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You have a nice face
January 28, 2012 8:11 AM   Subscribe

Why am I such an easy mark?

It's true, I am. Whether it is homeless, panhandlers, "hey man can I buy a cigarette from you" or what have you, I am an easy Mark. If I am with a group of people, I am always the person that gets asked first, sometimes the only person in a group that will be asked. I take public transport most places I go and as someone walks through sizing people up, they always ask me. It never fails.

This isn't a problem, if I have some change to spare or an extra smoke I don't mind giving. I spent time in a homeless shelter and though I was never in a position to beg (is that the right term, it has a negative connotation that I don't really like) so I have compassion for people in need. I have been told that it's because I make eye contact, and maybe that's true but a lot of times I will be reading or have head phones on and not be paying attention to those around me and I still get asked. I can not tell you how many times I have been on a train with 20 or so people and I am either the only one asked or one of the few.

Will knowing what I look like help? The most recent picture I have is from our wedding a couple of months ago: pictured are me (I'm the big guy, my wife, the officiant and our body guard.

My name is even Marc.
posted by holdkris99 to Human Relations (37 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
You look friendly?
posted by queens86 at 8:12 AM on January 28, 2012


You look friendly. You make eye contact. I think that's about it.
posted by jabes at 8:15 AM on January 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


You look like a really nice guy. Very approachable.

Would you paypal me ten dollars, Marc?
posted by iconomy at 8:16 AM on January 28, 2012 [49 favorites]


People with soft hearts often look different than those who don't. Developing a screw-face is a good defense, but the longer you where a mask, the harder it is to take it off.
posted by cuban link flooded jesus at 8:18 AM on January 28, 2012 [14 favorites]


Perhaps people feel you can be approached because, as a "big guy", you won't feel threatened?
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:18 AM on January 28, 2012 [16 favorites]


If I had to guess, it would be that people hit you up first to show others that they aren't trying to be a troublemaker. If I'm out to mug someone, I pick the smallest person. If I'm seriously just looking for spare change, I pick out the biggest guy to start with to prove to everyone I'm neither squirrely nor afraid.

Also, NOT making eye contact tells others that you are rude, judgmental or afraid, or all of the above. You can make eye contact in a way that does not invite further interaction.
posted by gjc at 8:24 AM on January 28, 2012


I don't know where you live, but here in NYC it's standard protocol when approached by a panhandler, leaflet hander-outer, petition get-you-to-signer (or whatever) to simply keep walking and ignore them (or pointedly ignore them if you're trapped somewhere like the train). Making eye contact is strictly verboten. If they persist, a shake of the head or simple "sorry" suffices 95% of the time, and they move on to the next person. People who panhandle all day aren't going to spend any extra effort on someone who has already told them no. They'll simply move on to the next person. If you're not willing to do this... then you're going to get approached.

Now, depending on how you dress, etc. it may be that you seem more approachable to a certain demographic. And this will certainly result in being approached by more people in that demographic. A suit smoker is more likely to approach a suit smoker to bum a cigarette in the financial district, whereas a homeless guy looking for a cigarette downtown is more likely to approach the scruffy "indy-looking" guy with full sleeve tattoos and heavy gauge ear plugs. Some of this may just have to do with inherent things about your body attitude and natural looks. If you have a naturally friendly and approachable look/attitude, there's not much you can do to change that. For some reason, despite the fact that I don't in any way look like a badass, people never seem to fuck with me. Why? I don't know.
posted by slkinsey at 8:39 AM on January 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


... if I have some change to spare or an extra smoke I don't mind giving ...

This too. People who ask for handouts get good at figuring out who might give and who might not give. You're a giver, it seems. So this makes you a good mark.

