Daily Paris: just begging for it

Visitors to Paris may be struck by the visible numbers of homeless – or SDF as they are known – on the streets. At last count there were 28,800 homeless in Paris, a number that’s increased 84% in 10 years. It’s not uncommon to be solicited for coins several times a day. Rightly or wrongly, I don’t think I’m alone in trying to ignore the majority of these requests, usually with one of the following strategies:

  1. Saying I don’t have any money/cigarettes on me (and let’s be honest, if bankcards were accepted, I still probably wouldn’t make direct payments)
  2. Ignoring them, justifying that I already contribute to the advanced social safety net through hefty tax, thanks to which I’m only marginally better off than the homeless person (and cheers to glib irrationality here)
  3. Running away, feigning obliviousness It was this third strategy I used two Saturdays ago when walking between bars across the Place de Republique, Paris’ grandiose monument to solidarity (one of those lofty values France aspires to at least – if not exclusively – in writing.) “Monsieur, monsieur…” Ah yes, heard this one before. Best to pretend I can’t hear it. “Monsieur…” From the corner of my eye I saw a figure, about 4 metres to my left, sitting by the road. He seemed to be calling for my attention in particular. A dab hand at being a dick, I continued my course of ignoring him. Only when several other onlookers started calling out “Monsieur, monsieur!” (their exclamation marks, not mine), did I start to start to hesitate. I caved, and stopped. Turning around I saw about five women looking at my disapprovingly. Come off it, why me? Following their stares, I realised that while the guy calling out for my help might well in other circumstances have asked me for money, his more pressing need at the moment was for assistance having his wheelchair onto the bus. Ah! But of course I can help, sorry, didn’t realise you needed my assistance there, what with only five other pedestrians trying to get my attention for you. Mad-bumbag-a-gascar Embarrassing yes, but not my most shameful experience related to helping (or not helping) a homeless person on a bus. No, that title goes to the Madagascar 8 years ago. I was settling in to my seat on a local bus waiting to depart for a long ride from south to north, when a homeless man came to the door asking for change. I figured it was just as well I give him the money in my pocket that would otherwise soon tumble onto the floor or roll into the seat crack. Triumphantly I removed a handful of coins, about 15 of varying sizes I’d say, and went to hand them over. I say “hand”, because I soon realised the man didn’t have any. Instead he offered me two palms with entirely zero fingers. A little taken aback, I did what I thought was the only logical action, neatly stacking the $1.05 of coins in a pyramid, largest to smallest. No need to say what happened next, but there’s a particular sound of flesh scraping to collect coins from bitumen that will stay with me a while longer yet. As for what everyone else did? They chose a wiser path: depositing their contributions in the man’s open bumbag, apparently worn for that express purpose.

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