You’re obviously a very calm person. What’s your secret?

Every person who stops me on the street and tries to convert me to an Eastern Religion uses the same line, and I can see why. It’s an excellent line.

I work in the part of town where the twanging and screeching of buskers rebounds across the streets, adults in bibs holding plastic buckets stand on the corners collecting for the charity of the day, and pigeons bathe in the splash of the fountain.

I try to avoid the street as much as possible because, you know, people, but sometimes I’m hungry, in need of coffee, or I have a meeting down the far end of town, and I’m forced to venture into this madhouse.

When I do, there’s another type of person who often steps into my path and engages me in inescapable conversation.

I don’t know what to call her because I never figured out entirely what she wants, but my best guess is Eastern Religion Conversionist. (Yes, that could be a word.)

I’ll call her Erc.

Erc approaches me holding a beautifully bound hardback book and asks if I’ve discovered the teachings of Spiritual Leader X, Yogic Y, or the Great Canine.

(I included the Great Canine as a joke. The Great Cat didn’t think it was funny either.)

She opens the book and shows me pictures of a spiritual-looking man sitting in a meditative pose.

More like this:


than this:


Though I have to say I rather like this second picture. It’s very fantasy. Wolf man prays to the barbarian gods before grasping his sword and setting out to avenge the destruction of his village and death of his parents.

Erc asks me what I do for work and if I’m a teacher. (I’m carrying a folder, so clearly I must be because teachers are the only people who ever carry folders.)

I smile and say “some days”.

(I never lie to Erc because there’s a small chance she might have a smite-y deity behind her. That doesn’t mean I have to tell the whole truth, though.)

She tries to give me the book–free, of course–but I can’t take it in good faith knowing I’ll never read it. I also expect as soon as she gets it in my hands she’ll ask for a donation and I’ll feel too guilty to say no.

After I refuse the book for the fourth time, Erc knows she’s losing me. My feet are already heading down the street. Erc is desperate, so she plays her strongest line.

“You’re obviously a very calm person. What’s your secret?”

The first time I heard this I was gullible enough to feel flattered.

Well actually, I’ve just stepped out in the middle of a hectic day of work, my stress levels exited Earth’s orbit nine minutes ago, and I’m pretty sure I’m going to be late for my important meeting but I can’t figure out how to escape you without being rude.

Me: (mysterious/panicked smile)

Me: Um, thanks. I guess I’m just a calm person.

The second time, it was more like this.

Hmm, that sounds familiar. Where have I heard it before?

That’s right, the last time an Erc stopped me.

By the third time I was certain: Ercs have a play-book, a secret manual that gives them all the lines to feed you.

Page 2 of the Erc manual: If your victim still seems desperate to escape, use the line, You’re obviously a very calm person. What’s your secret?

The rationale behind this line is many-fold.

First, a little flattery never goes amiss. Being called a calm person is a huge compliment these days. This will warm them towards you.

Second, the direct question both makes it very difficult for your victim to walk away without answering and flatters them further by suggesting they possess secret knowledge that would benefit the rest of humanity.

Third, because the belief system you are selling places calmness in a prominent position, you are suggesting your victim is perfectly suited to this system and in fact already fits into it like a pizza in a pizza box.

To summarise, you are flattering them, showing that they already belong, and asking a question that demands a response. This is a powerful line. Use it for good, never evil.

I’m kidding about that last part. Use it for evil if it convinces them to buy. You’re a salesperson, after all.

Even though I know it’s just a line, I can’t help but feel a little flattered when they feed it to me.

Yes, I’m very zen, just like this rock.

zen rock

I breathe the eternal spirit and channel the peace of the universe through my… ahem. Well, actually, it was nice talking to you, but I’m afraid I’m late for a meeting. Have a great afternoon.

Am I the only one who gets stopped on the street by Ercs? Have you noticed any particular lines these people use?

Get more of my ramblings right in your inbox. I promise I won’t lie to you–you might have a smite-y deity too.

Author: A.S. Akkalon

By day, A.S. Akkalon works in an office where the computers outnumber the suits of armour more than two-to-one. By night, she puts dreams of medieval castles, swords, and dragons onto paper.

18 thoughts on “You’re obviously a very calm person. What’s your secret?”

  1. I live in a town too small and rural for proselytizers. However, the college I went to was very close to Utah (sort-of the LDS version of Mecca, not knowing how familiar you are with the region) so I was frequently targeted by Mormon missionaries in their button-up shirts, slacks and ties. I quickly discovered if I was too nice to them they would follow me all the way to class trying to teach me about the latter-day saints. I guess I just need to become meaner…

    1. That’s a problem that we nice people face – we’re too easy targets. You could ask them to help carry your shopping. If they’re following you around they could at least be helpful.

      1. Never ask a Mormon missionary to carry your bags. Not only will they carry your bags, but they will put them away and mow your lawn. Look away, and walk fast.

  2. I’ve been trapped in a laundromat with this type of person (though not this *exact* type of person, mind you). They were kind of pushy and seemed to have no concern for the fact that I needed to move my laundry over. Eventually I think I just told them to give me a pamphlet and they finally left me alone.

    They were pretty sneaky. They weren’t up-front about what they were trying to sell me on at first. In fact, I think I had the impression they were lost and needed help finding something in town. Well, I knew the town pretty well and I’m totally open to helping people find their way.

    It was creepy, though. There were two people. One of them was trying to push me on my beliefs and such while the other was near the door. I might have been scared if they weren’t past middle-age and I in my early twenties.

    The good thing is these people are mostly harmless. We get a lot of people trying to hand things out on campus and I’ve learned to just keep my hands full and my eyes forward. Even better if I take a sip of coffee as I pass them.

    1. Ooh, cornered in the laundromat by people trying to save your soul! Scary. 😉

      I do dodge a lot of these people in the street – I frown, walk quickly, and look at my watch – but sometimes I don’t have the energy to pretend I’m busy.

      Glad you escaped the creepy people unscathed. 😉

  3. Ercs (more like Orcs sometimes) are unbelievably annoying, but I guess they’re like scammers, If they hook one in a thousand then they think they’ve succeeded.

  4. I don’t know if it’s a UK thing, but we either move to the other side of the path and make no eye contact, or walk at a very fast pace and say ‘No thanks,’ if anyone so much as breathes in our direction. The last time I got approached, I was on holiday in New York: Clearly not used to being ignored, a guy chased us down the street calling us names when we refused to listen to his sales pitch about his CD’s!

  5. Liking suburbia more and more…

    I drive to and from work as that’s the only way to get there, and anyone with such pamphlets would get chased off company grounds. I don’t answer my door unless I know who’s there. Leftover from my days living alone in New Orleans.

    Personally, I’m even sure I would say “no thank you”. I would just keep walking, ignoring them. I get totally creeped out when people I don’t know talk to me. Not sure if it’s my introvert nature, or that I just worry about being a female out alone.

    1. Everyone seems to be better at ignoring people than me! 🙁 I must be lacking some essential gene. I get creeped out when strangers talk to me, but only if they’re creepy-looking strangers or it’s at night.

  6. Ercs used to be a very big thing in California cities (especially airports) but I haven’t been accosted by one in decades. I live in a small, Erc-free town now so that’s one reason, but even on my forays into the metropoli, Ercs don’t seem to be in evidence. Unless I’m in a shopping mall and stray anywhere within the radius of a kiosk, but then they’re selling data plans or sunglasses, not mysticism. It could be that in the current social climate in the States — as notoriously trigger-happy as it has become — people are wisely reluctant to approach strangers. Or we’ve just all gotten a lot more rude.

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