Once I saw someone smoking crack in a doorway to whom I'd given a dollar a few minutes earlier, I decided to make my charitable donations to charities and do volunteer work, etc. rather than giving handouts on the street. This was reinforced to me when it became clear that many of the "homeless" people panhandling on the subway weren't actually homeless (very few homeless in NYC have things together enough mental-stability-wise and/or drug-use-wise to make effective subway panhandlers).
posted by slkinsey at 8:45 AM on January 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


I have been told that it's because I make eye contact

Before I even got to this part I was going to suggest that this is a possibility. Eye contact is just a convenient segway for initiating a conversation, but it's not necessary. So in cases where you haven't made eye contact, there are probably other signalers at play. Body language is huge. Do you sit wide and open, or closed off? What I mean is: what is your posture in relation to the aisle? People will generally wall themselves in (sitting rigidly perpendicular or obtuse to the aisle while looking down or out the window) and you may just be the least "protected" individual on the train. I'm not really saying you should adopt those habits, but it may be contributing to the dynamic.

If I may say so, you also have a wide, pleasant, and cherubic face (I say this as a compliment) which is probably interpreted, on a subconscious level, as characteristic of your personality. There's a reason that Ebenezer Scrooge is portrayed as having a sharp and wiry visage.
posted by troll at 8:46 AM on January 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


As a fellow big guy, I agree with TPS' idea that you seem less likely to feel threatened. To most people, getting approached by a random person on the street is going to be perceived reflexively as a threat and may start a fight-or-flight response -- and neither of those outcomes is in the asker's best interests. To a big guy's lizard brain, though, an approaching smaller person is much less of a threat; the asker's lizard brain knows this, too, and is thus more willing to approach a big guy.
posted by backupjesus at 9:03 AM on January 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Eponysterical iconomy.

To those asking I live in dallas.
posted by holdkris99 at 9:07 AM on January 28, 2012


I don't think you're being a mark, you're being empathetic, compassionate and considerate. You know from your experience:

a) how much a difference some change and a smoke can mean to someone.
b) how homeless/itinerant people can feel invisible on a street unless someone acknowledges them.
c) how hard that life is.

This causes you to connect with panhandlers.

I don't think it's anything to worry about, unless you are going broke ;)
posted by carter at 9:11 AM on January 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


This happens to me all the time, too. It sometimes DOES bother me, because I'm a very small young woman and have had some interactions ranging from uncomfortable to really awful with random men in public - but I've also really enjoyed making connections with strangers and being able to help people out.

(Eg., I once smiled and thanked a technician in a copy shop, and the next day he started sending me sexually explicit harrassing emails FROM MY OWN EMAIL ACCOUNT [yikes] in which he referenced me smiling at him. It took getting the police involved to get him to stop. He even hacked in to my Facebook account and changed my status to suggest I was sexually unsatisfied by my then-boyfriend. He took my smile as an expression of interest, and for 6 months I didn't want to look at anybody in public. On the other hand, I can't tell you how many times I've been waiting at a bus stop with a stranger, only to end up in a conversation with the stranger about a difficult life situation they are in. I don't mind this, and I really enjoy being able to provide simple help [here's how you get to the shelter/clinic, here's some bus money, etc].)

In my case I think it's because I look friendly, non-threatening, and above all, I tend to smile at people. Sometimes on the bus or subway, I look around at people. I have had to work hard to develop a kind of "mean look" that I put on when I'm concerned for my safety, and having a "mean look" (staring straight ahead, never acknowledging anybody, no expression on your face, appear to be in a hurry) makes a big difference. Also, wearing sunglasses seems to cut down on the amount of interaction with strangers.

At my size, it's sometimes a concern and merits developing some coping strategies. At your size, as long as it doesn't bother you, it's great - I wish I didn't have to be wary about appearing friendly and empathetic in public. It makes the world a nicer place to have friendly people around.
posted by Cygnet at 9:35 AM on January 28, 2012


Eye contact, smiling, size, etc. -- that's all been covered, and I agree.

