Chutzpah Taught to Timid


Americans are often portrayed as brash and pushy, especially in power-hungry Washington, but it seems some require special schooling in those traits.

That is where psychologist Elliot Jaffa comes in.

He teaches a course at Washington’s Open University called “Chutzpah 101,” designed to turn timid souls into chargers who seek their goals with flair and achieve amazing results.

The one-session, two-hour course costs $18 and is one of the most popular at Open University, a private institution specializing in self-improvement and life-style courses appealing to singles.


Chutzpah, Jaffa explained to a recent overflow class at a downtown Washington hotel, is a Yiddish word meaning outrageous gall and supreme self-confidence.

The classic illustration of chutzpah, he said, was a man who killed his mother and father and then threw himself upon the mercy of the court on grounds he was an orphan.

Jaffa said the tongue-in-cheek story illustrates chutzpah rule No. 1: Do not be afraid to ask.

“May I have that watch?,” he demanded of a middle-aged man in the front row. The startled student slipped off his gold Rolex and handed it to Jaffa, who thrust it into his pocket. After a moment, he gave it back.

‘You Have to Take Risks’

“If he says you can’t keep the watch, big deal,” Jaffa said. “The point is, you have to take risks” to get your way.

Jaffa, 42, a tall, imposing man with dark bushy hair and a mustache, began pacing the room, warming to his subject.

He asked his students if they were tired of being kept waiting in their doctor’s or dentist’s office.

One solution, he said, is to walk from the patients’ waiting room into the treatment area, saying you need the toilet, enter an empty treatment room, leave the door ajar and, when the doctor passes, say, “Hi, I’m next.”

This peeves doctors but often speeds service.

Another technique is to send the doctor a bill for time spent waiting--perhaps $100 an hour. When the doctor’s office calls for an explanation, say: “That’s what my time is worth (long pause), but I will make an exception--this time only--provided I get taken on time in the future.”

Future visits are usually more satisfactory, Jaffa says.

Want a free air trip to, say, Miami? His advice is to rise early and go to the local airport area used by private executive jets as planes from other cities arrive for one-day business trips.

Ask for a Lift

Introduce yourself to every pilot in sight until you find one who just flew in from Florida and is returning that day. Turn on the charm and ask for a lift.

Many executives actually enjoy the chance to chat on a long flight with someone totally outside their line of work, Jaffa says, so long as the person is presentable.

“All you are doing is hitchhiking but you have to dress up in a suit,” he said.

One of Jaffa’s chutzpah homilies is quite controversial: “It’s no sin to tell a lie.”

Do not become a pathological liar, he cautions, but be prepared to stretch the truth at strategic moments.

When signing a hotel register, he suggests making your middle name the same as the hotel’s.

If the hotel clerk asks if you are related to the hotel chain owner, merely say: “Please, no special privileges.”

According to the chutzpah professor, free fruit baskets, Champagne and pampering service may soon be forthcoming.

Do you want a table at a fully booked restaurant? One trick, Jaffa said, is to identify yourself over the telephone as “Judge” so-and-so, say you have a powerful public figure as your guest and insist you do have a reservation. Frequently, the clerk will be afraid to contradict you.

Delaying Other Diners

Bear in mind, Jaffa said, that in employing this technique you are delaying diners who do have reservations. Do not use the gambit unless you are comfortable stepping on toes.

Suppose you want to crash a posh reception and rub elbows with the rich and famous or enjoy the fine food and drink. How to get past door guards who check invitations?

Jaffa recommends coming a little late and bringing an empty glass with a napkin wrapped around the bottom. Saunter in as if you were just coming back from the washroom.