How do beggars choose whom they approach?
Is it scattergun ie try everybody and hope somebody responds?
Is it non-verbal targeting (psychologists believe that the majority of our communications are non-verbal and no less effective for that) so – in this case – does the beggar “recognise” or “see” whom to target?
I pass four or five regulars who whine and croon supplication without pause for breath. This must work on somebody but the sound drives me past.
And reporting them doesn’t work – the police do not move them on – presumably because there is nowhere to move them on to.
When I worked I decided on a weekly amount to give. I thought I had luck and the people I gave to needed a bit. When work dried up and my budget grew tighter, I made decisions.
In my book it is not generous to give and then regret it. I give to one person regularly which may be sentimental but I prefer to donate to a familiar face. And I give my biggest annual contribution to the Salvation Army, the quality of whose work is beyond question. In between, there are casual transactions I would be hard pressed to explain. I have given when I am strapped and not when I have money so there is obviously more to it than just giving or not giving.
I cannot forget the young man who rose from his sitting position and embraced me in the Tottenham Court Road. Nor the young woman I stopped and talked to because she was crying. While another young man hailed me, grinning, with
“Would you give me £20?”
“No I said, smiling back. “I wouldn’t.”
“Would you give me £20 and let me give you back £7?”
I smiled and shook my head.
“Would you give me £10?”
“Hang on a minute” I said. “I am working something out.” I ducked into a doorway and extracted a fiver.
“Would you take this on account?” I asked.
“Yes” he said, the charmer.
I got at least as much out of that transaction as he did.
I’ve just read Robyn Davidson’s second book Desert Places in which she travels with a sub-caste gipsy group in India. In those circumstances, giving money is as much a part of the culture as endless cups of tea. She writes about being white and privileged – what her companions call a “phoren” – where it is presumed that she is wealthy and has bottomless resource. We may acquire the manners to give gracefully in a culture other than our own – “learn” is the operative word – so I take my hat off to a talented writer unafraid to write about the difference between the money it is presumed you will give and being dunned into giving it.
If I want to lessen the chances of an approach for money, it seems I must not wear a scarf or carry a handbag. I don’t’ know where jewellery fits in but a square wrapped round my neck, silk or other, and any kind of handbag denotes money – on me, anyway.
I do not do well being panhandled. If it isn’t the already mentioned whine, it is bullying to induce guilt and I am not good at guilt.
A street drunk cursed me when I refused him and I said “And the same to you.”
And when I held up my hand to stop a woman approaching me with a patter I had just heard her use on somebody else, she exclaimed indignantly “I haven’t said anything to you yet!”
“Good” I said. “Don’t.”
And then there is institutionalised begging without which, we are assured, the charities would suffer., I have been doorstopped four times by a well known animal charity for £8 a month which isn’t much when you consider the tidal wave of dumped animals and the horror of dealing with their death with monotonous frequency.
I had to spell out to the representative of an environmental charity that if I had £12 spare, there is nobody I’d rather give it to – but he tried over and over to pressure me.
There is a man who has been moved on several times, to pastures greener, who returns with his clipboard and his plea “for those less fortunate than yourself”, starting I fear with him. And the running appeal on the same corner, week in, week out honestly for the last year,, holding out a plastic bucket for handicapped children.
And 48 hours ago a man asked me for 50 pence. I wonder what he’d get for it – or is it just to shame you into giving more?
In these days of on-line publishing, I await the beggars’ handbook.