One thing I want to emphasize is that this doesn't make you an easy mark. At least in my book, that would be reserved for people scamming you and really taking advantage of you. Here, people merely feel comfortable bumming a cigarette or asking for change -- you're not being injured (and if you are the issue is learning to say no), and they're not targeting you in a "take advantage" way.
posted by J. Wilson at 10:02 AM on January 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I am the same way, I know why it is. It is because I make eye contact with homeless people when they say "excuse me" or whatever. Even if I don't intend to give them money, or have no money on me. I feel it is polite to acknowledge someone when they speak to you and I can't break the habit.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:03 AM on January 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


I am from South Africa where you would be swamped by beggars and street children. You need to not establish any contact with them - don't look at them, don't face at them, don't go near them if possible, keep a good pace (fast walk not a stroll) and don't slow down, have a destination in mind and be confidently going towards it, cross over the street if needed, walk to where other non-beggars are if needed, be alert because being too distracted shows weakness, if confronted be polite but firm and say "No thanks" and then keep moving, and never openly display wealth or wave around cellphones, wallets, etc.

You're in Dallas so maybe just not making eye contact and keeping moving will be enough though. :-)
posted by meepmeow at 10:21 AM on January 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is not a con game, you are not a mark. It is prospecting - a kind of sales pitch, in a way - and you are a very likely prospect, for all of the reasons people mentioned above.

I get this, too - unless the specific homeless person in question has asked me many, many times, they always ask me; I also get people pulling over in the middle of traffic to ask me directions, and other similar "take a risk on the cherubic looking kid over there" interactions. :) The only person who I know who gets it more than I do is a good friend who looks a lot like me, but also always says yes. I assume if I knew a big dude who still looked as friendly as my friend and I do, he'd get even more; I figure there have to be some people who aren't approaching us because we're female.

(The number one trick I have to avoid this, which I only use in dangerous situations, is the fixed straight-ahead glare plus the efficient "I'm going somewhere, don't get in my way" walk - it's unpleasant in many ways, but it's very effective.)
posted by SMPA at 10:26 AM on January 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Eye contact is probably the biggest part but I would agree that changing that behavior somehow morphs who you are as a person. Enjoy being the one with the "good vibes" because you could be the jerk that nobody wants to talk to, right?
posted by MyMind at 10:27 AM on January 28, 2012


It's the eye contact. but more than that it's the fact that you've been there yourself, so you don't shrink from people who are there now. I'm the same way for different reasons, and I'm even worse about it than you, but I don't worry too much about it. If i have change to give, I give it. I even give the guy who "needs gas to get to his wife having a baby" five bucks if I can because either it's true or he really needs the five bucks. Either way, he needs it and I can give it.
posted by cmoj at 11:16 AM on January 28, 2012


Eye contact - even if you don't smile, making eye contact is making a connection, and in the other person's mind, an invitation to come over.
posted by fromageball at 11:24 AM on January 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Eye contact is probably the biggest part but I would agree that changing that behavior somehow morphs who you are as a person."

Not necessarily...I'm from the south where I'm used to people smiling and saying hi to everyone, and when I moved to the DC area(yeah it's still the south, but it's more city-like than Raleigh) I had to change this about myself because I was constantly approached by panhandlers, or people who wanted me to donate money to something or join a gym or whatever. I'm not as nice as your stereotypical southerner, but some behaviors get ingrained.

Now I either have ear buds in, pretend to talk on my phone or just stare straight ahead and ignore. It felt rude at first, but there is not enough time in the day to talk to everyone who wants something out of you.

I'm still the same person, I've just adapted to my surroundings.
posted by fromageball at 11:31 AM on January 28, 2012


I'm older and a bit slow and padded and I also get people asking for change or targetting me for surveys or Big Issues etc. I think it is a matter of how we are perceived in that split second - you do look pleasant and friendly, so you are inherently going to be more approachable than someone else who looks a bit more threatening.

I don't make eye contact, but they seem to do it anyway - I've become good at spotting a likely approach out of the corner of my eye and will deliberately close off my body language - head up, look past them or veer slightly away or start fiddling with something in my bag. It's pretty cowardly of me, I know, but I just don't feel comfortable giving money to people who ask for it. I will always say "No thank you" if someone speaks to me because I think that's polite. And keep on walking (I will however buy the Big Issue and will always then say to other vendors that I have one already).

If you do feel uncomfortable turning people down, like I do sometimes, then just make a donation to whatever your local homeless charity is. That's what I choose to do and I know it's a legitimate and safe way of helping those same people and many others, and I don't feel so guilty / stressed.
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 11:39 AM on January 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have a hard time flat-out ignoring people, so generally I just say this: "Sorry."

