The delicate art of asking for free crap – Redux

Once again, I find myself gyrating through the Free Crap Dance and my moves, which have never been all that groovy, are looking especially graceless and unrhythmic.

I’m leaving for a magazine assignment in less than two weeks to write about a region in a country that shall remain nameless, because I’m about to trash them a little, so I’ll just refer to them here as “Pitaly”.

So, I’m balls deep in emails, asking the Pitalians for free crap.  The upshot this time around, as opposed to my last attempt at getting free crap out of the Ukrainians – or “Pukrainians”, if you will – is that Pitalian tourism officials are plentiful and they’re all delightfully fluent in English, ostensibly making my job considerably easier.  The down side – and I’m trying to put this kindly as the Pitalian tourism officials may find my blog and decode the complex, pseudonym naming convention that I’ve developed – a large number of Pitalians have a certain, erm, “affection” for sustained repose that’s agreeable if you’re Pitalian (or a homeless travel writer living in Pitaly), but is a massive liability when one is in need of quick, decisive action, while a number of personal and professional deadlines loom.

Don’t get me wrong, under normal circumstances, I find this ceaseless pursuit of leisure admirable and prudent.  I have never seen such an abundantly relaxed and contented group of people in my life; the rest of the world could learn something from them.  I’d bet money that there’s never been a single case of insomnia reported in the history of Pitaly.  If you say something to a Pitalian like “Yeah, I didn’t sleep very well last night, I don’t know why.  Maybe it was that espresso I had at 8:00”, they’ll look at you like they’ve never heard anything so bizarre in their lives and respond with unconcealed exasperation (and wild extremity gesticulation):  “You non sleep well?  But how can this be?  It is no difficult!  You lie down and in one minute you sleep!  Hai capito?  Then, when you alarm ring, you wake up, no?  What is the problem??”

Ingenious.  Why didn’t I think of that?

Less commendable is the copious need for back-scratching in these circles.  Offers of substantial fame and/or fortune are required with certain Pitalians before they’ll struggle out of a prone position and reply to an email, much less take pains to offer any tangible assistance.  Arguably, motivators are needed at certain levels for people to move their asses in any country, but the same procedure in Pitaly is turning out to be slightly more manifest than what I’ve dealt with in the past.

A few weeks ago I sent out a barrage of emails to select hotels and tourism officials, announcing my assignment and engaging in the usual nudge-nudge, wink-wink wordplay that soliciting free crap entails.  Out of eight emails, I received zero replies.

After consulting with a colleague, who has proven to be something of an evil genius in the realm of Pitalian psychology and manipulation, I composed a new round of emails, this time ditching the tactful wordplay and frankly stating that I wanted complimentary rooms/meals/cars and in return, in addition to sending a legion of filthy rich travelers to hemorrhage cash all over their territory (fortune), I would mention them by name in my article (fame) and write prominent, independent reviews about said complimentary services in the magazine (fame, fortune, prestige, bimbos…).  I tossed in some carefully worded, tailor-made, reverential comments about each recipient, stopping short of musing about the size of their manhood (or womanhood) and sent the emails out.

Sure enough, I got some bites, though only 50% of them offered genuine assistance, while the others feigned giving assistance, while cunningly including some responsibility-avoidance clauses (“We’re waiting to hear from so-and-so, before we can do something”), so that if they don’t summon the energy to move my request along, they can blame everything on an unnamed saboteur.

In one sense, I actually enjoy this forthright approach to the Free Crap Dance.  The hypocrisy that is involved with the favored asking-for-free-crap-without-actually-asking-for-free-crap methodology has been a grating irritant for me since the first time I tried (and failed spectacularly) to make the magic happen.  And it’s been only marginally more fruitful for me ever since.  Alternatively, the what’s-in-it-for-me? facet of trying to urge select Pitalians to do the jobs that they’re already being paid a good wage to do has caused me to repeatedly fall into one of my all time favorite reveries where I have the super power to deliver a smack to the back of the head to anyone in the world at any time (my little brother, the president of Romania, Ann Coulter…).  That and x-ray vision, of course.

I had similar problems in Romania, though in their (slight) defense, the Romanians make shit for income and are sort of (but not really) forced to work every angle to their personal advantage.  However, my nominal compassion for this tactic wilted when these same, poor, under-paid Romanians did catch a break and snared some extra money, rather than save that money as a down payment for an apartment or some other investment to improve their station in life, they’d race out and buy a Motorazr (guys) or leather boots with six inch heels and three pairs of jeans (ladies).  At all events, what I’m encountering with a few (but not all!) Pitalians appears to be plain unforgivable, self-serving voracity.

During this process, my evil genius colleague, who’s had plenty of time to reflect on the worthlessness of certain Pitalian officials, introduced me to the concept of a “Worthlossity Scale”.  While this was a fulfilling, passive-aggressive way to privately vent some irritation with the worthlestiest Pitalian officials, I wonder if something like this shouldn’t be made into an industry tool?

Like other user-generated review sites, freelance travel writers could develop a site where we enter and rank Worthlossity Contenders (tourism officials, marketing reps, airlines, hotels, etc) from around the world, both with a multiple choice-driven scale and, if they’re extra, disgracefully worthless, post short anecdotes dishing on the degree of worthlossity for each entrant.

Equally, we could post praises for people that are kind and cooperative (“Worthosity”?).  I think eventually this could be a viable resource for travel writers to use while getting their shit together for an assignment, whether they’re trying to score comps or just wanting to ascertain whether or not strawberries are in season.  This information would be open for public consumption, so officials could check in and see how they and their colleagues rank and either bask in a job well done or stew in the public embarrassment of having been so utterly worthless.  Instant retribution, just like God intended.

At the time of writing, I’ve sent out emails to about 15 different people (to be fair, two of the recipients were “Pamericans”), received three replies and have seemingly inspired palpable action out of only one individual.  The next time you hear someone dreamily ruminating about how being a travel writer would probably be the greatest job in the world, for the love of God, slap them in the back of the head on behalf of me and the entire travel writing enchilada.