by Theodore Dalrymple

I usually give a few coins to beggars in the street. I know that some people think that this encourages beggary and even fraud, but I would rather be duped sometimes than never to trust anyone. And even the beggar who asks for alms when he could perfectly well earn his living some other way is pitiable, as a day spent as a beggar in the street would probably persuade us.

But recently in Paris a new kind of beggar, or group of beggars, has come out like a rash in the Métro. A mother, a father and a couple of young children sit against the wall with a large piece of carton box before them on which are inscribed in indelible ink the words Famille syrienne.

Of course, one has no idea whether this is true (though they certainly look middle eastern), and one has neither the means nor the time to confirm or refute it. At the very least it is unlikely that their lives hitherto have been those of privilege or luxury: however they got here it cannot have been much fun.

But what prevents me from giving them so much as a sou is that the children have been trained to make a continuous whining or keening sound that is obviously neither spontaneous nor sincere. It is rank bad acting. Far from wanting to give them a coin, I want to give them a slap so that they stop their dreadful noise.

Perhaps where they come from such snivelling is expected from beggars: if so, it is a cultural difference that they have failed to grasp. Certainly the technique does not work: very few passers-by give them any money.

I have thought of telling them that if only their children sat there in silence they would probably receive much more money, but of course I have never done any such thing. They might take it badly, and in any case, is it any of my business to maximise the takings of beggars in the Métro? I hurry as quickly as possible out of earshot of that terrible bogus keening.

I am often faced by a similar dilemma on trains in Britain, when I am next to a gormless youth who plays tish-ter-tish very loudly through his earphones, so that it can be heard as a considerable distance. Do I tell him that if he continues in this fashion he will soon be deaf? I do not: partly, I am ashamed to say, because I want him to suffer later in life for his bad taste and lack of discrimination.

First published in Salisbury Review.


One Response

  1. In our countries, we are used that even the beggars have their dignity.
    They are recognizable personalities, usually sitting in the same
    corners the whole day. It's like a credibility of a business that you count on finding open all the working days in working time. Sometimes they are even useful when one doesn't have coins for the parking machine and they have no problem to borrow some of their earnings. Of course, their investment gets at least tripled the next time one passes by and is happy for this unusual gesture of friendship and trust. It is even more shocking to realize that those who have little are less attached to money than the rich ones. It would not be an imaginable thing to ask a person wearing an elegant suit of a lawyer or a banker for few cents for a parking machine because one has run out of coins.
    Then I would like to share an experience from the time when I was living in Morocco.
    I was parking my car on the street with some friends whose blond hair and light skin was easily recognizable. There was a Moroccan woman passing just behind my car with a small child. She first kicked my car, then bowed to her child, upon which the child started crying about 10 seconds after everybody in the car could hear the sound of her kick. It was crystal clear what she was trying to achieve: to get money out of foreigners for a fake accident. She started shouting, but as we were in majority and everyone saw exactly what happened, she recognized she had no chance for pushing us to pay her and left. The conclusion? Christians are brought up that it is wrong to lie, and lying is a sin. While one of the 99 names of Allah is a deceiver. That is why there are many anecdotes circulating, like the one of an Arab (understanding Muslim) who will tell you that he had marmalade for breakfast even when he had eggs, just of pure spite and disdain.
    Allah (understanding Satan) is the best deceiver:

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