Thursday 1 February 2024

In the dead of the night, don't go changing money for strangers

It’s all on the money

It was a chance to eavesdrop on a conversation that left me wondering about human psychology and social engineering along with the ease with which one can so easily fall for scams or deceit by reason of vanity overwhelming essential self-awareness.

It was at first three people engaged in bargaining activity over money, I could hear the young man and the lady resist every entreaty, that I immediately thought the other man was trying to pawn off some baubles or contraband just to get cash in hand.

The couple was not persuaded and as they separated and this in the witching hour, the man wheeled his bicycle which I had not noticed before towards a black cab where he addressed the driver, and I got a full context of what was going on.

Pounding for a dollar in hand

He had a $100 bill that he wanted to exchange for Pounds Sterling cash and for some reason, this might have been so urgent that he was not ready to wait for a Bureau de Change to open for that business transaction, or so it would seem before my mind took a ponder on the brief scenario that I had witnessed.

The exchange rate at today’s prices suggests $100 would be exchanged for something between £77 and £82 and that is not accounting for transaction costs, commissions, and other charges. I heard the man negotiating from £80 down to around £60.

I won’t know what an authentic $100 bill looks like and how to account for whether it is legal tender or a counterfeit, then a stranger approaches you in the middle of the night with what seems like a bargain, you none the wiser of where he got the bill, beguiled by whatever sob story he has to regale, and your better instincts see you parting with £70 for this unverified paper purporting to be the almighty dollar, you hoping at your convenience you can walk up to a teller at a Bureau de Change and get £80 or maybe £85 for it.

The vanity of half-knowledge

I hate to think of the number of people who have been suckered into the laundering of counterfeit notes and this is not to say the bill in question was counterfeit. Then, many of us might deign to think ourselves seasoned numismaticians (which might read like a neologism, but it is in the Oxford dictionary, I checked), take any bill and give it the handling, feel, sight, light, and smell test, convinced in our assured dilettantism that we have the Real McCoy, only to find at the end of the conversation with the teller, the next day, the teller goes out of sight for a few minutes and next you are being frog-marched by the local constabulary to the station to answer questions, you would never have convincing answers for.

And indeed, that is the quandary, you never got the name of the stranger, he offered no personal details apart from the soothing repartee that eased you gently out of the suspicious and cautionary into the trusting and persuaded, by a total stranger who could easily have been a ghoulish apparition from the city graveyard donning flesh and apparel for the night, just returning from whatever meetings the dead attend.

Always see strangers at night as strange

Yes, I am totally wary of strangers in the dead of the night, striking up conversation with them is something I so totally avoid even as I could be already backslapping strangers in the daytime after a few minutes of engagement. The most I would aver is to tell the time when asked and at a good arm’s length away.

I cannot say if the man did get to change his $100 bill before the breaking of the dawn, but what coursed through my mind was the need to have the presence of mind not to even countenance the thought of exchanging money for strangers, give them something for an urgency, if that is the case, but if you at all listen to the tales and get carried away in the moment that your vanity trammels reason and good sense to assume you are qualified to undertake that transaction, I’ll like to hear that your story is nothing like that worst case scenario I allowed my thoughts to drift to, such that my appreciation of the innate goodness of strangers and humanity is ever so slightly hit.

This could easily have been another Coronavirus streets of Manchester blog. It isn’t.

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