Not all that glitters is gold

Columns | Rennie Sweeney | March 2013

Walking through Alsergrund on a quiet weekday afternoon, I was stopped by an overexcited man who grabbed my hand and laid a gold band ring in my palm. He talked rapidly in terrible German, hardly bothering to hide his shortcomings in the language and instead lapsing almost entirely into another, unintelligible to me. The gist was that he’d found the ring (this I gathered thanks to his eyebrows raised in faux surprise as he waved a hand over the sidewalk) and it wasn’t his (clear from his multiple attempts to shove it over a far-too-thick finger).

He pressed it into my hand even as I tried to return it, closing my fingers over it again. I shook my head repeatedly and handed it back, trying to get away, but he kept trying, and began rubbing his fingers together in the universal gesture for getting paid while pleading only the words "Coffee" and "cola".

I knew of this scheme from its frequent perpetrations in Paris - someone "finds" a  "gold" ring, chases down the nearest passerby and forces it on them, then asks for money. It didn’t strike me as particularly effective, as I couldn’t imagine anyone forking over cash for the thing, and no one else was around to be a potential purse-snatching accomplice. Like men catcalling from a passing car – had this ever worked enough to make it popular?

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