Spot the tout

The hunter becomes the hunted: get your revenge on the touts with these five little games

“Where you from? What your name? Where you going?”

Ah, the familiar call of the pesky Indian street tout. Such individuals are an inescapable fact of life for the tourist in India. Whether you’re pacing MG Road in Bangalore or circumnavigating Connaught Place in Delhi, it will only be a matter of time before a well-groomed Indian “gent” in a button-down shirt and slacks falls into step with you to become your instant friend, ready and willing to deceive, lie, cheat and perform all sorts of underhand tactics to make an inflated commission at your expense.

Common sense coupled with a healthy cross-section of such experiences can spot a tout almost instantly. Yet every new day in India you’ll be fending off yet more scammers who’ll see you as a green tourist ripe for the picking. Getting angry with them is counter-productive; your dark mood will inevitably be directed at India itself and will sour your experience of the wonderful country as a whole. On the other hand, patiently going along with their personal questions and then politely fending them off when the inevitable sell comes can be wearying in the extreme.

There is another way. Touts are essentially playing a game with you, so play them right back – and have fun doing so. Here are five golden techniques that will have you looking forward to your next encounter with a tout. One important point, though: the goal of these techniques is, in effect, to take the piss out of the tout, albeit sometimes without their knowledge, and so for safety reasons I only recommend using these techniques in broad daylight in places where there are a lot of people around.

1. The Alter Ego

A gentle opener to the world of tout humiliation, the Alter Ego sees you cease being yourself and adopting a new identity entirely of your creation. For instance, instead of Steve from England, I might tell the tout I am Wan King in China. I also enjoy telling touts I come from Belgium (as seemingly no-one in Asia knows the first thing about Belgium). I like to teach touts about my new country they know little about – I’ll regularly tell them that the capital of Belgium is Bee, and that it’s against the law to wear clothes there on Thursdays. Let your imagination run riot.

2. The Celebrity

Building on the Alter Ego, the Celebrity sees you adopting the identity and personality of a famous person, real or fictional. Again, the world is your oyster. Sometimes I am Jack Bauer, always in a rush and constantly asking the tout the time. Other times I might be Frank Spencer (a British comedian from the seventies) on my way to meet Betty, or Mr. S. Doo (“Huh?”). Bonus points if you can carry on your ruse without raising any suspicion in the tout, or make anyone else you’re with at the time laugh out loud.

3. Marcel Marceau

Named in honour of the legendary French mime artist, the Marcel Marceau sees you conversing with the tout solely through the mysterious art of mime. Using smiles, nods, shrugs and other gestures, the idea is to see how long you can have a “conversation” with them until they realise you’re not speaking. At the point the penny drops, I like to point to my voicebox to intimate my voice is not working, then produce a pad and paper to continue the ruse – scrawling something down on paper like “SORRY – I’M DEAF AS WELL”. At this point they usually get frustrated and storm off – success – a taste of their own medicine!

4. Mr Shake-Hands-Man

Inspired by the legendary character on the British TV Show Banzai, Mr Shake-Hands-Man sees you greeting the tout with a firm handshake which you must then carry on for as long as possible. More than ten seconds is something to be proud of. You can get some tips from the master himself by checking him out in action in this video. When the game breaks down with the tout breaking your grip, feel free to continue with the Alter Ego or Celebrity.

5. The Pelican

Finally, this killer technique was learned from a fellow British traveller in Goa. The Pelican is the last resort reserved for those incredibly persistent or annoying touts that just won’t disappear no matter how many times you’ve told them that your name is Mickey Mouse and you’re on the way to Disney Castle. It involves forming your arms into a broad wing shape and enthusiastically flapping them to and fro whilst circling the tout and making an extremely loud ‘cawing’ noise. It’s a deadly technique, 100% effective at driving touts away (as well as everyone else in the vicinity). Note that The Pelican is open to a whole Noah’s Ark of variations; as it’s fairly bold, you might find it useful to work up to it getting some practice via The Chicken or The Dog first.

Have you used any of these techniques with any degree of success? Do you have any of your own to share? Let me know!