There Is a Sucker Born Every Minute

Tuesday, December 11, 2007 18:36
Posted in category The Big Picture

That is a famous quote by PT Barnum, and perhaps it is a phrase that best sums up how a foreigner can find himself paying 675USD for coffee on Nanjing Road.

and while I largely try to stay away from stories that do not follow a business line, or more importantly deal with old men and young Chinese girls, this one is a story I cannot leave alone.

According to there article in yesterdays Shanghai Daily Tourist cheated for huge bill at coffee shop

A SWEDISH businessmen concluded his Shanghai trip with “huge disappointment” after he was lured by two young women to a downtown coffee shop and charged nearly 5,000 yuan (US$676) for beverages.


The women dressed like university students and asked whether they could be free tour guides to practice their English, the report said.

and then..

Soon after the coffee arrived, one of the women ordered a whiskey despite the man’s refusal, the report said. While he took a phone call, the women quickly ordered 11 more whiskeys and drank them in about 10 minutes, the Swedish businessman told the newspaper.


He decided to pay with a credit card and then the bill changed to 4,966 yuan… Manabe employees insisted that each whiskey was 400 yuan and the two women had ordered 12, the report said.

Now, I am going to leave the whole “I just wanted to help them practice their English” excuse aside and mention the fact that this guy was a department manager at OMX Group, Sweden’s biggest Stock Exchange, and was on a group business trip.

This is important because he was not your average tourist, really should have known better, and rather than admit that (1) it was his little head he was thinking with and (2) he got suckered, he is now telling people (including the Shanghai Daily) about how the Chinese are cheats.

Now, why I am posting this, and why it is important for others to read it is simply this.

When picking a manager to represent your company, to quality control your goods, or to otherwise act in the best interest of your company, companies really need to take a hard look at who they are sending.

Quite often, the person that is sent is the single guy who doesn’t have a family,and is open to the adventure of a trip/ post to China. It is not that the most qualified person (man or woman) is lining up to go, it is that quite often firms face the reality that their top pick is obviously not interested in making the trip.

For this manager to get busted like this on Nanjing East Road shows just how backwards his company was in choosing him in my opinion, and while I feel bad that he was stuck with a 700 USD bill, the fact is that he showed an amazing lack of judgment, an inability to perform when the time called, and after that he is still unable to accept responsibility for the fact that it was his own judgment that disappointed him…

One only knows how he would have performed were he to have been responsible for setting up a factory, check the paint grade on a Barbie doll, or work with medical professionals in developing a clean distribution system.

Bottom line, pick your people carefully and make sure they would pass the drop zone test in another city first.

China is not unsafe, but you cannot drop someone in who walks down the street looking and acting like a sucker.

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17 Responses to “There Is a Sucker Born Every Minute”

  1. Jeremy says:

    December 11th, 2007 at 6:57 pm

    No doubt this guy is an idiot. That goes without saying.

    Your point that he shouldn’t be in China doing business and representing his company is also well put. If someone can’t avoid the most obvious or blatant of scams, how are they going to do something more complicated?

    However, it is quite possible that the girls pretended to be university students trying to practice their English and nothing more. There are really quite a few scams out there, and this sounds like as good as any.

    So the guy could just be a complete idiot – nothing more and nothing less =)

  2. Rich says:

    December 11th, 2007 at 7:35 pm


    A couple of points well taken.

    Having walked down Nanjing Road though and experienced the tout myself (no, I didn’t fall for it), I have to say it is fairly obvious that something is off.

    Either way, whether it was a well laid trap or he was just a bit on the slow side himself, companies need to really be careful when sending people here.

    His firm should be glad that he only lost 700 USD.


  3. Chris Devonshire-Ellis says:

    December 11th, 2007 at 11:15 pm

    Yet they moan about paying professional consultants fees. Man I wish I could get hourly rates at USD700 for. 10 minutes. At USD750 an hour I reckon I’m something of a bargain by comparison. And I’d provide 18 year old malt whisky for that – and not whatever those girls were drinking because sure as hell it wasn’t alcohol ! LOL. He has an expensive xiao didi.