It's open ended, so it can mean "sorry, I don't have a dollar" or " I'm sorry about the state of our world and your current situation, and that I don't feel comfortable giving you money."
posted by redsparkler at 11:59 AM on January 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


Not necessarily...I'm from the south where I'm used to people smiling and saying hi to everyone, and when I moved to the DC area(yeah it's still the south, but it's more city-like than Raleigh) I had to change this about myself because I was constantly approached by panhandlers, or people who wanted me to donate money to something or join a gym or whatever. I'm not as nice as your stereotypical southerner, but some behaviors get ingrained.

Now I either have ear buds in, pretend to talk on my phone or just stare straight ahead and ignore. It felt rude at first, but there is not enough time in the day to talk to everyone who wants something out of you.


I noticed the same thing in the DC area. Nobody wants to even acknowledge anyone. I understand it completely in a crowd, it would be silly to try and say hello to everyone. But when there are few people around, what's the harm in a virtual doffing of the cap?

I don't make eye contact, but they seem to do it anyway - I've become good at spotting a likely approach out of the corner of my eye and will deliberately close off my body language - head up, look past them or veer slightly away or start fiddling with something in my bag. It's pretty cowardly of me, I know, but I just don't feel comfortable giving money to people who ask for it. I will always say "No thank you" if someone speaks to me because I think that's polite. And keep on walking (I will however buy the Big Issue and will always then say to other vendors that I have one already).

The problem there is that even though you close off your body language and put out all the "don't bother me" signs, people see that as an acknowledgment of them and pounce anyway. It may be just that they have learned to pounce on everyone they can, or that the "friendly | unfriendly" metric doesn't signify success. Rather, I suspect, it is the "willing | unwilling" metric. Someone who steels themselves may be doing so because they know that if they hear a good story, they will fall for it and give the change or sign the petition or whatever.

What I try to do is acknowledge people when I come near them, but never break pace. It doesn't bother me because while I feel awful for people in bad situations, I just can't help. So that's what I say "sorry, can't help, take care, god bless, good luck [etc.]." It is possible this invites slightly more interaction, but I haven't noticed it. Even if it does, I prefer to acknowledge the other humans I encounter because it seems like the right thing to do. Perhaps this is cynical of me, but I view them as just like salespeople. They are just doing their job, and I have no obligation to buy what they are selling.

(I completely understand, however. There seems to be more people out working hustles lately, and constantly having to say no to the various sob stories does weigh on a person. However, again perhaps cynically, I have come to recognize the same people over and over, working the same pitch. It gets easier to blow them off when you see the same guy with the same broken fan-belt in the same place on different days, still looking for $14 to replace it to go pick up his sick sister from the airport.)
posted by gjc at 12:53 PM on January 28, 2012


I'm a pretty shy, avoidant person and if I were in a jam, I would approach you (based on your photo) for help or to ask for directions, frankly because you look like you have a good heart and I wouldn't live to regret asking you. There are some people whom I never would approach just based on a quick intuitive take. As others have said, I think that's what is going on here. Definitely not something to be ashamed of at all.

When I lived in big cities and walked everywhere, I used to get asked for directions all the time. Sometimes it happened in foreign countries where I didn't speak the language well but I could understand the question! Same dynamic, I think.
posted by Currer Belfry at 2:01 PM on January 28, 2012


Whether it is homeless, panhandlers, "hey man can I buy a cigarette from you" or what have you, I am an easy Mark

Yeah, I agree with everyone else that I don't think it's because you look like an easy mark; i.e., I don't think they see you as someone who can be easily ripped off/tricked/fooled.

I think you look like someone who is prosperous (not just financially) and flourishing. You've successfully grown to be a big tall guy. You look very comfortable and happy. I think panhandler look at you and think, "this guy looks like he's doing really well, he looks like someone who probably something to spare.

