When It’s Smart to Play Dumb


In 1993, I was in Russia to witness Boris Yeltsin’s first referendums, which was perhaps the high point of Russian democracy.

Along with the sweep of history, I also remember boarding a midnight train from Moscow to St. Petersburg and being accosted by some kind of Russian gendarme. This fellow berated me in words none of which I understood. I could tell he wanted something from me (money, probably). So I stood there looking bewildered and playing dumb — my specialty — until the guy finally lapsed into frustrated silence and I could walk away. Another Russian later told me that it was indeed a shakedown attempt.

The incident came to mind when I heard about a recent attempted robbery down in Tampa. Three masked thugs spilled into a Chinese restaurant and demanded the contents of the cash register. According to a brief report, the trio “left empty-handed after the restaurant workers who only spoke Cantonese couldn’t understand what the English-speaking suspects were saying.” At one point, a gun went off when the would-be robbers banged the cash register with it.

The report states that the “botched robbery” was caused by a “failure to understand English.” Well, maybe the workers knew little English. But they knew what the robbers wanted. The workers played dumb. More basically, they refused to cooperate.

Risky. I’m not saying you should try this at home. But sometimes being too dumb to be victimized is the smartest thing you can do.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

1 Comments so far ↓

  1. Nov
    Roger and Lynn Bloxham

    Love it.As someone who touts better communication, nevertheless, with shakedown artists I agree, it is best to simply “not understand.”

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