15 June 2010

"Give a little bit... give a little bit of your love to me" --Supertramp

As the economy gets worse and we start to shoot each other over three piece chicken dinners*, I've been giving some thought to one-on-one giving...

In Jamaica
We usually try to buy souvenirs to support the local economy when we travel, particularly where the standard of living is no where near that of home. We did buy some things in Ocho Rios. We did not buy anything but a photograph at Dunn's River Falls. WAY too pushy.

When we were at the falls, we had a wonderful time climbing them, bought a picture of ourselves with shocked expressions as we were pushed into the freezing water, and then worked our way through a designated labyrinth of lean to shops that we were shepherded into, to get back to the bus that brought us there. It was work. Because it was far from obvious how to get out of the maze and in every direction there was someone calling for you to look at their chotchkies, pulling at you, offering you ganja. It was downright claustrophobic. One effective gambit was this:

Vendor, with carved wooden cup in hand: Hey, welcome to Jamaica. Are you having a good time?

Tourist: Fantastic!

Vendor: Beautiful lady/Big guy, what's your name?

Tourist: [provides name]

Vendor, already carving the name into the front of the cup: Good to meet you, [name]. That's [name] with an A, right?

Of course, once the name was carved into the cup (mere seconds), the tourist felt obligated to buy it.

New Orleans
When we were in New Orleans, we were walking down a street when one of four reasonably dressed, college aged boys asked if he could please have a dollar so he could get beer. I laughed, then gave him a dollar. At least he was honest.

Washington, DC

Here, I'll sometimes pay street musicians and sometimes pay beggars. I find there's a correlation between how happy I am and whether I'll give. The more fortunate I feel, the more likely I am to give. I've noticed the same thing with donations to charitable organizations.

I have grudgingly paid belligerent squeegee guys (the people who stand in the median and start cleaning your windshield while you are stuck at a light even though you didn't ask for this service) not because I wanted to but because I couldn't avoid the confrontation.

And a confession: At times, I've left change in public places, hoping that someone would be happy to come across it.

Which brings us to the questions du jour: Would you give money under any of these circumstances? Would you rather pay someone a) for a service (be it squeegee, music, carving or some other un-asked for thing), b) simply because they need it, or c) not at all?

*Winner, winner, chicken dinner!


Jamie said...

I have to be honest - I am far more likely to give someone money because they entertained me briefly, than if I think they really need it.

Everything I have ever heard says that there's nothing really good that comes of giving people on the street money. There are plenty of organizations where they can get the basics of life. While those services aren't perfect of course it is not very likely that someone needs a dollar to eat, they most likely need a dollar to buy booze or drugs.

I'm sure there are exceptions to this but at the end of the day your dollar will do more good being given directly to an organization that helps homeless people. So basically it's about making yourself feel good more than anything to hand out dollars.

That said, if I feel like I got some entertainment from someone, I'm happy to give 'em a buck.

froggy said...

Hard to say, as I hardly ever run into these situations. Our area never follows economic trends so we always do better than the rest of the country (thanks to the Cold War). I do give to folks who set up outside the grocery store - most often Salvation Army and provide them with lots of stuff because I am always cleaning out things around here. My thought is that they provide food, shelter, clothing and work - not booze, drugs and further hardship.

Liebchen said...

Honestly, I'm pretty bad about giving in these situations. I know it's not nearly the same, but I'm far more likely to overtip than to just give money out of pocket.

Kate said...

I'm a terrible person and I do not give to strangers. Mostly because I can't talk to people I don't know. Shyness is a horrible character defect.

Mel said...

I will give money for entertainment... I went to Venice Beach and there was a guy with a sign that said "will let you kick my butt for $1" I gave him a dollar for letting me take his picture for the sign. I also carry water bottles and granola in my car in the summer and give those to the guys at the end of the fwy. And those I can tell are truly disabled I will give cash to or buy food for.

I give to a lot of charity organizations and work for one too. I figure that I am building up my good Karma and not to get preachy but you never know when God is testing you with one of his angels.

Kate said...

I made a rule many years ago not to give money to anyone on the street. If I give to one, I feel I have to give to all and frankly, I don't have that kind of cash.

Instead I sponsor a couple kids through Children International (one is American) and donate to other charities (like our local food bank)to help out. That way I don't feel like such an asshole when I don't give my spare change to someone on the corner.

Ibid said...

I'll give money to people who have entertained me, are actually doing something to earn the money (other than smearing windows with dirty rags), or who I think will actually benefit from the money.

One guy can tell me he needs money for a replacement ID and I'll cough up the money for the whole thing. Another guy can tell me the same thing but just doesn't sell the story and he gets nothing.

One guy had made an arrow sign similar to the ones you see people flipping around to advertise apartments or whatever. He was waving it around and pointing at his money bucket. I laughed and gave him a buck.

I also try to determine whether the hypothetical donation would make them or me happier.

Mike said...

I think your car should have a special button for a special window squirter pointed sideways.

Drama Queen said...

I have been to that market at Dunn's River Falls in Jamaica several times - I call it the "gauntlet" - and I hate "running the gauntlet" - ARG!

Jason said...

How often do you run into squeegee guys in D.C.? I saw my first one a few weeks ago after 2 and a half years here. Completely surprised me. I drove off without paying him, but a few seconds later I wish I had because I realized he did a really good job.

spleeness said...

I'm uncomfortable giving money to strangers but I sometimes do it anyway. I once made business cards that listed homeless resources on them and handed out those instead of money; I liked helping in that way better.

LiLu said...

The only time I've given someone money is when they admitted it was for booze.

All about the honesty, man.

Or the booze.

Or something.

Mac and Cheese said...

The only time I've 'enjoyed' giving to a beggar was when one approached me at a hot dog cart and asked if I would buy him one. Everything else makes me feel intimidated and uncomfortable.

Bowie Mike said...

Excellent pics.

I sometimes give, and I sometimes don't. It's interesting what emotions that interaction brings up. I think that people don't want to be taken or tricked out of their money, even if it's for 25 cents, but there is no way to know whether the money will go to food, drugs, booze, sea monkeys or whatever, so I just let it go, and I don't think too deeply about it.

I've sometimes purchased an extra burger and fries and given it to a homeless person. They're generally surprised and thankful. I find it more rewarding, and they never say, "hey, where's the ketchup," likes my kids do.

Alice said...

i'm often more inclined to give if it's for entertainment or work (i hardly get those window washer guys, but do usually feel compelled to pay them). a woman came up to me recently with two kids under 5 trailing along behind her and asked for help paying for dinner... and that worked on me too. i've given food to guys begging occasionally too, which makes me feel like i'm doing something useful.

lacochran said...

Jamie: Entertainment is hard to come by, for sure.

froggy: Even if they're ringing that bell? I guess it's better than a vuvuzela.

Liebchen: But do you over-tip based on service or perceived need?

Kate: There are much worse ones.

Mel: So you didn't kick his butt?

Kate: But you can't give to all the charities...

Ibid: And if it's you...?

Mike: How about something to spray the car in front of you when you get hit by their super-powerful windshield washing?

Drama Queen: It *is* a gauntlet!

Jason: I encountered one on New York Avenue a few years ago. He was in red, white, and blue satin short shorts. It was... special. Can't say I've seen any lately.

spleeness: I'm trying to picture the expressions of the people to which you handed these cards.

LiLu: Exactly! Something.

Mac and Cheese: I'll bet he relished it. (See what I did there?)

Bowie Mike: If only all the money went to sea monkeys...

Alice: Kids are definitely a heart string puller.