In the group dynamic thing, I think they may be asking you first because (consciously or subconsciously) they might see you as the leader, because of your size. You probably look like a kind and benevolent leader.
posted by cairdeas at 2:37 PM on January 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is funny because I remember some of your other posts and you seem like a very kind person. You may just give off a nice vibe. I also agree that your size, along with your overall demeanor, probably makes people feel like you're not going to start screaming or blowing a whistle.
posted by BibiRose at 3:41 PM on January 28, 2012


You're wearing sneakers at your wedding. Based on that alone, I would bet you one hojillion dollars that your everyday manner of dress is extremely loose, casual and comfortable. You just look like a mensch. This is not a bad thing. But, throw a tailored suit on you, and the reactions would be very different.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:26 PM on January 28, 2012


You look like an unusually nice guy, sort of jolly, even. Yes, if I were begging I'd pick you out, too. It's not a bad thing unless you find it difficult to be assertive in general, and that's what people are picking up on, rather than your niceness. Is this true?

My boyfriend is unusually nice and generous, also (he's not a sucker, just kind) and originally from Dallas, too. What works for him when approached by panhandlers is a sympathetic, "Sorry, man."
posted by devymetal at 4:39 PM on January 28, 2012


You look like a really nice guy, I would want to be friends with you just based on your photo! I agree with those who say the way to change getting hit up for cash is to change your expression but really? I wish I had that look about me, it would be awful to change such a positive thing about yourself just for the sake of a few panhandlers.
posted by Jubey at 6:25 PM on January 28, 2012


Some people are just kind of "magnets" that seem to attract certain sorts of people. Like I am a weirdness magnet. The homeless people that go for me are the uh...most unhinged and unpleasant ones. I guess I give off an "I will totally be okay with anything you do to me, like grab me on the street" vibe? This is why I don't do eye contact and try to ignore them. Of course, this hasn't worked all the time and some folks have taken offense at it, but I don't really have a better solution that works most of the time other than to Not Engage, and eye contact/acknowledging they exist is "engaging."

If you really don't want to deal with this, you need to ignore folks on the street like they don't exist, and especially no eye contact. Especially since you do look like a big friendly dude (nice stormtrooper!). However, since you have Been There and Done That, you especially have sympathy for them, and would perhaps find it harder to ignore them. The choice is up to you. Nobody likes being the bastard that ignores begging homeless people, but it depends on whether or not it's easier for you to give the money or be a bastard. You may just make a different choice from those of us who have not been there and done that yet.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:10 PM on January 28, 2012


Like most people the homeless get lonely and crave attention and validation. I've found that most who stop me on the street really just want to talk. I figure this is less because they have something to talk about than because they want someone to talk to. And a lot of them have the savvy to say just the right thing to detain the unsuspecting -- more talking equals less loneliness equals good feelings equals the day goes by faster.

It is possible to 1) acknowledge the value of each's particular humanity and 2) let them know in no uncertain terms you're onto their game and are not to be messed with. It takes a lot of real-world practice to get good at either one, and a whole lot more practice to get both out in just a few words.

So gird your loins! guard your wallet! and meet the problem as the socio-ethical challenge it is, as none other than the nice guy you are.
posted by blockquote at 10:20 PM on January 28, 2012


You have a great face! I would totally ask you for a dollar.

This makes me think, though. I used to be you. Anyone who needed to talk to anyone in the street or on the bus for any reason--whether asking for change, or asking for directions, or in the grip of a psychotic delusion or drunk and jolly--would approach me. Other people would even remark on it. As a friend charmingly put it, I was a freak magnet.

That doesn't happen nearly as much any more. Part of it must be that I'm older. Certainly part of it is I live in a much less freaky city. And I hardly ever go out late at night on the weekends. And I have a kid now and I've noticed that older men, in particular, will not ask for change when I've got my kid with me. I think I'm also less aware of my surroundings because I'm half-focused on navigating my kid through human and vehicular traffic. I'm also richer and I know I used to always wonder--even as I was fishing coins out of my pocket--why pan handlers would let 15 guys in suits walk by without comment and then ask me and my blown-out jeans and broken down sneakers. And I'm old and busy and have a stressful job and don't always feel the kinship with my fellow man that I used to. I also say no more often than I used to.

