I read as much as I can while traveling. One of the reasons I keep reading is because of the way book themes seem to tie themselves magically to events unfolding before my eyes on the road. It’s weird and amazing.

Last month, entrepreneur and social media whisperer Gary Vaynerchuk released Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook: How to Tell Your Story in a Noisy Social World, so I thought it appropriate to share one of my favorite stories of when unrelated books and travel experiences become married together serendipitously. The following occurred as I devoured Vaynerchuk’s previous book, The Thank You Economy last year in Croatia.

[If you’ve been following this blog since November 2012, you may remember the story. What I didn’t share last year, however, is the weird tie-in to Gary V’s  seemingly unrelated social media voodoo.]

Enter The Sneaky, Old Vegetable Lady

During my seven-month European wandering last year, I decided to settle into Zadar, Croatia for ten days.

Every day in Zadar, I’d walk ten minutes from my apartment to an open air market to pick up vegetables for the next few meals: a zucchini, a couple of peppers, some mushrooms, a cucumber — anything really.

On the first day, I stroll around the market aimlessly. Sensing my lack of conviction, each vendor becomes eager to introduce me to their goods and services. In a kind, but direct way, they point to their vegetables and say something indiscernible.

At least that’s what it sounds like to me. The only words I can discern are: “Dobra Dan,” meaning “Good Day,” one of the few Croatian phrases that I’ve learned so far.

At least they’re being friendly.

The problem is, each vendor sells basically the same things. There may be one vendor who specializes more in beans and nuts, and another who offers more varieties of mushrooms. But if I want a cucumber, there are about twenty vendors selling cucumbers. And the cucumbers offered by the twenty vendors are basically the same. The only difference is the vendor selling them.

And to be brutally honest, even the vendors look the same! They’re all 60 to 80-year-old women and men. Sometimes, it’s even tough to tell the women from the men. On the surface, I cannot tell most of them apart.

What’s a hungry guy to do?

Overwhelmed by choice, I stop walking and turn to the nearest vendor. She’s an old, heavyset woman with mostly grey hair, and she is probably in her mid-seventies. She perks up and smiles kindly at me.

“Blah, blah, Dobra Dan, blah, blah!” she proclaims while presenting her fresh veggies.

Good enough.

I point to a red pepper and a green pepper. A cucumber too.

The old vegetable lady throws all of the items into one bag and weighs them on her equally old mercantile scale. While I find it impossible that all these vegetables are worth the same per kilogram, I’ve learned to go with the flow in situations like this.

When in Zadar, do as the Zadarians do.

“Five Kuna!” she proclaims. After a quick number crunch, I realize that’s less than one dollar. I hand over a five Kuna coin, grab my bag, and head home to make breakfast.

Back in the kitchen, I open up the bag of fresh goodies. I pull out the red pepper, the green pepper and the cucumber.

What the hell? There’s an onion in here!

Maybe it rolled into my bag by mistake. I place it in the refrigerator and quickly forget about it.

The next day, I return to same market. To save myself the mental exhaustion of choosing a vendor, I return to the same old, heavyset vegetable lady as the day before. She was kind, and her vegetables were fresh enough. I grab a zucchini and a handful of mushrooms.

She weighs the goods. “Five Kuna!” she says.

Mentally comparing the weight of these vegetables to those from the day before, I’m beginning to think the scale is just a formality.

Oh well. When in Zadar.

I pull out a five Kuna piece and hand it to her. She hands back one Kuna and my bag of vegetables. I suppose “five Kuna” means five Kuna, but sometimes it also means four Kuna.

Back at my apartment, I pull out the mushrooms and the zucchini.

What the hell? Where’d these carrots come from?

I think back to the onion from the day before, throw open the fridge and it from the bottom shelf. I roll it around in my palm for a moment before tossing it beside carrots. And then I smile.

That sneaky, sneaky old vegetable lady!

The next day I return to the open market, a man on a mission. I fight through the crowd of vendors and shoppers and march straight toward that sneaky, old vegetable lady. I haphazardly grab a few vegetables from her table and throw them onto the scale. She weighs them as I prepare my five Kuna piece.

“Five Kuna!” I hand over my coin and no change is returned. Today, five Kuna means five Kuna.

I intensely study her every motion. As she’s handing back my purchase, I see her casually grab a lemon and slip it into my bag. She looks up and smiles coyly at me, knowing.

I caught her — caught in the act of sneakiness. That sneaky, old vegetable lady had been slipping me extra goodies each day.

From that day onward, I looked no further than my sneaky, old vegetable lady for all my veggie needs. Even if I paid a premium for her (lack of) weighing skills. Even if she wasn’t the most conveniently located vendor in the market. Even if there was a friendlier, kinder, older and sneakier vegetable lady that I didn’t even know about yet.

What does this have to do with books about business and social media?

For one, my sneaky old vegetable lady is actually a poster child of the principles Vaynerchuk advocates for in his books. His underlying message in The Thank You Economy, and now in Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook, is that succeeding on social media doesn’t require a foreign strategy — it requires the very same strategy successful vendors have been executing since the birth of commerce.

It requires us to treat human beings like human beings, and to interact with each other on social media in the same way we’d interact with each other in real life. Most importantly, it requires us to first give, give, give. And then — ask.

Similarly, it requires us to jab, jab, jab before delivering the right hook. Just like my sneaky old vegetable lady.

That friendly “Dobra Dan!” was the first Jab.

The onion was the second Jab.

The carrots were a third Jab.

And that coy smile with the lemon? That was a strong Right Hook, one that resulted in a customer for life (whenever I’m in Zadar, that is).

And what can we learn from the sneaky old vegetable lady?

Whether it’s friends, lovers, customers or strangers, once good people enter your life, give them a reason to stay. Show them they made the right choice. Show them you’re happy they’re here. Show them you’re thankful for who they are. Show them with genuine acts of sneakiness.

Because in a noisy world, one filled with a multitude of choices and endless options  — the sneaky ones will win. Those who are constantly giving and “jabbing” away will be the ones who stay top of mind.

Are you a jabbing, sneaky, old vegetable lady? If not, maybe you should be.

Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook is available on Amazon.com.

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