灭火器推销员 / The Fire Extinguisher Salesman

灭火器推销员

我在香港最初工作过的办公室位于中环印刷行。办公室入口处在都爹列街上,后面正对着雪厂街,有一个小阳台,可以看到一片绿草坡,成群的、吵闹的白色凤头鹦鹉经常光顾那里。

雪厂街在传统上相当于华尔街,因在航海时代为冰库所在地而得名。那时,从新大陆和其他地方舶来的皮草、人参和容易变质的货物都存放在雪厂街的冷库里。

The Fire Extinguisher Salesman

The office where I first worked in Hong Kong was located in Printing House, in Hong Kong’s Central District. The entrance was on Duddell Street, but the opposite side of the building faced Ice House Street, with a small balcony and view of a green slope often visited by flocks of noisy white cockatoos.

Ice House Street, traditionally Hong Kong’s equivalent of Wall Street, was so named because of the ice-filled warehouses located there during the clipper ship era, awaiting cargos of furs, ginseng, and other perishable items shipped in from the New World and elsewhere.

1974年的香港中环街景 / Hong Kong’s Central District, 1974

有一天刚过中午不久,老板外出,前台的接待员休假,一位能说会道的推销员径直闯进了我的办公室。他衣着光鲜,拎着一个漂亮的真皮公文包。说起话来就像连珠炮。他一上来就滔滔不绝地推销,可我连他到底卖的是什么都没有弄明白。

他表现得魅力十足,以至于直到他从皮包里拿出一个样品(灭火器)许久以后,我才打断了他。我想让他明白我无权决定这样的采购,可我却连一句话都想不出来。

他罗列出一大堆必须向他购买灭火器的理由,似乎决心不让我发出一丝一毫拒绝或者质疑的声音。

最后我别无选择,只能断然插话,反复告诉他我们办公室没人会买他的产品,而且据我所知我们已经有灭火器了。我话音未落,他的态度立刻就从阳光明媚转变成阴险恐怖。他横眉立目地质问:我,我的同事,或者我们所爱的人,是否亲身经历过火灾带来的痛苦、烦恼和损失?他还绘声绘色地对火灾造成的破坏作了一番描述,好增强他提问的效果,这话一说起来就没完没了。

我觉得他的提问纯粹就是一种威胁,于是决定请他离开。一开始他并不愿意走,甚至还企图在办公室的阳台边演示一下他的产品。

我觉得他的行为确实有些出格,于是直截了当地请他走人,最后他还是离开了。

我把他的名片放在桌上准备继续工作,但他非同一般、扰人心烦的推销手段却让我分神。我立刻对他究竟是不是名片上那家公司的雇员产生了怀疑,因为那家公司是荷兰非常著名的一家贸易公司。

于是我打电话到他的公司,并要求与负责的经理通话。过了一会儿,一位荷兰人接听了电话。

我先向他求证那名推销员是否真的是该公司雇员,结果答案是肯定的。

于是我告诉他,我打电话的目的是要投诉那名推销员用赤裸裸的威胁手段推销灭火器,我认为这起码是令人厌恶和不专业的。

这位经理说了一大堆表示同情的废话,并代表公司向我致以最深的歉意。

之后他问我是否购买了灭火器。

我回答说没有。

于是他说可能会考虑解雇那位推销员。

“你是说因为他使用这种威胁的手段来促销,所以你要解雇他吗?”我问道。

“不是。”经理回答说。“每个推销员都会使用这种手段,但他既然用了这种手段还没卖出多少个灭火器,我就要开除他了。”

哦,原来如此。

现在我才明白,作为一个纯朴的美国中西部孩子,在踏入与以往不同的花花世界时,我应该做好准备,对各种光怪陆离的事情做到见怪不怪。

One early afternoon, while my boss was out and the receptionist was having a day off, a very talkative salesman made his way into the office. He was well dressed and carried a smart leather attaché case. He talked a mile-a-minute and was well into his sales pitch before I had any idea what it was that he was selling.

His performance was so captivating that I did not interrupt him until some time after he had pulled a sample of his product out of his leather case: a fire extinguisher. By the time I wanted to let him know I was not the decision-maker on such a purchase, I couldn’t get a word in edge-wise.

He built up to a crescendo of reasons why his fire extinguisher was a “must-have” item, and seemed determined not to let me voice any objections or questions.

Finally I had no choice but to interrupt him rather emphatically and tell him, repeatedly, that there was no one in the office capable of buying his product, and as far as I knew the office already had fire extinguishers anyway.

Once my point was made, his demeanor changed from sunny and effervescent to dark and menacing. Scowling, he asked if I, my colleagues, or any of our loved ones had ever personally suffered the pain, agony and loss associated with a fire. He embellished this question richly with descriptions of the ruinous devastation which fires can cause. On and on he went.

His line of questioning seemed to me to be just short of threatening, so I decided to ask him to leave. He initially resisted, even trying to demonstrate his product off the edge of the office balcony.

I thought he’d well and truly crossed the line, so I bluntly asked him to leave, which he finally did.

I placed his business card on my desk and tried to get back to work, but I was distracted by his extraordinary and disturbing approach. Momentarily I wondered if he really was from the company listed on his business card, which was a well-known trading company with its roots in Holland.

So I picked up the telephone, dialled his company, and asked for the manager in charge. In short order, a Dutch fellow was on the line.

I first sought to confirm whether the salesman was indeed their employee. Yes was the answer.

I then said I was calling to say that the salesman had used thinly veiled threats to sell his fire extinguishers, which I found disturbing and unprofessional, to say the least.

The manager made all sorts of sympathetic noises and expressed his profound apologies on behalf of their firm.

He then asked whether or not I had purchased any fire extinguishers.

I said I had not.

He went on to say he was probably going to have to consider letting the salesman go.

“You mean because he used this kind of threatening sales pitch?” I asked.

“No,” he answered. “All of the sales people use that approach, but despite this one also using it, he still doesn’t sell many fire extinguishers.”

OK. Got it.

Now I knew this naïve Midwestern kid was swimming in a much bigger sea and should be prepared for all kinds of surprises.


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