On reliably asking for help

Last evening while I was trying to teach the wife to ride a geared motorcycle, a middle-aged woman accosted us. She told us that she was a teacher from Hiriyur (Chitradurga district) and had lost all her money and needed help for her bus charge to go back to town. This sounded suspiciously similar to the couple from Nagpur with a similar story that I’ve encountered a few times, and so I told her off, rather rudely I must say.

She seemed to be taken aback, and hurled some curses on me as she walked away, and then my wife pointed out that there were some things about this woman’s story that made it sound genuine. So now I wonder (given that it is a finite possibility that I might be stuck in an unknown city without money) what one needs to do in order to reliably ask for monetary help – given that fraudsters abound (if I had been convinced that this woman wasn’t a fraud I would’ve helped her out, so let’s take that as a given).

Here are some points that I can quickly think of:

  • Location – would you think someone who would come to you in a residential area (Jayanagar) where not too many people were walking around, and ask for help if they really wanted money? Wouldn’t they rather try at bus stops, or even get on to buses and try get the ticket off a conductor or a fellow-passenger? Or considering that this lady had to make an inter-city journey, wouldn’t it be more reliable for her to have somehow got to the bus stand and asked someone there?
  • Persistence – after I’d told this woman off, she just kept hanging around, and refused to go after I told her in no uncertain terms that I’m not helping her out. Wouldn’t you expect people who are really in need to be more rational and try and look for other sources rather than hanging on to the one person she sees on the street?
  • What you ask for – again ties back to the first point that it might be easier to convince people to buy you a ticket than give you money. Or if you were to walk up to a shop and ask to use their landline phone? (mobile doesn’t work, since that’s a well-known method of swindling mobiles; was once tried on me in Bombay)
  • Abuses – when you are really in need, and someone doesn’t help you out, you don’t loudly abuse them when you go. You’d rather quietly slink away and try your luck elsewhere .

I must say that the woman was rather “respectably dressed”, and before she started abusing she spoke “good Kannada”. It’s just that I wasn’t convinced she wasn’t a fraud so didn’t give her any money.

In any case, what signals would you look for when someone were to come and ask you for monetary help? And what signals would you try to give out if you were to ask for monetary help?


3 thoughts on “On reliably asking for help”

  1. Ask a poor person. A poor person is much more likely to part with a small amount of money than a rich person. This is because they are so used to indirect taxes that they irrationally fall prey to a mental bias. Further, they understand the role of bad luck in life, unlike the rich person who believes he’s at where he’s at because of his own efforts in life (another cognitive bias).

    After you get out of your pickle, thank god and then your government for levying indirect taxes. Finally read Rawls, reject your conservatism and emigrate to a welfare state.

  2. When I came to the US with all the baggage, I had the address I needed to go to from the airport, and a few international credit cards. However, the credit-card reader in the train station wasn’t working. It was ~9pm, was super cold outside and no cabs nearby. I had no $$ change to buy the ticket or make calls. What did I do?
    1) Approached another desi looking chap for $ to buy a ticket. There were only a handful of people at the station (public transport is extremely poorly used in Dallas), I stressed my Indian accent, and acted all embarrassed (i was, but not that much). I told him about the card reader not working… he bought the ticket for me = $5.
    2) When I got off the train, I dragged my 2xbags+ trolley +backpack to a convenience store in the downtown area (quite a few bums around), and told him that I had just made the trip from India, and need to call someone to pick me up. The ‘shopkeeper’ was an immigrant (middle eastern accent). He let me make the call, and I got picked up in a few minutes.

    moral: try to get ppl to empathize with you. To do that, tell them what you want clearly. Show your vulnerability, and if they refuse, try somewhere else.

  3. 1. Asking for the someone to buy you the goods/service instead asking for money is always a good signal. It works especially well if the person you are asking is purchasing the same or something similar themselves at that point.
    2. I guess it would be good if you could provide some form of reliable identity and take down a phone number slash offer them your card or basically arrange for some means to pay them back.
    3. It might also possible that you could offer them something that you have with you in exchange for them helping you out, though this is very situation dependent.

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