The curious psychology of getting free stuff

As some of you may have noticed, posting has been light recently. This is because I am fond of the card game bridge and there has been a big annual bridge tournament right here in Monterey where a lot of people come from all over to play. It is held in a large hotel and I have been playing in it all day for several days, which is not just time consuming but mentally exhausting, since you have to concentrate for about six hours.

The tournament is organized and run by the national bridge body but as the local club, we are assigned the hospitality desk, where volunteers from our club sit and tell people about things to do and places to eat in the region, and generally be as helpful and as welcoming as we can. One feature of our desk is that there is a large bowl where we keep a mix of various types of candy. The candy was purchased by our club and passersby are welcome to take one or two for free.

I was seated at the desk for some hours and was able to observe the behavior of people towards the candy. Some people treated it the way it was intended, just picking up a piece or two as they were passing. But there were others who made a beeline to the bowl and trawled through it seeking particular types of candy. Chocolate was the most popular. They would sift through the items and take many of those candies, leaving few of them, if any, for the people who came later. When such people did this, I would stare at them with disapproval from behind the desk, but such people are oblivious to the needs and opinions of others. They take what they want from life and to hell with other people.

We would keep extra candy under the desk to refill the bowl when it ran low but the really greedy people, who came by more than once, knew this and if they could not find the particular candy they wanted, they would ask us to put out more. I would not oblige, telling them that we only refilled at particular intervals (a lie), but my co-volunteers may not have been so hard-nosed.

But the most irritating were those who would look through the bowl and then actually complain about the quality of the offerings because we did not have the candy they preferred. Mind you, this candy was being offered to them for free, and our club was bearing the cost. I was sorely tempted to tell such people that if they were so picky about what candy they wanted, they should damn well buy their own and could give them the location of nearby stores. But that would not be in the spirit of hospitality and I did not want to give our club a bad name and so bit my tongue.

You can learn a lot about the variety of human behavior by staying in one place and watching large numbers of people going by.


  1. sonofrojblake says

    “those who would look through the bowl and then actually complain about the quality of the offerings”

    How about, in your politest possible tone: “I’m so sorry Karen Madam, if you have your receipt I’m sure we can arrange a refund.”

  2. John Morales says

    Oh yes, such is human nature.

    Perhaps next time just have a bowl of mints, all the same.
    Won’t preclude greed, but it will preclude the rummaging.

  3. xohjoh2n says

    but my co-volunteers may not have been so hard-nosed

    Absolutely! Your disapproving stares! You’re a fucking animal!

  4. StonedRanger says

    Your patience far exceeds mine. If I hold a door for someone and they dont say thanks, I tell em ‘If youre not going to say thank you, you could at least tip me”. Always gets me a quick thank you.

  5. xohjoh2n says

    @5 StonedRanger:

    Meh. I wouldn’t expect a thanks, in fact I think it’s uncouth to hold a door for someone voluntarily then demand a thanks. However if I did open a door for someone and then they complained that I didn’t open it fast enough or wide enough for them then they would get a swift fuck you and a walk away.

  6. Mano Singham says

    John @#3,

    No, that was just the New Year’s Eve party at our bridge club. That is a very small event.

    The tournament I was referring to is a week-long annual affair called the Clambake that takes place in Monterey at the beginning of every year and attracts about a thousand people.

  7. John Morales says


    And hey, we the readers and commenters on your blog get to do that for free, too.
    Posts and a chance to have a say instead of candies, but same principle.

    Me, well… I’ve felt Mano’s frown. The metaphorical one, he’s never been overt about it to me.
    xohjoh2n’s drollery did make me smile, but yeah. Not entirely ineffectual. And very civilised.

  8. rupert says

    Hi Mano,

    Nothing to do with the topic of the post, but could I ask a question?

    Regarding your Bridge comment, if you are playing in one lasting several days, I imagine that there must be many participants. A gigantic undertaking, and probably very exciting to play in.

    As a point of curiosity, could I ask whether all play SAYC or are there smatterings of other systems? Over here in Europe, quite a lot of people do play SAYC (which they call five-card majors), but there are also other systems played: Precision, Blue Club and, of course, ACOL, as the philosophy of four-card majors also has it adherents.


  9. Mano Singham says

    rupert @#10,

    Most people here play 2/1 or SAYC. I play both (depending on my partner’s preferences) but usually it is 2/1. Both require five-card majors. Nobody at our club plays anything else, as far as I am aware. Only one of our opponents at the tournament said they played anything else and that was Precision.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *