July 2010


I often ignore people in wheelchairs.

FDR Memorial

He hid his disability.

Today, for the second time in two days, I have completely ignored somebody in a wheelchair who was begging for money.

Actually I didn’t ignore either of them: today I shook my head as I walked around his cleverly placed to block walking wheelchair. Yesterday I shook my head no at a pitiful looking woman who held out her right hand toward me as she looked incredibly awful and used her feet to move her wheelchair directly into a bike lane next to a bus stop.

Today’s was a no-brainer. People eating lunch at some outdoor tables next to a bakery had rejected the guy and my quick assessment was that he was a bullshit artist and that he probably could actually walk.

Reserved Parking

Portugese is a blunt language.

Yesterday’s made me much more uncomfortable and I actually thought, at first, that she needed help getting onto a bus—but then when she held out her hand with a pitiful look on her face, I decided that she was faking most of her issues—although I was pretty sure she actually needed her wheelchair.

Actually she made another woman near me uncomfortable as well—it’s always difficult to ignore the seemingly needful—the poor, the homeless, the disabled—but if I were to actually try and help everybody who claims to need help, I would be poor in no time and having to depend upon the kindness of strangers.

It’s strange how borderline a case this woman was—I ended up admiring a pet mouse that the other woman was carrying saying it was “Süß,” just before the bus this woman was waiting for arrived. I noticed that the bus I wanted was right behind the first bus and I scurried off to get on it.

As my bus was pulling away I looked out the window watching this woman stretch out her right hand, cupped, at the people who were standing where I had been.

I’m 99% certain she was fake, but what if she wasn’t?

10 comments to I often ignore people in wheelchairs.

  • As you stated, if we gave our money to everyone with their hand out, we would soon be joining them. I did notice in Paris that almost every person I saw begging was a Muslim woman. Some even had small children with them. I sincerely suspect that they’re sent out by their husbands.

  • I completely understand your trepidation. It would be nice to be able to help these people, but as you said, you would end up in a similar situation quickly if you gave money to everyone who you saw begging.

    These days I keep hold of my money unless they “do” something. Just begging is one thing, but if they are willing to sing or play an instrument, juggle, even telling a story feels more like they are “earning” my money.

    In Paris there were beggars everywhere, you couldn’t get away from them.

    As for the wheelchair ruse, I’ve seen it before. In fact, I even had a bit of a clash with a man in a chair who approached me for money. I took a quick look at his heavily muscled, not withered at all legs and made a little decision about him. When I told him that I would not give him money (once again, he approached ME speaking accented German – I was trapped as I continued to get my gear together to ride my scooter home), he asked why a rich “Englander” in Berlin who had an expensive scooter couldn’t spare some money for a poor handicapped guy. When I told him my thoughts on the fact that not only did I have doubts that he needed the wheelchair, (it was a very basic chair, something a hospital would use, nothing like you get when you are going to be living in that chair) but that I pay a huge percentage of my wages into a tax system which is designed to keep him and many people like him fed and off the streets, he freaked. Soon he was screaming at me on a spring day at a major intersection, telling passersby how I was a rich Englander and I wouldn’t give him money, and insisting that I give him money. I wonder how many times that has worked on a person. As I got on that “expensive” scooter and drove away I told him to get home quick, his brother was waiting for his turn at the wheelchair. (not my best hour, and yes, I’ve had many hours consideration as to whether I falsely accused him… but nothing about it rang true, and I’ve come to the point at which I trust my gut on these things.

    Oh, and if a woman approaches you on Alexanderplatz asking if you speak English, just say “No”. 🙂

  • Jul

    So it’s not so much that you ignore people in wheelchairs as that you ignore people begging in wheelchairs. Or possibly all beggars. Fair enough.

    If someone in a wheelchair needed your help onto the Sbahn, say, I’d hope you wouldn’t ignore him/her.

  • Jul

    And goodness are those Alexanderplatz beggars annoying. I’m glad Munich doesn’t have such numerous, aggressive panhandlers.

  • B.

