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July 11, 2009

Ask-o-logy: On Location

Why hello there! And an excellent Sunday to you.

A quick side note about asking: I still am! I don't want to interrupt these reports, but once I'm done here, I'll fill you in on the latest.

And now, back to

For the past two days I looked at the financial side of things.

From here, I'll examine the other aspects of this experiment: who were "nicer," people in Seattle or Boston? (By nice, I mean yielding to my requests.) What about employees of restaurants or doctors's offices? What kind of approach led to more successes -- being friendly, persuasive, or demanding? Which questions were most often met with success, those about bathroom emergencies or odd requests to random strangers? And was it better to ask alone, over the phone, after rehearsing, or totally on the fly? We'll top it off with those final juicy details you've been tying to find out, like, if you're stuck in a foreign country with no shampoo, how likely is it a local will come to your rescue and donate two mini bottles of hotel quality suds?

Today we're looking at location.

1) Where did I ask?

Over the course of the year, I spent at least a day in a bunch of cities and towns, asking everywhere. These included both financial negotiations and various other requests. To simplify, I've grouped them into 12 locations. Some are cities, while others are regions or entire countries. (I tried to have at least five data points per spot, so I didn't split up Paris and Nice, for example.)

San Diego includes L.A., where I asked about 5 times. And locations include phone requests -- like when I called to get a discount on a hotel room in Hawaii and talked to an employee there.

Since that chart is a little hard to decipher, here are the narrowest pie slivers from above, by frequency:

This doesn’t tell you anything about asking; basically, it's where I spent the last year and where my phone calls were directed. First relevant question:

2) How likely was I to get what I asked for in various places?

Now let’s see how many times I was successful in each location versus the number of requests there:

Since I asked most frequently in San Diego (269 times), that's a good estimate of how often I was successful overall. In fact, it's very close the year's overall success rate of 73%. That's not because San Diegans are averagely responsive to asking -- but because the average success rate is based mostly on San Diego interactions. Just thought I'd mention that.

3) Does that mean Greeks are generous and Texans are tightwads?

Yesterday I stated that graphs never lie.

But I was lying.

These success rates are actually totally unreliable. Some places have very little data, and in most cases the likelihood of getting what I asked for was actually shaped by the reason for the interaction or various other factors -- not the location itself (we'll get into those factors in the next posts).

Here are a few examples to illustrate why the Location success rates are sketchy, and some context to better interpret those results.

If we go by the numbers above, it seems that my askings were always answered in Greece. So those locals must be reeeeally generous.

Indeed, not a soul turned me away. Efkaristo! The reason, however, is not that Greeks were moved by some intrinsic desire to indulge me. Rather, I was a tourist, and usually at a disadvantage -- lost, missing a hotel room, clueless about the language and/or in desperate need of a shower. As a result, I suspect, my Greek benefactors decided to reach out and help out a fellow human. When it comes to having a question answered, I'd hope that basic needs above anything else would be met with a warm and friendly "ne" (that's "yes" in Greek). But the questions I asked were, well, pathetic. And easy to handle. (I also spent very little time there, so it's a limited sample.)

Boston is an interesting case. I interacted with people there about 2 weeks this year. Many of those requests involve grad school and administrative issues (insurance, DMV, sorting out a diploma, trying to get into the library, get out of the library). So the lower rate is not because the good people of Boston suck -- more like the rules do. And I didn't need a bar graph to tell me that. The parking tickets I collected over the years are proof enough.


The low rate in Texas is also somewhat misleading. I focused on retail discounts, trying 3 times in 6 days. But Texas also introduced me to some really kind people: Grace, who opened up her house and showed my dad and I around; the employee of my favorite fajita place on the planet, who not only taught me to prepare good fajita meat, but also gave me a coupon for $10 off my next meal; and a doctor who gave me a sinus consultation at a dinner party. So it seems like outside malls, Texans are givers. At least, the three I hung out with were.

See the problem?

Based on such limited data, it's impossible to draw any conclusions about individual places.

4) Is there anything at all we can learn about locations and responsiveness to La Roxy's requests?

The overall success rate of 73% was drawn from 406 data points. Since many of these locations have too small a sample, what I can do is regroup them in bigger categories, and see what emerges. (For you statistical types: I tried some of these with and without the San Diego results, to see if that was affecting the averages, and the results usually came out the same either way. Hmm.)

The cartographic smackdown

Made possible by funding from the Department of Homeland Insecurity: Which people gave in more to La Roxy's requests, Americans or residents of other lands?

Next, is it true that good country people have bigger hearts, or was Flannery O'Connor onto something? AKA: Where did I ask more successfully, in cities or in small towns and rural desinations?

If I were to head on a roadtrip, where would I have better shot at getting what I ask for? I-5, I-40 or I-95?

Finally, a bit of soul searching, and future planning: Have I lived in asking friendly places?

So that's that.

If you have questions about what I've done, or suggestions for this or future analyses, leave a comment below or shoot me an email!

Next: How did I ask?
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