The Respectable Panhandling

There is a different kind of street panhandlers who usually succeed

About 15 years ago I was a small uneducated girl of seven years old. However, my parents trusted me eternally - I was the person to go to the bakery's for a loaf of bread. They would give me 22 kopecks for it. I went to the bakery's every day, carrying those coins in my hand. One day, shortly before the end of the Soviet era, I lost ten kopecks. As far as I can remember that day, I was deeply upset about the loss. I burst into tears in front of the shop. People could see me crying for a while, until a kind lady agreed to assign me the sum equal to the one that I was so careless to lose.

That was the only incident in my life, when I took money from a stranger without any compensation. That was an unfortunate incident and it did not happen on purpose. I was very surprised to know that such "incidents" are regular and usual for a certain category of people. Moreover, it is their permanent source of income.

I walk from the trade center to Rodina cinema on daily basis. Every day I encounter a nice-looking woman in her thirties. Her appearance is not revolting at all, but her imagination is obviously poor. The lady told me one and the same thing: "Excuse me my dear. My husband has just been hospitalized. I need to go and visit him so much, but I have run out of money at the moment, I think I have lost my purse. Can I please borrow five rubles from you for a bus? It would be so good if you could help me with ten rubles so that I could travel back too please."

When I saw the woman for the first time, I was touched with her story and I gave her ten rubles. When I saw her for the second time, I suppressed my material and suspicious feelings and gave her five rubles. When I saw her for the third time, I suggested she should take a walk. My suggestion was not about a walk to the hospital, but a walk to a totally different place. However, the woman was not upset to hear that at all - she hurried to her next victim to tell the tragic story about her husband.

I would not count her daily income because the basis of the economic theory is not the strongest point of my education. Yet, I would assume that she goes to visit her husband in a white limousine.

A friend of mine likes to ride route taxis for free. When she is about to reach her point of destination she screams that she has been robbed. Then she portrays a very pathetic and upset woman, says that she has to travel very far and then return. There are always kind people in a van and they give her ten or twenty rubles. The lady "earns" about 50 rubles a day riding taxi vans. She says that her conscience does not let her make more money.

These are two occasions of the "incidental" panhandling. There are no ragged clothes, dirty bruised faces or TB coughing, no stories about a handful of hungry children or a house that has just been burnt. It is absolutely not profitable now to beg for money by churches. People do not believe that anymore and if they do they can donate ten-kopeck coins. In addition, such beggars have to pay the "rent" for the begging location and fight with competitors.

Passers-by are becoming indifferent to other people's trouble. At times they may say things like "God will give you something" and continue walking without any remorse. In Russia it is generally believed that beggars cheat, that they spend all money they can collect on alcohol. However, if a "beggar" looks nice, wears neat clothes, he or she usually makes people believe their stories. As a result, passers-by do not tell them to go away, because they perceive them as someone of their own level, albeit in trouble. Such panhandlers usually succeed - people give them money. People realize that they can find themselves in similar situations too (the loss of a wallet, the hospitalization of the husband, etc) and respectable panhandlers realize that too. Young girls sound very convincing when they tell stories about the stolen scholarship. Middle-age men pat you on the back when you agree to give them some money for a lighter. Schoolchildren will convince you that they have lost the money for bread. Ladies usually hurry to hospitals to visit their husbands. Such people can easily make money for a movie ticket, for a can of beer, for a flowerpot, etc.

Ekaterina Napriyenko

Author`s name Olga Savka