or not, I woke up early to watch the sun rise on my last night in Sicily, got completely carsick on the bus ride to Sorrento, and ended up missing the boat tour to Capri.

The next time I spotted gypsies was in Rome, filthy little children crowding around my friend and attempting to open up her fanny pack. Luckily, she was a feisty sixty something-year-old (Italian in origin as well), and she slapped their hands back, scolding them in a way only grandmothers could. It's funny how reprimands are universal, and Gloria, grey haired and pug nosed, was every bit as intimidating as their native women folk could be.

Fast forward 11 years to Berlin in 2014, when I made my third reconnaissance with gypsies when they were, no joke, posing as market researchers, carrying clipboards and asking people questions. However, being a market research professional for many years, here are the signs.

1) They move in groups: Market researchers typically work alone to cover as much ground as humanly possible. It is counterproductive (and more expensive) to gather survey responses in a group, so if there is more than one surveyor congregating together, chances are, it is a subterfuge.

2)Papers on their clipboard are old: Typically, responses to market research questions are recorded on fresh printouts, since questions change until the very last second. There is usually a substantial width, and the information recorded on these pages are more valuable than the paper itself. However, the papers carried by the gypsies are never used since it is only a fa├žade. So, they get old and yellowed, and becomes very clear they are unused.

3)Their attire is the slightest bit unkempt: Market research is a profession, and researchers dress for the job in serious looking clothing. If you look at the gypsies, while their appearance is hugely improved from their beggar days, they are wearing brightly colored and clean t-shorts, or coats, but they don't aim for professionalism. Also, their hair still tends to look uncombed.

So what's the lesson? Gypsies are evolving, changing with the times. The better they get at disguising, the harder it will be to identify them. So they steal from us. They ruin vacations. They create logistical nightmares to sort out your paperwork. Sometimes I wish they would disappear. Other times I don't blame them. After all, they are just trying to make a living. What allowed me to be educated and enabled me to find a job where I can travel? What kept them from education and the finer things in life? One could argue manifest destiny, the fruits of our hard work, our parents, ancestors etc. We like to give ourselves more credit than we deserve. But at the end of the day, it is just plain dumb luck. A lottery draw that separates those with access to education and those who continue to exist on the fringes of society.

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