  4. Terry says:

    December 12th, 2007 at 4:16 am

    Ha ha a very expensive one Chris!! can’t believe the denial though. And ditto on fees especially when it comes to hiring practices in China.

  5. Fidel says:

    December 12th, 2007 at 5:45 am

    At USD700 for two coffees served by two girls in a coffee shop – they must have been served beforehand with some uplifting, dare I say “tittilating” views of two impressive sets of orbs to get him in that state. Methinks Rich needs to go undercover and investigate for us….exactly WHAT got him in trouble ? We need to know. All in the sense of the pursuit of justice and China risk analysis of course. I’m looking forward to seeing evidence of said objects of desire here as proof. If they were impressive, I also surmise they come from Sichuan and NOT Shanghai.

  6. Rich says:

    December 12th, 2007 at 6:36 am

    Chris – Perhaps it is possible for there to be a line item for 15 year old double malts?

    Terry – Yeah, the denial is unbelievable…. again, perhaps not the best person to be placed in China.

    Fidel – Great ID on the covert operation, but after loosing 700 USD and going home, my boss would kick my a$$… Simply put, not worth the risk!


  7. Eric Grannemann says:

    December 12th, 2007 at 8:40 am

    Having been a westerner in China, I can say from firsthand experience that we all have a bullseye on our heads. No matter how hard I bargained or how many times I walked away, I always paid more in the markets than a local. I was the target of scams perpetrated by restaurant owners, hotels, cab drivers and the like. Usually in the form of attempted overcharges. EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THESE THINGS has been pulled on me in the states as well. The difference is, that as westerners in China, these efforts are focused on us. Relative wealth, cultural unfamiliarity, and the fact that we are readily identifiable make us ideal marks. I’m not sure it is fair to denigrate the victim.

  8. Rich says:

    December 12th, 2007 at 9:01 am


    I would agree that being a Westerner in China brings with it a bit of a target sign. However, this guy fell into a trap that had a neon sign on it, and I am sure that his firm is thankful his lapse only cost them a bit of money from petty cash. There are cases that are much worse.

    Not getting a local deal while bargaining is not being scammed either, and after 6 years here I would say that I am getting pretty close to what my local friends get. What I realized is not that I am not getting scammed, it was that I had not done my research to know the real price and thus I was more likely to pay more as I thought that I was getting a good deal.

    Local know where to shop, what the prices are, and that is their real advantage… which gos to your point of cultural differences and being ideal marks. 99% of time when you are marked, it is skin color that gives away the fact that you don’t know the local game, who to trust, and what to pay…

    In any event, I was not trying to single the guy out and throw more on top.

    I was simply trying to use this as a clear case of someone that really is not right for an international assignment, and that firms need to be more careful in selecting who will represent them in China.

    Thank you for your comments and I hope you’ll continue to post on other threads as well!


  9. Eric D says:

    December 13th, 2007 at 7:48 pm

    I’ve been approached numerous times down Nanjing Road. Heard this story several times, and yet it still amazes me that people still fall for it. Great. The guy’s a newbie to Shanghai. Good for him. But, hell, common sense should still prevail.

  10. Fidel says:

    December 13th, 2007 at 8:59 pm

    Did you really mean that you “largely try to stay away from stories that do not follow a business line, or more importantly deal with old men and young Chinese girls” or did you just make a mistake? Because what you say here it seems you are going to be putting up all kinds of more stories aboutold men and young Chinese girls stories and then we will get more people coming in and talking about malt whiskey and orbs which really is not that good for those of us who have been reading you for real Chian business info not smut.

  11. Rich says:

    December 13th, 2007 at 10:02 pm


    Made a bit of a mistake, but rest assured, I am not looking to take All Roads into a new direction. I really thought there was a business value in posting this, and I would not have done otherwise.

    I will be a bit more careful in the future.

    Have a good weekend.

  12. taylor says:

    December 14th, 2007 at 1:24 am

    I don’t necessarily think that this guy is an idiot. There were two separate scams, first the girls ordering a bunch of drinks that he didn’t want to pay for, and then credit card fraud. If the girls did order 10 whiskies and two coffees, a 500 kuai bill is pretty reasonable, which he clearly “accepted responsibility” for. Stupid yes, but still only 500 kuai. If that were the end of it, I am sure we would not be hearing about it in the paper.