When I was younger, I was way more attune to my surroundings. Even if my nose was in a book, or I had earphones on, I was acutely aware of what was going on around me. I'm sure there is body language that goes with that, that signals alertness, and people whose job is reading people are going to pick up on it. In my case, it was about pro-active self-defense--I was projecting ready alertness--ironically to keep myself from being a mark/target of violence or harassment. I think being attractive to non-violent strangers might have been a side effect. If you spend a lot of time on public transit, you might have this, too.

Anyhow, you say this isn't a problem, so I assume you're just curious. I agree that it doesn't make you a mark. It just means that you look like what you are: a guy who has compassion for his fellow humans and gives out change or a cigarette when he has some to spare.
posted by looli at 1:10 AM on January 29, 2012


I could've written this post and I'm actually glad you brought this up. I think you have a very friendly face and a nice aura.

I get the same things that you get. Also take public transport, get asked when I'm in a group, etc.

Physically I am black, female, overweight, unattractive by most standards with a deep voice. I currently live in England and am American by birth.

I have tried several experiments.

1. Going out with a cold and coughing loudly when people approached me. I was still approached by person working for charity but everyone else steered clear.

2. Going out with large sunglasses on. This lead to a 98% reduction. The time I was approached here, I also had a stain on my shirt and was all sweaty. A man approached me from his car and asked me to get in. Ugh.

3. Going out with iPOD and sunglasses. 100% reduction but uncomfortable to do so for a long time.

4. Reading and listening to iPod on bus (in the US) -- approached by the person beside me (who I didn't even hear at first).

After a while I decided to only do sunglasses/iPod when I didn't want to talk to anyone since I like engaging with people too.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 1:50 AM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm also in Dallas. I get hit up by panhandlers constantly. As does my girlfriend. If I go downtown, I can absolutely count on it happening, multiple times.

I think that for a lot of beggars/panhandlers, it's simply a numbers game. The more people they ask, the more money they make. It may not be obvious, because most of them seem to prefer (so they don't look pushy and hence less sympathetic) not to IMMEDIATELY ask the person three feet away from you the same question after you. So you are not necessarily an "easy mark."
posted by mreleganza at 1:33 PM on January 29, 2012


My husband gets approached repeatedly in public for directions or help. It is sort of ridiculous - in a crowd, we'll see someone looking lost and I'll say "Wait, wait for it..." and then they'll see him and head over, walking past lots of other people.

I think it's that he's tall and has an open friendly face, and he's genuinely interested in people and helpful. I agree with the rounder face aspect too. He looks safe and kind.

This is a good thing. It's a little annoying to have to wait ten minutes while he helps a Japanese couple figure out the train system, but I find it incredibly charming and lovely to watch him be helpful and kind to strangers, and I view it as a personal strength of his, not at all a problem.
posted by viggorlijah at 6:49 PM on January 29, 2012


There are beggars at many streetlights here in Austin, I've adopted a "as the spirit moves me" sort of thing — if I want to give them a buck or a five or the change in my pocket, that's what happens, and if I don't want to give them anything I just don't. But I still look them in the eye, nod, a moment of human contact; I'm certainly no better than they are, we're just in different shoes.

In Chicago though, it got totally nuts, and I got hit on time and time again, it was relentless, it was vile, truth be told. They don't give a rats ass about me or about you, there's no humanity in it, it's all about intimidation, getting in your face. My father called it a bums rush, and as kid I didn't really know what the term meant, not spending much time in the city, but I sure get it now. I won't acknowledge them, I'll walk right over them, it's all just a big con, it really chaps my ass; I hate to be cut off from my brother but they are the ones forcing the cut. Fuckers.

I like Texas because it's generally friendlier in these sorts of situations, maybe in Dallas it's harder than in Austin, or maybe you're in a part of Dallas that is heavily trafficked by pushy cons. If that's the case, was it me I'd walk over them, same as I do in Chicago, maybe give your money somewhere else.
posted by dancestoblue at 10:29 PM on January 29, 2012


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