mercredi 6 février 2008

Anglophone beggars

I've noticed one phenomenon here in Paris for several months now.
It seems that just about every time I find myself at some touristy spot, like the Champs-Elysees, I'll be approached by a gypsy-looking woman and asked "do you speak English?".
The first few times I answered "yes", imagining that this was some poor tourist lost in the urban jungle, only to have a little note (written in English) shoved under my nose with some generic sob story about being a refugee from Bosnia (I feel like telling them to update their conflicts: Bosnia is SO last decade) so gimme, gimme, gimme.

Naturally, whenever they ask me the question now I answer "non" with all the Gallic disdain I can muster...and the funny thing is: they walk away. They only beg from you if you speak English. Francophones (as well, I suppose, as speakers of Ukranian and Lingala) are not expected to contribute to the allegedly-Bosnian-purported-refugee-of-a-war-that-ended-years-ago fund. This mystifies me. First of all, if you're going to beg in France, shouldn't you learn how to do it in French? Second, It really isn't that hard to outstretch your palm and look pathetic. Most people will get what you're on about. I've been begged in many different languages before and I knew exactly what was going on even if I couldn't make out the specifics that were being said. I even learned how to beg in Hindi after a trip to India. (Goreh, panj rupieh, no mama, no papa or something along those lines).

Yet it seems these ladies specifically target speakers of English and deliberately leave all others alone. This simply doesn't make sense to me. Why ignore all the potentially rich non-anglophone pickings? There must be more to this story than meets the eye. Nature abhors a vacuum, so it must be filled with an official Diego® conspiracy theory. Et voila, here is the first Diego® conspiracy theory to be posted on this blog (and don't go spreading it without paying me royalties, now):

The gypsy ladies have an arrangement with the cops. The cops leave them alone so long as they don't harass any of the local taxpayers. Stick to the tourists and we won't take you out back and beat you. Today for the first time I saw "les flics" (the cops) rounding up a bunch of them on the Champs-Elysees and clearing them from the area. I can only conclude that they must have been begging "En français". Consider: the local taxpayers are more likely to complain if they are being hassled on the streets. The police will be expected to do something about it. Tourists are unlikely to complain about it, so as long as the townies are left alone, "everybody is happy" in a Tony Soprano sort of way. Maybe the cops even get a share of the take, who knows? Badda bing, it's a beautiful ting.

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