Conducting an ambush interview

Excuse me, do you speak English? That was my opening line to people who I presume were traveling to the Köln-Bonn Airport, based on their give away clue of big bags or suitcases, concentrated look at the bus schedule, and obviosuly, waiting at the designated bus stop. Their reply wouldn’t really matter as I would then segue into introducing my name and my purpose as a by-stander.

As soon as I corner them and they accept my short pitch (or more of subtle pleading), I explain to them the concept behind the CO2 offsetting machines that they should encounter inside the secured area of the Köln-Bonn-Airport. This same security is the reason I am at the bus station, and not the airport itself. One of my colleagues, Mark, asked me at the last minute to rush to the station of the bus going to the airport around the bend of Bonn main train station due to the aborted interview yesterday.

My first successful interview was with a couple of German guys going to Lisbon. I started the conversation in English yet we wrapped up the interview in German. As much as possible, I wanted to hold the interview in English because it is for the English programme.

I used my basic knowledge of the German language to my advantage. I talked to them in English, and force them in a way to speak the same. In some cases, it was the other around. I had to talk in German to clarify to them the concept mostly using the keywords freiwillige (voluntary), Erneuebaren Energie (renewable energy), and of course, CO2 Kompensation (CO2 compensation).

But not everyone would give in to my sweet talk. Some politely declined my request, mostly from their lack of knowledge on the issue (who hasn’t heard about climate change´though?) or simple language barrier, like my first interviewee, who is a flight stewardess. She declined to answer because of the mentioned reasons. Another guy who was flying to Berlin tentatively declined at first. He thought his English is not good enough yet ended up giving the ‘best interview’. His reply about offsetting C02 emissions even touched on business and politics.

You might be wondering how I must have felt to go out in the field and talk to perfect strangers. Though it is my first official interview alone, I have experimented on it while I was still in Freiburg. One time, I interviewed a tourist who was wading with his grandchild in the bächle. I also persuaded a classmate to talk about looking for a job, while another introduced us to the German concept of a Stammtisch. Despite this, it was still nerve-wracking to wield a microphone and point to them to someone’s mouth. The very public space I worked in also didn’t help. The extended summer in Bonn made some people uncomfortable and cranky. A few meters away, a big group of by-standers milling around with seemingly bottomless supply of beers kept me always on my feet. Ít must be the alcohol, they remained manageable and well-behaved till the end.

But my most interesting encounter was with someone who actually declined my interview. I disturbed this guy seated on the bench, while enjoying a book. Within our short conversation, I learned he works for an airline company. Our conversation went something like:

Me: Excuse me, do you speak English?

He: I believe so, sir… He said with a heavy accent of a native English-speaker.

Me: Can I interview you over this and that topic… (insert geeky explanation of offsetting CO2 emissions).

It turns out he is aware of the machines inside the airport, given he works in the airlines industry. I imagined this would be the prized interview I’ve been waiting the whole afternoon. I entertained the thought of not just holding a simple interview, but at least 5 minutes of in-depth discussion. He started talking and I cut him off right away to ask him if I could record the, pointing to my bag which contained my audio contraptions. He interrupted me as I started to unzip my bag. He politely said he didn’t want his voice recorded. His exact words were, he doesn’t “prefer talking to a machine.” I explained it was for a radio program, and he said he understood, as he worked as a journalist himself for the network I’m with. I don’t know if he was referring to me or to the recorder.

In the end though, when I tuned in to our programme, I found out that my interview didn’t make it to the final cut due to human error and technical difficulties.

Reporting for FreeTaste Blog: jadz

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