When Giving Is Not a Given

October 5, 2010By David JaggardC'est Ironique!



Like all city dwellers, Parisians are subjected to a daily barrage of solicitations. And I’m not just talking about the usual horde of beggars and buskers. For years, there have been survey takers outside the department stores, and people collecting signatures for petitions (often a sleazy pretext for pocketing cash “donations”) all over town. And lately I have noticed an alarming rise in the number of telemarketing calls I get at home (let’s do hope that this is not a trend).

But in particular, in recent months there has been a surge in sidewalk charity drives. It seems as though every charitable organization in France, from the Red Cross to

Smokers Without Borders, has little gangs of T-shirted solicitors loitering outside major Métro stations, trying to hustle up new donors.

I despise being stopped on the street by a stranger for any reason, no matter how noble, so if approached I say “I’m already signed up!” in a cheery, musical-notes-in-the-speech-balloon tone of voice and keep going.

Don’t get me wrong: I am not without sympathy for a worthy cause, or for the solicitors themselves. Most of them are young, well-intentioned and, of course, ill-paid, if paid at all. And it’s got to be a demoralizing job, trying to get harried Parisians to part with their hard-struck-for cash during a recession. So I try to be nice.

But apparently many solicitees are less charitable in their dismissal of the solicitors, because the latter sometimes start to lose their affectation of glad-handing cheerfulness, especially toward the end of the day. They change their tactics, becoming more pleading, more insistent or just plain more aggressive.

I’ve seen kids with clipboards follow people for whole blocks, demanding an explanation for their refusal to help Save the Cheese Mite, or whatever. But so far the most desperate charity-driver I’ve encountered was a young woman standing at the top of the steps as I emerged from the Métro at Madeleine who more or less screamed at me, “If you keep walking, children are going to die!”

Well! What could I do? I started running.


Reader Roy Lisker writes: “Someone who says that he’s hostile to any ‘stranger’ who stops him on the street for any cause, no matter how noble, is clearly the one who has the problem. Just yesterday I had to help translate, for the SAMU, the English of a woman who collapsed in the street. How dare she interrupt my reveries! I can’t for the life of me see how anyone can object to a canvasser from Amnesty International or Doctors Without Borders. There is an expression in French, ‘mendacite aggressif,’ but I doubt that Amnesty can be accused of that.”


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