    The fact that they charged him 10x more than what he authorized doesn’t make him dumb, it makes him the the victim of theft, and I’m sure his credit card company will go after the coffee shop for the money. Are you really gonna say that everyone who has their credit card swiped in China is unfit to do business here?

    Also, you seem to be blaming the victim for the crime. “She wouldn’t have gotten raped if she were dressed appropriately” sort of logic. Come on, now. Shanghai is not the wild west. You should expect to be able to trust the waitress at a coffee shop not to steal 3500 kuai every time you pay with plastic.

  13. Rich says:

    December 14th, 2007 at 11:47 am


    this post is getting a bit out of control, but some controversy was needed I guess to liven the group.

    I did not call the guy an idiot. I said he showed an amazing lack of judgment. the two are mutually exclusive, although him being an idiot would have just made it all the easier for the girls to reel him in.

    He allowed himself to get into the situation because he was not thinking straight, and what I was simply showing is that you need to send more aware people over to China to represent you. There are a lot of deals that go bad, and a lot of product that goes bad because people do not have their eye on the ball. They go out on big nights and get into trouble.

    Why should companies care? Well, while I was in line getting my tickets at the airport today there were 6 executives talking about this guy who got pinched on Nanjing Road by some girls, and how he was a sucker for falling into it… and they were discussing this guy.

    In the end, the coffee shop was shut down because these girls were apparently on the payroll.

    Again, I am not saying the guy was an idiot, but he definately showed a severe lack of judgment. He got distracted, got himself into trouble, and then made it worse by calling a reporter and telling them the story and giving them the company name.

    Would you want this guy on your payroll? Would you want him going to a factory and inspecting goods?

    Neither would I. That is the point.


  14. Fidel says:

    December 14th, 2007 at 1:49 pm

    Please explain how “being an idiot” and lacking judgment are mutually exclusive as I have always thought they go together pretty well.

  15. Rich says:

    December 14th, 2007 at 2:31 pm


    Now we are getting technical

    Clinton is by all accounts an extremely smart man, but he showed an amazing lack of judgement when he found himself in the middle of an impeachment.

    the scam was an easy one to pick up on, and he didn’t. Does that make him an idiot? some think so. I think he just thought a couple of cute girls wanted to chat with him (or more), so he followed along. Blame his ego .. blame something else, but why else would he have followed two girls up to the third floor coffee shop?

    It wasn’t to teach them English.

    He just showed poor judgment, and I can only imagine what he would be capable of when you get 10 shots of baijiu in him over a supplier dinner.

    My point has never been that the guy was an idiot, it is that firms need to be more careful wen selecting people to come here on their behalf. 700 USD is nothing in comparison to some of the scams people fall for here, and more often than not they fall for them either because they get in over their head or because they take their eye off the ball….

    This Swed was nothing but a softball example that was easy for me to swing at. But, one could just as easily target the subjects of Mr. China. those guys were not idiots. Naive yes. Lack of Focus sure…. The difference? When they got scammed, they did not call the Shanghai Daily and blame it on China.


  16. taylor says:

    December 14th, 2007 at 9:30 pm

    Yes, it is a little out of control, and sorry for the harsh tone earlier. I actually do like this blog.

    But do take in mind that this dude worked for OMX. He could have been a quant for all we know, who never should have been unchained from his computer.

    Also, I wouldn’t say he’s blaming China, just the crooks who stole his money. And although I can’t say whether or not I would employ him, I do know of a number of old lecherous expats who can be found drunk on Hengshan Lu with young prostitutes that I would prefer not to hire.

  17. Rich says:

    December 14th, 2007 at 11:28 pm


    No problem. With nearly 500 posts up now, I am bound to stir it up a bit once in a while, and I am glad you and Fidel are taking me to task.

    In hindsight I could have structured the post a little better to begin with.. spent way to much time on the Swed rather than the topic…. making sure to pick the right people to represent your company.

    anyway, I hope I have redeemed myself with the most recent posts. I was on a plan for 10 hours, so I was not able to get them up sooner.

    Have a good weekend