Flies, honey and vinegar

Posted on February 19, 2008


I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions, having long established that I’m not going to change anything about myself for calendar-related reasons, if at all. But for some reason that I cannot now recall, I decided some weeks ago that I was going to implement my mother’s religiously motivated maxim, “a gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger”. In layman’s terms, this is, I think, the same as “you’ll catch more flies with honey than with vinegar”. Faced with such seemingly logical remarks on the nature of insect preferences, I decided to give it a try.

The soil was particularly fruitful for this endeavor because I have just moved out of the parental abode into a rental apartment in Zamalek. This, I knew, was going to demand delicate planning and execution in order to secure the least amount of interference with my activities. I decided to repress my natural instincts, which are to be incredibly aggressive, and be honeyed instead.

For the purposes of securing the many, many concessions I demanded from the landlord I employed a method I once read about in a trashy novel: the “con”. This has five steps:

  1. Make the mark smile.
  2. Get the mark to agree with you.
  3. Make the mark feel superior.
  4. Give the mark something.
  5. Get what you want and get out.

It’s been the business, I can tell you. So far I’ve gotten pretty much everything I wanted, even though legally I was not entitled to it. I did not, however, feel that the bawab warranted a similar time and energy investment; instead I chose to kick it old school and institute a well-planned series of bribes. I have also taken to greeting him, which I normally hate doing. It’s also been working – he has classily disregarded all the sketchier facets of my activities. I have also met with success with the makwagi – although I have to confess that the previous provider of these services was utterly unresponsive to ANY method I tried to get him to put creases and my sleeves and collars. Maybe I’ve just been lucky.

With most other persons, however, being honeyed has (as two male friends have kindly pointed out) taken the form of low level flirtation. Nothing outrageous: just steady eye contact and smiling. I’ve tried to also make my eyes sparkle, also a la trashy novels, but I do not think that is within my capabilities. Maybe if my eyebrows were better groomed we’d be talking. It might also be worth noting that I should perhaps take less guidance from trashy novels.

I employed this aspect of the honey method at Topkapi, the allegedly Turkish restaurant. While it is true that the employees of that establishment display an almost feverish desire to please, this normally results in utter confusion rather than speedy resolution. When I ordered a bottle of wine the waiter almost had a seizure from fluttering about me frantically waving the bottle around, but in no way did he open it or pour any of it until I actually asked him to after he had frozen in his spot for some minutes. I did not waste my efforts on this obviously too frightened man; instead I focused them on the manager, who had decreed firmly and senselessly that shisha was not going to be served indoors, despite that fact that I could clearly see one being smoked. I have a friend whose mental wellbeing rests entirely on her being able to access shisha at least once a day, and she appeared so despondent that I hastened to the manager, who I managed to persuade to bring shisha indoors through said minor flirtation and making the rather obvious remark that since we had the entire place to ourselves, and we were the ones who wanted the shisha, complaints would not be forthcoming. My friend was overjoyed. I also managed to get the DJ to change the music, although flirting with DJs has enjoyed a notable lack of success in the past. Perhaps it worked in this case because the DJ was in fact the owner of the place. Unfortunately, that was the end of my successes, because after that the evening went downhill, service wise. I was asked a total of ten times which flavour shisha I wanted by the same person, compelling me in the end to scream “CANTALOUPE! CAN-TAL-OUPE!” like a madwoman. It was only then that it was brought. Shouting is also of the highest degree of efficacy at work, I’ve noticed. It was while viewing a shouting match at work that a blinding flash of inspiration struck me: there is something flies like even more than honey. It’s shit.

Originally published in Campus Magazine, February 2008.