WAO: Service with a Smile

I shook a drug dealer’s hand today. I usually avoid them, but he happened to be on my side of the street, and while I won’t walk toward clusters of them near the less used bridges in downtown Geneva, he was alone and I wasn’t going to cross the street because that would be rude.

The drug dealers in Geneva are very friendly and, for the most part, male, black and from northern Africa, though I did see some eastern Europeans on my walk today. They stand around in specific areas—even when it’s raining lightly, like today—which is how I know he was a drug dealer and I wasn’t just profiling. If you make eye contact, they’ll move toward you with a smile on their faces like you’re a childhood friend they’ve just recognized. If you ignore them, they ignore you.

In this case, I think me walking close enough was interpreted as an approach, so he said “Salut mon frère,” which translates to “Hi my brother,” and raised his hand for the clasp. I mirrored him. It was the kind where you loop your thumbs around each other at mid-chest level, and maybe bump shoulders, though we kept it a foot apart.

I immediately noticed how dry his hand felt, like a fisherman’s or some other profession always exposed to the weather. It was soft, almost like touching paper, and there were no calluses on it or muscle, just sinew, flesh, and bones. My hands have a certain density to them from gripping heavy things, and the remnants of calluses near the top of the palm from gripping heavier things. They’re moist, enough so that on a normal day I’ll get a piece of paper stuck to them once or twice. The first two knuckles of both hands are enlarged from hitting things until they bled, healed, and calcified. He had none of that. He was a lover, not a fighter.

So the police leave them alone. And it’s good business. It’s a unique kind of balance I find almost as comforting as the absence of dealers (on the streets) in Monaco. I’ve never done drugs—I even got rid of my Percocet after eye surgery, didn’t want or need it—but if I ever wanted to, I know it’s not a problem. I just need to go see one of my friends.

I'll write up the rest of my walk and a restaurant I tried out in the next few posts.


Some street art along the way

Some street art along the way

Subscribe in a reader