Two Magical Ways To Ward Off Street Beggars Nicely
We have all been there either at home or abroad; having to deal with street beggars. You’re trying to eat, relax at an outdoor cafe, chatting with friends, or just walking alone minding your own business enjoying the sights. All of a sudden! Hello!? You have a new ‘friend‘ or two… or more… and they want to engage with you and the reason is! Money….. It doesn’t matter if they speak your language or not; there are hand signals for this and the intent is clear. They may use the ‘rub the thumb against the index finger and middle finger’ method; the ‘hold the hand out with change already in it‘ method; or you may be subjected to the ‘accosted by more than one child‘ method. There are other ways for sure, but these are for sure three common methods with the last one being more serious, especially when traveling alone.
Street beggars already know the targets they seek; backpack, camera hanging off your neck; looking not straight ahead, but gazing all around taking the sights in while you just stroll around. They know you are a foreigner by looking at what you are wearing to include jewelry, watches, and the clothes you are wearing. Then of course, if you don’t speak the local language this is a dead give away. If you are overweight and in a poor country, obviously you can afford to eat well so you must be a visitor and have money, so this is probably taken into consideration as well. They probably figure you may not be able to move fast in the event you needed to as well.
Unfortunately the street beggars involved in these ‘money harvesting‘ activities are mostly children or handicapped people. Also, they more than likely have a ‘spotter’ who is an older person watching out for them in case things get bad for them. Now you could find yourself in a serious situation if you act more than aggressively towards them.
This is a photograph of a friend of mine who paid this gentleman on his second pass by our table. The reason for this is, when this street beggar first came by our table which was situated on a sidewalk, he leaned forward and started rubbing his head on my friends head. What does one do in a situation like that? My friend is a great guy and tried to just ignore what was happening, unfortunately to our amusement. This gentleman eventually went away, but returned yet again. To avoid a repeat performance my friend immediately gave him some money. Not an aggressive situation per say, but just another tactic of exploitation by an unfortunate street beggar in this case. Plus, my friend was poorly positioned at the table because his chair was closest to the sidewalk making him an ideal target.
I was accosted on my first trip to Skopje, Macedonia by three young Roma street beggar children. There was an older female in her teens and two younger kids probably between the ages of eight to ten. The female was more visibly soiled and looked like she had been “huffing” paint or some other substance because you could see the stains on her face. This is a bad situation to be in. I was traveling with another individual who just kept walking, leaving me alone, while shouting over his shoulder “just hit them”. I’m thinking I can’t hit them because if I do I could get in trouble with the police. Yet when I looked around; there were no police to be found. Local Macedonians walking by just looked and kept walking probably thinking “better him than me“. I had some expensive items with me and I knew that’s what made me a target. Had I known beforehand this could possibly cause an issue, I would have left them behind. I performed the repeated ‘firm and stern NO’ method to no avail. The older female kept to my front, talking to me and asking me for money, while the two younger kids advanced from the sides getting closer each time. I shoved one away, not too roughly, but he came forward again. By this time I could see my travel friend was way ahead of me and I was stuck because I was somewhat surrounded and I was afraid of a grab and run situation. I got my back up against a construction fence so I could watch each one as I tried to get them away from me.
I had noticed an older man sitting on a park bench watching the scenario and he had been watching as the situation escalated. Their spotter perhaps? One of the kids again came close and I felt him brush my pocket. Now I had to really shove him, and I decided I had to act more aggressively. Sure I could have just given them money and possibly gotten myself out of the situation, but my money was in a holder around my neck and I knew that would be enough of distraction for them to maybe snatch something worth more and run off with it. I went forward after the female, just advanced in a menacing manner, and she saw I had enough and they walked off. This whole situation could have been shorter had my travel friend stayed and helped me. Do your travel friends a favor; don’t leave them like this to fend for themselves, but also be careful too because worst case scenario they could have some sort of weapon. I learned a valuable lesson that day so I am very watchful when I go to Skopje now.
A similar situation happened to me in Milan several years ago which involved two females, one had a piece of cardboard she kept moving around in front of me, in a fanning motion, while the other tried to engage in conversation with her hand held out in front of her. I drew back with a fist and they fortunately withdrew. However; the one with the cardboard had gotten my “fanny pack” partially open which I was wearing in front of me. We all have our unpleasant travel stories regarding similar situations. So, after the Skopje incident I thought there has to be a better way to deal with these people.
What are the two magical ways to ward off street beggars nicely that I have finally tested and seem to work? One is to reverse the roles and perform a simple, yet attention-getting, magic trick. Yes, a magic trick. It can be as simple as the “pull you finger off” trick like my Dad used to do for us as kids. Seems silly, but this really seems to work well with the kids in these far off places. Hold your index finger up gesturing for them to wait. Then with the greatest acting performance you can conjure up, perform the trick acting as if there is a lot of pain and effort to do this. Then, push it back together and show them your finger is now back together. Use illusion against them just like they do with us. The kids get blown away by it and more than likely ask for you to do it again. Now! You look at them and use the ‘rub the thumb against the index finger and middle finger’ method asking them for money. They get confused! I used this magic trick in Thessaloniki with a young accordion player who came to serenade us, uninvited, at our table while we were eating.
The second trick you could perform is easy to learn, very portable, and easy to do. It’s the disappearing silk handkerchief trick. You can do this close up even while wearing short sleeves. I was blown away the first time a soldier performed this for me when I was working in Iraq; and NO, I wasn’t begging for money. The soldier was standing right in front of me and I couldn’t figure out for the life of me how he did this. Now that I know how to perform it, it’s rather clever and like I said so simple to learn. Showmanship is the key to it all and getting over the fear of performing magic for someone. If you learn just ONE great magic trick, that’s all you need. There is a great online magic website, ELLUSIONIST.com, where you can buy just about any type of magic card trick or “Street Magic” trick and they provide very detailed instruction on how to perform them. Plus they have great support and discussion sites for the tricks you may buy in case you get stuck. This is where I have learned some of the magic tricks I can perform and it’s fun, once you get over the fear of making a mistake, to perform these for people. Sorry though, there is no available magic to make people actually disappear. I want to add this is an uncompensated mention of this company and is my own opinion from personal experience. I just love the products they put out and the great customer service they have. At least check out their site because it’s pretty cool.
There is one other non-magical method you can use which I have also tested myself and it works, but I again suggest using it with children only. When they come up to you, holding their hand out with coins in it already, reach out and take one of the coins out of their hand, say thank you, and put it in your pocket; hopefully a pocket with no other change. Now watch as they looked confused and yes, possibly sad, because they have taken a loss. Now, just say ‘OH! You wanted me to give you money!’ You now take their original coin out of your pocket and give it back to them. I have seen the relief in their face, but the subtle knowledge as well they have gained nothing. Sounds silly maybe, but it has worked. Again, I would only try this with children in a non-threatening situation.
Now you have two magical ways to ward off beggars and an extra bonus method as well! All free of charge too!
I hope you enjoyed this post as much as I did writing it. Please feel free to leave a comment or experience you may have had dealing with street beggars. You may also feel free to share any methods you employed to come away from the situation with your money and belongings intact to educate our travel community.
Happy and safe travels!