On my métro line

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Anyone living in Paris will tell you that the métro is not just a mode of transportation, but an important destination in its own right, especially if you're into watching strange events unfold, listening to lovers suck face two inches from your ear and observing an area full of fifty-plus people staring into space in complete and utter silence. It's funny how small the world becomes when you find yourself riding the same line on a regular basis.

On the way back from seeing a mind-reader perform the other night, Gui and I found ourselves on the metro with a group of drunk and stupid teenagers who thought that writing on the doors and walls of the metro car with a bright green marker would make their parents proud. Too bad for them, they picked the first car to showcase their penmanship and found themselves the embarrassed recipients of a stern, public lecture by the observant driver. Today, while heading back home from school, I happened to jump on the exact same metro car to find that none of their graffiti had been removed. I was thinking that had the same incident played itself out in Texas, those kids would have been crying to their parents that evening while explaining why they got questioned and held by the local police. Then, they'd be spending their next Saturday scrubbing all the metro cars clean as punishment.

One of the worst things for me about taking the metro is dealing with daily solicitation of money from beggars, homeless people and buskers. I don't mind handing over a few centimes to someone when I have it, but what irks me the most are the people who repeatedly work the metros with perfectly polished nails, wearing shoes in better condition than mine. My mom taught me long ago that what a person does with their money is of no concern to you once you've made the decision to give it to them. Which I totally agree with and I guess explains why I avoid giving those people money in the first place.

Today, I found myself witness to the most amazing conversation I've ever heard between a serial-beggar and a woman riding the metro. The woman begging for money is obviously a pro. She's definitely one of those with nice jewelry and fancy shoes, and I see her on my line every. single. day. What I hate the most about her begging is how she asks for money - she carries a stack of at at least fifty small, yellow cards that have a perfectly-typed message on them, asking for money to feed her homeless family. Occasionally, she brings a small child with her, but I haven't seen her with him since the summer. She goes around and hands these cards to unsuspecting passengers, leaving them on empty seats next to people who've refused them. I've fallen victim to her sneaky, little card trick once, but never again after that.

When I first saw her little plan unfold, I thought she must be crazy to think people would give someone so young, capable and literate some of their hard-earned money in such a place that makes it rather difficult for one to truly starve. And, it's true, most everyone felt like they'd been had when she came around to take the cards back and ask for the money they'd promised her by default. But, there were still a few who dug into their pockets, not sure if they were now obliged to do so, and handed her a few coins along with her little yellow card.

Today, though, was funny. After she'd made her rounds and just as the train was entering a station, a boisterous, straight-talking woman (who'd perhaps felt like she'd been had) asked the begging woman if she was capable of speaking. The beggar bashfully answered her (in a very audible voice) in French - "Pas bien...euh..uh...je parle..." The woman (my new hero) replied by telling her that (and I have to paraphrase some of this because although I could completely understand the conversation [thank God], there's no way I could rewrite all the words in French) "bon, si tu peux ecrire et passer les petits papiers comme ça, tu peux travailler! [well, if you can write and pass these little papers around, then you can work!]" The beggar smiled like the woman was telling her a joke, and a guy standing up to get off at his stop let out a loud laugh which only provoked my hero more and made everyone else chuckle. The metro came to a stop, but the woman continued by telling her, "Don't go around asking these people for money on a piece of paper if you can talk. If you want money, go work like everyone else." The great thing about how she told her all of this is that it wasn't in a condescending sort of way, but like one of your friends telling you to stop being lazy, get off your arse and get a job. I love that. I could hear her still trying to convince her to stop her begging ways as she walked off the metro and the doors closed. It's rare to find someone who'll speak their mind so openly here (especially on the metro), so I'm just glad it happened on my line.


Leah said...

I know my solution is to just be perfectly polite say hello and then say no, sorry when they ask for cash. I have to do it all the time here with the nomades running around Rennes. It's nice, though, when someone speaks up without being rude or patronizing. Good for that lady!

Candy said...

he, he! funny story. it reminds me of what happened to me last night at Godfather's pizza!

Katia said...

I would've clapped! :)

just as an aside, something brought me to actually VISIT your blog today instead of just reading it through my google reader (I'm so lazy like that - but it's so easy!) and I saw you had put the info for the podcast awards on your sidebar! awww you're so sweet! thankyou! *hugs*

Anonymous said...

Do you really, really think that these people enjoy begging, that they wouldn't work if it were an alternative?

misplaced texan said...

katia: pas de problem...it's well-deserved advertising! :)

anonymous: in fact, yes I do believe the woman in this instance (and others like her) have made the choice to beg for money when they are clearly capable of reading, writing and publishing. Please don't be mistaken in thinking that I'm unaware that poverty, homelessness and disenfranchisement exists, even in the most supportive of countries (like France). However, (of course, this is my opinion) people like this woman have chosen begging as a profession. What disturbs me about this is that there are those who aren't capable, who are neglected and forgotten about by their country (especially people with disabilities in France) who have not been given the choice to earn a living, and it seems to me that this woman is a fraud among those who are really suffering.

TEXAS SARAH. All rights reserved. © Maira Gall.