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The crucial informer

Features |

The much-maligned taxi-driver is really the foreign correspondent’s best friend, writes Xan Smiley

The other day, when I was in Central Asia to write an article on how the five former Soviet republics in the region (‘the Stans’) were doing, I was reminded of the virtues of taxi-drivers as sources of information. When I started as a foreign correspondent about 45 years ago, I was told to beware of ‘the rubbish you pick up from taxi-drivers’. The most derisory crime, I recall, was actually to quote a taxi-driver in an article, albeit disguising his wisdom with some well-worn weasel phrase, such as ‘analysts say’. In fact taxi-drivers have always been the most useful sounding boards, informants and tipsters. 

On my trip to Central Asia I saw people – as I invariably do – at the British and American embassies. I saw politicians of all stripes, a clutch of businessmen and bankers and academics and think-tankers and human-rights campaigners, in fact the usual array of people across the widest possible spectrum...

Full article in the November issue, on sale 12th October.

This story was from November 2016 issue. Subscribe Now