Saturday, 5 September 2009

We Irish and the begging bowl.

In a recent blog I reflected on the Irish habit of brandishing the begging bowl on a regular basis; further illustrated by an ever-present compulsion to attain grants and funding for this, that, and the other - both domestically and within Europe.

Ireland, in fact, has so far extracted over €20 billion in EU structural funds up until 2006. Now, of course, the funds are drying up, and the Irish have become Euro-sceptics all of a sudden. It’s shameful.

And speaking of shameful, I remember a farmer quoted in Der Spiegel many years ago saying something like “The EU’s great, you just hold out your hand and the money falls into it!”. I wonder what he’s saying now? “No to Lisbon”, I suppose.

But what is it about we Irish and begging? I’m not being cruel: I know that all sorts of circumstances can make people genuinely homeless and down-and-out. It could happen to you or me if our lives took a sufficiently pear-shaped turn for the worse... so I’m not having a go at them. But there seems to be an inordinate number of professional beggars in Dublin. So many, in fact, that we can assume that the market is now saturated.

I kid you not, I was in Delhi for two three-week periods a couple of years back, and it’s not a patch on Dublin when it comes to people hassling and pestering you in the streets for money. And India’s a country where you gladly keep a bit of cash to give to the poor sods who have no social welfare, who suffer from appalling diseases (leprosy, for example) and who live in poverty that most Irish people would find hard to imagine.

But back to Ireland. Worst of all, in my black book, are the chuggers (charity muggers). “Helloooo!!! Have you goosh a minush for Concuurrnn?” is the chugger's rallying cry. Not directly connected with Concern, but employed as salespeople, quite a few of them are drama students, I’m told. Their patch on Henry Street is their stage – their chance to shine. I’m not sure if that’s true, but one thing is for certain: they are the most irritating bastards you will meet on a day’s walk. And believe me, theres' a lot of competition - like the guy I saw collecting for the Asthma Society with a fag on the go.

No amount of malevolent staring seems to deter a chugger, as these people are often charitably described as being “bubbly” and "confident", and are therefore lacking in any emotional intelligence whatsoever. Sometimes, looking preoccupied or staring at your feet as you walk along can evade their attentions. But the more persistent ones will pursue you down the street, gesticulating and dancing at your side like an E-ed out Michael Flately. In such extreme circumstances a simple “fuck off” can sometimes deter them, inviting a cheery “noo problem” in response, before they skip off in search of another victim. Sometimes.

Then there are the bag-packers at the supermarket. It works like this: You are busy fumbling in your pocket for your money and your Clubcard to give to the cashier. By the time you have completed your transaction your shopping has been transported to the far end of the conveyor belt, into the podgy fingers of some gormless brat in a gaudy GAA shirt who mixes it all up and then expects you to pay him/her for the privilege. I find that the best technique is to keep your bags under your arm when paying, then walk down to the very end of the conveyor with a threatening look on your face before nudging them out of the way. You can use a sly elbow if nobody is looking.

I don’t know. It’s a good few years now since I lived abroad, but I've never seen this stuff anywhere else. Does it go on elsewhere, or is it just something that we are good at?

Or am I just getting grumpier?

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Viking said...

great piece, GM.
nowhere are beggars treated better than on the streets of Dublin! It may sound cruel but some of those guys and girls seem to do quite well, and the Irish live up to their reputation as the most generous people there are.

However, I think South Africans take the cake and the first prize in the begging competition. Here, wherever you park your car on the side of the road or at a public car park, there are self-appointed "car-guards" who will wave at you to remind you they're there to look after your car. Wearing hi-vis vests they've stolen from SAA, even if there wasn't one there when you parked there'll be one there when you return.
Begging in SA is a guilt-fest, and the poor mouth is an art form. In reality, it's extortion, as the same fellow who extracts a few rand from you for guarding your car is the same fellow who'd have broken your window and made off with your U2 cds anyway.
They also "help" you park your car, by standing near you and waving their arms furiously to guide you into a space you are perfectly capable of parking yourself in, and they do the same when you're leaving.
I usually wait in my car and pretend to text someone, until the guy has his back turned and then I floor it. I'm not grumpy, I just have donor fatigue.

Bernd said...

Ah, Viking, but then Dublin had the veritable "Lock-ards" too, same system. They were pretty active around the Point a few years ago still.

