Some months ago Mrs T and I spent a most pleasant weekend at a country town far enough from the capital to be worth the drive. (This post has been in a notebook for a while – I’ve not had a chance to finish it till now.) My friend Janusz Kobylinski’s exhibition of photographs was the immediate reason (this time in a proper gallery, not a field,) accommodations were most agreeable, company splendid, food terrific, and the weather held out, thankfully, given the scenes of flooding and damnation the very area had endured not two weeks prior. As a tourist trap of sorts, the town of Kazimierz Dolny has been, for many seasons, a favourite working spot for a number of Gypsy “musicians” and fortune tellers. I put the musicians in inverted commas since these guys, alas, are not quite the Django Reinhardts they would like us to believe they were. But I digress. Fortune tellers have been of some interest to me, given the inherent entertainment value of being told something that is plainly nonsense but yet vaguely related to reality. This time the lack of added value in the performance was an apt lesson in what marketing promises and what the product, ultimately, fails to deliver.
This particular lady spotted us while crossing the square. All skirts and gold rings, she muscled her way through the surrounding air rather than merely making a beeline for this couple of townies. The size of her bosom probably had something to do with the impression she made – of a purpose-driven icebreaker at speed.
“My good lady, for a small coin I will tell you the name of this fine gentleman” she addressed Mrs T with the broadest grin this side of the Vistula.
Mrs T, bless ‘er, countered that she was indeed perfectly familiar with the intricacies of my various and sundry monickers and she required no assistance in the matter. The suggestion that my wife of some years would need to pay someone to tell her my name was just sufficiently hilarious however, so all smiles, we stopped and waited for unfolding of Mysteries of the Roma.
The Fortune Teller was not to be deterred by the statement of facts. My wife apparently knew my name with no external assistance. So be it. Change of tac”How about a couple of zlotys for a cuppa tea, then, dear?”
That, of course, was an eminently reasonable request and couple of zlotys were quickly offered, perhaps in the (as it rapidly transpired vain) hope that this would be the end of the conversation. Not so.
“May I please have a moment of your time to tell you the fortune that you seek. Pick a card, and I will tell you what shall transpire in the near and not so near future…” and more such delicious to the ear but ultimately devoid of information floweriness. Given the lush expanse of the language before us, we winked at each other and decided to Go With It. The three of us moved from the centre of the square to under the ample eaves of one of its buildings.
“Cross my palm with a coin (I kid you not, that was the phrase she used, in translation of course) and I will tell you your fortune.” How could we refuse? She took the coin and, lo, crossed her palm with it. How’s that for cross-cultural, I thought.
Several minutes of “fortune” delivered at speed followed. If, gentle reader, you are waiting with baited breath to learn what good or ill is waiting to descend upon this writer, you will be as disappointed as we were, however. There was little beyond many stock phrases mentioning much travel, a likely gigantic fortune and, just as likely, a devastating bankruptcy – followed by more travel (or perhaps preceded by such, it was difficult to estimate the precise chronological order there.) After a few minutes we decided that the entertainment value was somewhat less than we expected and started to make meaningful noises which, as you can probably guess, meant “now would be a really good time to go and find that ice cream parlour we noticed way across the other side of town, wouldn’t you say?”
Well, given that we were visibly unimpressed by the certainly incomplete and quite possibly entirely erroneous nature of the fortune being told, the Fortune Teller changed her tactics.
“You see, for the few miserable coins you’ve given me (quote, unquote) you cannot possibly expect me to tell you your entire fortune. You must give me a paper note and then all that may be revealed, will be.”
Right. A paper note. Of course. Hell, why not.
A crumpled blue tenner was fished out of my jean pocket and pressed into the already stretched out hand. Alas this increased the volume of the flow but not the quality of data being delivered therein… Though, really, should we really have been disappointed by promises of more travel? I don’t know.
At this point I need to segway into the world of consulting, about which I know a little more than the world of Telling of Fortune. There is a popular belief in those who buy consulting services. Some would give a more complicated explanation but “ya gets what ya pays for” seems to resonate. This must be true since the fortune we were being told was evidently not of a standard one would describe as satisfactory and we could be given to thinking that payment of additional consulting fees might have effected some improvement of those services. Or maybe use of Expensive Proprietary Technology would have helped. We’ll never know, however, as our willingness to try (or, indeed, curiosity) was by then insufficient to shell out more dough, to put it plainly. And we made Meaningful Noises.
Convinced that we were about to scarper, with or without having our fortune fully told, the Fortune Teller pulled out the Big One.
“It is against my religion to start a fortune and not finish it.”
Ah. I see. So?
“So I will need additional compensation (quote, unquote) because otherwise the fortune I have already told you will not come true.”
Unimpressed. Getting to leave. Turning away.
“Worse, there will be curses upon you and the fruit of your loins if we interrupt now (” , “) without completing the fortune or at least paying some more.”
(This reminded me of an elderly Sikh gentleman plying the same trade whom I once encountered in Delhi – he used much the same tactic. There must be an International Fortune Telling University, or at least a continuing professional education course or an exchange programme where these skills are passed on…)
Not planning to have children, we felt quite safe there and left, followed by quite an outpouring of baroque curses which included, among other things, love practices involving small animals – which are evidently considered unsavoury enough in Kazimierz Dolny to be included in a serving of Curse but are, I understand, rather commonplace in certain quarters of San Francisco or Sydney.
So what’s the point if this vaguely ethnographically amusing story?
1. Overselling does nothing for the service provider long-term. It’s a short-term strategy. Sometimes very short-term.
2. A little entertainment can go a long way in making the client happy. Clients expect consultants to be human. Treating them as human, too, might not be a bad idea.
3. Asking for more may seem like a logical practice but it is not convincing.
4. Never bluff unless you can afford to have the bluff called.
Musing over the psychological aspects of a life spent asking strangers for a few coins, we continued on our way while in the square skirts and rings were closing in on another pair of townies. Maybe they would be prepared to pay a higher fee and negotiate a better level of service from the start. Somehow I would have preferred a conversation and that cup of tea. Perhaps I should have suggested that.