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Wednesday, 25 August 2010

The greatest con artist ever?

'In fact, to gull a fool seems to me an exploit worthy of a witty man.'  — Giacomo Casanova.

A Teacher
 You can’t deny it takes a special talent to pull off a brilliant swindle. Believe it or not, but the following story really happened. To me it qualifies as one of the best scams of all times. This masterpiece of swiz took place in a remote village somewhere in the Far East in the late seventies.

One day the village school decided it was high time to give their pupils some fancy education, which came down to teaching them foreign languages.

For now unknown reasons they picked French, but the snag was that their chances of finding a French teacher in such a wilderness were as slim as of spotting a kangaroo in their local forest.

Unbelievably, though, they were in luck — a recently recruited history teacher happened to know some French, or so he claimed, and was happy to double as a French coach.

That’s where the fun part starts. It turns out the bloke hailed from another remote village hundreds of kilometres away, which wouldn’t be of any interest if it weren’t for the fact that he belonged to a small ethnical group that spoke some rare dialect with no written form.

Being aware his smattering of French would fit in one lesson and reluctant to pass up a chance of making extra money, it occurred to him he might as well teach unsuspecting dupes his mother tongue— that is, cod French — the odds of anyone noticing the difference were the same as of a French person visiting the area in the foreseeable future.

The only thing in common his mother language had with French was that distinctive guttural R that gives it such a charm, although rather an uvular fricative in his native dialect. It seems he exerted himself and proved to be a good teacher, since many of his students made a remarkable headway, in part due to provincial children’s enthusiasm to get in touch with foreign cultures.

Little did he know he would be soon plucked from obscurity by an unusual turn of events.

Mr. Sod’s law reared its ugly head in the shape of a swatter who after finishing school would go as far as to decide to become a career linguist and take a University entrance exam in the capital of the empire.

Here the shit hit the fan and the best part of the story started.
Picture smug staid professors, sitting self-importantly with solemn faces, scrawling evaluations in their notebooks. Then, suddenly, a girl flounces in, taking pride in her knowledge, hoping for promising carrier as an interpreter or translator, and when the jury greets her ‘Bon jour!’ she utters some mysterious word.
At first the evaluators chalked it up to a misunderstanding, but when the further queries in French were answered with the same gibberish, it finally came home to both parties that something was definitely wrong.
I can imagine the examination board’s shock after they eventually determined she wasn’t kidding them, mentally disturbed or an alien.
Rumour has it the chairman started to show first signs of quiet dementia.

Then they went to identify the language, which took them quite some time but, on the positive side, broadened remarkably their scoop.
As a result, the philologist was thrown in jail — crass injustice against one of the world’s finest con artists of the stature of Frank Abagnale, compensation to the victim would have been enough.

What remains a mystery is how he sorted out the problem of the textbooks — I suspect he wrote some kind of manual helping himself to Latin alphabet, thus giving his unwitting tribe a written language. One thing is for sure: no books in French were available for miles around.

The moral of the story: sometimes doing your job too well backfires, and so does hard work.

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  1. Hahaha. This is a fantastic story.


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