As to chuggers, an old story comes to mind: Me and Herself leaving the SuperValu in Cavan, jumped by a (rather attractive, I admit) chugger with a slight Eastern European accent. She said she was collecting money to help with the better integration of immigrants. I admitted that this was indeed a worthy cause. Her beaming smile stayed on her face until I dead-panned:

"So, can I take a few Euros out of the bin right now?"

Mór Rígan said...

Funny post GM - thanks for the laugh.

Yeah it goes on in many other places I'm been too.


I agree with everything you write. It supports what I observe and experience myself. Ireland is awash with people who beg or collect money for all sorts of causes. Some are genuine, but there are also dubious and phoney 'charities' one should be aware of. They often have strange names, and the real clever ones have only a name in Irish, with a few words of explanation in English below. Saw one of these characters only this morning in Waterford. He was wearing a day-glow vest, had a white bucket in his hand and was approaching cars that had to stop at a set of traffic lights.
This was obviously his patch and method, and he did not even approach myself or other people on foot, even though we passed him closely. Never heard of his 'charity' which had an Irish name. I googled it but got nowhere. Below the Irish name was just the word 'for the Disabled', without any further specification. In case you come to Waterford, beware of this character. But there are many others doing the same in other places.

The 'chuggers' are indeed a pest. I would make their 'work' illegal. However, my approach to them is a little different. Knowing that they work for agencies and are paid by the success they achieve (per person they persuade to sign up for whatever charity they work on that day), I engage them in a lengthy conversation. But I am always fair and tell them right away that I am not going to sign anything.
No one, and especially no stranger I never saw before, will ever get my bank details. There is too much fraud and identity theft already, so one does not have to stimulate that 'business' any further by handing over one's personal and financial details to 'chuggers'.

I never buy 'charity' scratch cards on a point of principle, as I dislike gambling and see no point in it. If I want to donate to a charity, I do it and don't need an incentive to gamble.

And I never give anything to people who claim to 'rehabilitate' alcoholics and drug users. (see my entry of August 19th about this under:
People who have lots of money to waste on booze and drugs can well be expected to finance their own 'rehabilitation' once they have realised how idiotic their behaviour is. Being neither a drinker nor having ever used drugs, I have no time for them.

I am also reluctant to give money to numerous schools and sports clubs that push and shake buckets into my face every week. They are a more recent phenomenon, and I can see the signs of the recession here. Schools fall under the responsibility of the State (to which I pay my taxes), and most sports are pretty useless, especially in the way they are done in Ireland. So, no chance to get money from me for that. When they ambush one at supermarket check-outs, which is indeed often the case with schools and sports clubs, then there is a very easy option to escape: Don't use any cash. Just use your credit or debit card. You won't get any change, and no one knows if you have money in your pocket or not.

And just a quick word about 'The Big Issue': It was created to help homeless people in Ireland, and it did that for years rather well. I always bought a copy, sometimes even more than one.
Then, shortly after Romania joined the EU, the Gypsies arrived here, to beg professionally on our streets. Within a short span of time they cornered the whole market for the 'Big Issue'. For years I have not seen a single Irish person selling it. Now there are plenty of Romanian gypsies, usually women, who seem to have the monopoly on it.
These people are neither Irish, nor homeless. In fact, they belong to a clan of professional beggars, ruled by one man in Bucharest, the capital of Romania. He is a multi-millionaire, and they all work for him and have to pay him tribute. It is the greatest and most shameless scam in Europe. So beware of these people and do never give them anything!

Anonymous said...

Great post GM BUT Jaysus Emerald Islander - you need to drop Pangur Ban off at the cattery and take the Iarnrod weekend special up to Dublin for some R&R my man. You're stretched way too tight down there keeping a lid on things. And GM - you could meet EI at the station and take him down to Bongo Ryans in Parkgate street for a few pints of plain (if it's still there) and have a chat about things - maybe find out a bit about that Bucharest Billionaire cos I'll be over in Europe in late Sep for a sojourn in the Auvergne (but this time keeping the sped limit in our beloved France) and it wouldn't be too much trouble really for me to pop across to Romania in my Peugot and sort him out.


Der Wanderer said...

you said it, Gombeen Man. But please. lower yourself on your knees, so U can use your elbows more efficiently...

The Gombeen Man said...

Thanks for all the feedback (and tips), folks. Keep an eye on that speedo PB.