    I’m such a sucker… I pretty much give money to anyone who asks. First I think ‘no!’ and then I start feeling guilty about having so much when others have so little. That, coupled with the fact that when I do try to say no it usually backfires, makes me prime target for gypsies, tramps & thieves.

  • koko

    Well, I have different thoughts about beggars because of my colorful experiences with some. Nothing like a homeless man pissed at you for not giving money to him outside a liquor store, then jumps up and down on your car…first time in my life I’ve been called a harlet.

    Like Snooker, I can give if they are doing something. I’m a sucker for anyone who can play an instrument. They have their box open for change but never verbally ask for anything. They are always polite.

    The other exception would be if a family was outside a fast food joint. I would NOT give them money, but I’d offer to buy them a burger or something. Then you know your money is going for proper things.

    As to the wheelchair. Yeah it’s often a ploy. But just because their chair is basic doesn’t mean that it’s not their real chair. Wheelchairs are stupidly expensive and the chairs provided by the govt or shoddy insurance is often just a crappy chair. If you’re poor, you might not be able to spend the extra money to upgrade your chair…

  • I’m not a money giver myself, because I just don’t carry cash. But, I will admit that once I won $100 at slots in Mississippi. On the way home, there was a girl and her dog begging on an off ramp. I gave her $20 because I felt sorry for the dog. I know, I’m weird. The dog was cute.

  • I can’t think of a single time I gave actual cash to a beggar. If I’m in a good mood I will engage them and ask if they are hungry. They probably think I’m going to give them cash if they say yes, but instead I offer to buy them food.

    I’ve only been taken up on the food offer once in the past 10 years.

  • starman1695 – There are a lot of different kinds of beggers — I think that the woman who made me most uncomfortable was borderline legit, but as Snooker notes, people (including me) pay a lot of taxes. If you’re not getting assistance from the State there surely is a good reason why you’re not getting it.

    Snooker – In tourist areas I rarely, if ever, acknowledge hearing the question “Do you speak English”–although recently I was talking to somebody in English less than a minute before somebody asked me that question–I nodded no and kept walking.

    Jul – I do not ignore people needing help on to or off of buses, trams, or trains. I have helped people with wheelchairs get on and off. I noticed the woman in particular because my first thought was that she needed help getting on a bus and I was going to volunteer, but then she reached out with her hand begging for money and I refused.

    B. – Can you help me? You can PayPal your spare cash to me at my regular email address.

    Koko – Given the German context, I think government provided chairs would be decent and quality. Health insurance providers (and the government) don’t want to buy chairs that will be replaced a short time later. I’ve actually given money to somebody trying to sell me the street newspaper in Berlin — but I won’t give it to somebody trying to sell me the street newspaper if (1) they have a dog or other animal in tow; (2) they smell; or (3) they are smoking or obviously smell of smoke.

    disenchanted – strange: dogs turn me off because if you’re truly homeless and poor the last thing you should be trying to do is support an animal in addition to yourself. So for me it’s a signal that they have other sources of funds and do not actually need the cash.

    Cynical Queer – Reminds me of when I was in Vancouver. Read the Hastings post and scroll down to buying chicken and potatoes on Davie Street.

  • By the way, I’ve been told several times (but have not checked it out) that homeless people – in Berlin at least – with a dog are actually given more of the government dole because they are supposed to be able to keep that dog in food as well. It really makes sense since so many punks are walking around with a dog trailing them.
    There is a punk who “washes” windows in my work neighborhood. I always know when he’s “working” because his dog barks every time he sees another dog. We’ve talked about his dog, and I’ve bought him a beer and his dog a burger in the past. He’s actually educated (a mechanical engineer) and has decided to “check out” from “capitalistic society”… which is why he is washing car windows for money. He’s one of the nice window washers, meaning that he will not start until he has the OK from the driver. His girlfriend works the next intersection down doing the same thing, but her dog is actually kinda mean. She says that she took this dog from a group of guys who were using it as a fighting dog.
    The eventual point of my rambling is that both of these people have told me that the dog helps them feel more secure when they’re sleeping outside. Which may very well be the reason the German govt. gives them money for the dogs.