Monday, January 10, 2011

French Bummery

Before we get started, I need to clear something up. This post is not about perfect Parisian posteriors. Nope. This post is about the other French Bummery (the smelly, unwashed kind). I'm talking of course about the Parisian homeless population (known in French as les sans-abri). Unlike their American counterparts (who are content to stand around waiting for you to come up to them and drop a few coins in their cup) French bums are interactive. They actively solicit money by walking up to you on the street, standing in front of you (effectively blocking your escape) and asking, “Have you got any money?” If you walk away, or even if you politely say ‘non,’ they will chase you down the street, all the while shouting obscenities at you because you did not pony up the cash.
Bums in Paris also work harder for their money than any other bums I’ve encountered in my entire life. They sing. They dance. They play musical instruments. All in an attempt to separate you from your cash. If you have ever been on the Paris metro you’ve probably run into a few of them. Some prefer to keep it simple by reciting a soliloquy of their life story which they tell while standing in the front of the car as it rolls between stations. I've noticed though, that their stories are suspiciously similar: they are all young men named Christophe, they are all twenty one years old and they all had wretched parents who took off when they were twelve leaving them to fend for themselves on the street. They conclude their plea by asking for a few coins, a metro ticket or even a ‘ticket restaurant’ (a ticket employers give to their employees to help pay for their lunch).
I'm not a fan of been chased or sworn at so anyone who does that is not getting a centime from me. But I will reward original and entertaining behaviors, like this one guy who does a puppet show. He runs into the car, sets up his cardboard 'theater' and proceeds to do a little puppet show which is perfectly timed to end with just enough time for him to pack up, walk through the car collecting donations, and exit the car when it stops at the next station. It is all executed with such mastery its obvious he's been doing it for years. I always give this guy a euro or two because I am usually travelling on the metro with my children and his show keeps them from whining for an entire ninety seconds (which may not sound like a long time, but in Mommy Time it's like a decade). The only other guy I regularly give money to is an older gentlemen who plays a guitar and has an amazing voice! I'm convinced he is some famous French musician who has simply fallen on hard times (he voice is that good). Sadly, these two characters are the exception and not the rule. Most of the bums soliciting money on the metro are obnoxious, rude individuals who play loud instruments badly. So, here is some simple advice that will (theoretically) keep them from hitting you up: Do not, under any circumstances, make eye contact with these people. Because if you do, guess who they will come right over to with their hat out once they finish their 'act'? Look out the window or spend the time searching through your purse for something you will never find. Oh, and if you run into Christophe, tell him I said 'salut.'

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