The etiquette of begging

Published: Monday | December 24, 2012 Comments 0

By Garth A. Rattray

Around Christmas time, a few years ago, I was in the car waiting on my wife when a middle-aged, neatly dressed beggar slowly and cautiously approached. He made sure to smile and bow ever so slightly to signal to me that he was of no threat. He maintained a respectful distance and introduced himself by name. He began to recite an obviously well-rehearsed, very truncated précis of his life.

While explaining how his promising career in professional football (soccer) was undone by his addiction to cocaine, suddenly, as if out of thin air, a dishevelled beggar materialised too close for comfort. He crassly interrupted the first mendicant and burst out a statement directed at me, "Beg yuh a money!" The neatly dressed beggar stopped in mid-sentence and, with a consternated expression on his face, he rebuked the intrusive fellow by asking, "But wait ... don't you know that there is etiquette in begging?!"

Mendicancy increases

During the Christmas season, mendicancy increases exponentially and becomes nothing short of prolific. Unfortunately, many mendicants approach their targets with forcefulness and an attitude of aggression ... as if giving them money is not completely voluntary. A few mendicants are rather decent about it, but these are in the minority.

Almost all windshield washers resort to begging if and when motorists refuse/decline their 'services'. Some lean (virtually throw) themselves across the windshield and vociferously complain about how much they need your contribution to keep body and soul together. Several point to their mouths and rub their abdomens, pantomiming their need for money to buy food for their empty stomachs. Others paste their faces against the driver's side window and/or rap hard against the glass enough to irritate. All this does is turn motorists off and make certain the windows are all up whenever drivers approach red traffic lights.

I also notice that all across the spectrum of mendicants (young, old, males, females, untidy, clean, able-bodied, physically impaired, Afro-Caribbean, Indo-Caribbean and even one Caucasian-looking fellow on Mona Road), there is the widespread use of a technique employing a single, shiny $10 coin. This is held up to the motorist or pedestrian as if to signal that "even a $10 coin will suffice. Even this small contribution will satisfy/save me." Yeah, right!

Disdain for $10

I have witnessed windshield wipers/beggars angrily fling those very same $10 coins back at especially female motorists, preceded by a loud, prolonged, teeth-sucking chirp or colourful language. I've seen them stare at those same $10 'contributions' with disdain and then cuss and/or douse the car or the female driver with the dirty water that they carry. That $10 signal is a ploy to get the motorist to interact with them.

Before several readers think that I am insensitive to the needs of the poor, let me hasten to add that I give to windshield-wipers/mendicants whenever I can. And, I usually roll down my window and explain that I sometimes have no cash or change - $50 or $100 - on me. I try to interact with them more often than not and also ask that they memorise my face because I don't like it when they pounce on the car and start washing the glass without first seeking my permission.

I am definitely not advocating that approach to everyone. I would not suggest that women or fearful people do this. However, I feel that even rude/offensive/ obstreperous traffic light workers deserve the courtesy of direct interaction. Our little talk shows them that I respect them and it usually ends with them saying, "Alright boss/dads ... drive good."

I don't expect that many windshield washers/mendicants will read this. However, since they will always be around, it behoves those of us willing to speak with them to explain that being respectful will get them a far way.

Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and garthrattray@gmail.com.

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