For the purposes of this post I’m going to posit that there are three types of people: those who never give to beggars, those who always do when they can, and those who don’t do it automatically, but can be persuaded from time to time. Assuming that you belong to the third category, and I think a lot of people do, what is it that persuades you in a given situation to reach into your pocket for some spare change? I ask because I’ve noticed certain distinct national variations in begging techniques.
In the UK there seem to be two basic types – the typically British, reserved, polite, “Excuse me, would you mind terribly…”, and the more aggressive “Give me a cigarette you stingy bastard!” approach.
In Italy the technique is usually silent but much more visually striking, as stylised poses of supplication and down-troddenness are struck, so that you often think someone’s left a statue of the pietà laying in the street.
During travels in both India and Morocco I noticed that display of physical impairments were the preferred method, often accompanied by rocking back and forth, rolling of eyes and moaning. I think that this kind of thing would probably be frowned upon as excessively immodest and vulgar in England.
But the one that puzzles me is the one that seems to be favoured by beggars in the Brussels metro system. They’ll get on at your stop and, as the train starts to pull away, launch into their life story, inlcuding many of their ups and (mostly) downs. This routine has obviously been recited countless times and has therefore solidified into a set speech invariably delivered in a flat, monotonous drone. It’s invariably in a certain style of verbose, formal French which means that by the time the introduction (“Good evening ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce myself, my name is X and I find myself in the unfortunate situation of being homeless…”) is over, the highlights of their life story have been related, and the closing remarks and salutation have been delivered (“I thank you for listening, ladies and gentlemen, and wish you a pleasant evening”) you’ve already travelled several stops, or maybe you’ve even already reached your destination.
I realise that it would be unfair to deny help to someone deserving of it simply because of their way of asking for it, but are Belgians really more likely to give a person delivering this kind of monologue a few coins, or would a simple “Excuse me, could you spare the price of a waffle” not suffice?