Dear Auntie Ora,

A friend told me that he can always tell when someone's lying. Is he telling the truth?


In the dim light Vladimir looked uncomfortable. Being shot in the back of the Bulgarian National Opera wasn't something that the average ex-KGB agent looked forward to after taking early retirement. Especially being shot with one of those dainty Bulgarian umbrella guns, and just for meeting with a Delphic Research operative. But then Vlad wasn't the average ex-KGB agent, though like most of them was prepared to take a risk or two for an honest dollar.

You know, I really thought that the Agency would've had someone who'd give me, Pythia DiStephano, a tip or two about telling when someone's lying. I mean, It's not as though I'd go around telling everyone everything I learned. My first choice, Ollie, had recommended this guy as he'd been head of their Truth and Consequences Directorate.

I'd expected him to come out with the obvious things: that some people are more disposed to lying by virtue of their jobs - for example, estate agents, building estimators, and, worst of all, politicians; that if someone starts by saying, "To tell you the truth", you should brace yourself for some epic fibbing; that exaggeration, statistics and advertising are fertile ground for untruths - if your friend works as a copywriter he's at least 105% likely to fib continually during waking hours. He could've easily told me that you can be more sure of other trades, like gardeners and firemen, as it's difficult to lie about whether you've not mown the lawn or put a fire out. Not a bit of it.

In our whispered conversation against a background of Tosca's arias I thought he'd tell me that there are white lies, which people tell to avoid hurting you, black lies that they tell to drop you in it; and big red lies that they tell just for sheer entertainment - like they once fell out of the emergency exit of Concorde over the Atlantic. He didn't, though in his case that could've been true. He ought to have told me that you should watch for verbal cues - as people are defensive when lying, you should look out tell-tale signals like crossed arms, ditches and razor wire. Not a peep of that either.

I already knew that too much or too little eye-contact is another good lie detector, so, when Vladimir stared deep into my eyes and said, "Oo chiloveka virasta hyoot krilyah", I was cautious.
"Sorry, my Russian's not up to that."
"A lie has short legs."
"Is that all you have to tell me?"
He shrugged, "That's what we say in Russia. My fee is one thousand dollar."
"But what does it mean exactly?"
"Look, lady. I give you the fact not the interpretation."

There you have it. If you friend is DeVito sized, rather than DiStephano, you have a big problem.