I took a trip a few years ago to Scotland and England. While I was there I was approached by a number of beggars and scam artists. Here are the most memorable ones on my trip.
Tourists have more beggars ask them for money because they don’t see the same bums, day in day out, asking for money. So naturally, anyone new is targeted, especially folks that aren’t really sure about the exchange rate.
London wasn’t as bad as Scotland in the bum department, but I did have one memorable experience.
Most of the time I ate ethnic food in England, trying out all the Indian and Pakistani restaurants. One night I decided to be a tourist and ate at a pretty horrible “British” Pub with a traveling companion I’d struck up a conversation with. As we finished the meal and the waitress brought us our change, we were approached by a pitiful waif walking with two arm brace canes.
She got in our space fairly quickly, despite her game leg and asked for money.
My companion refused curtly, so she hobbled away.
“I bet she’s not even crippled,” he said once she was out of ear shot.
“Look!” he said pointing.
The limping girl was no longer limping and she wasn’t using her canes. It was a Usual Suspects moment.
Then, a group of tourists rounded the corner and she instantly reverted to her painful limp.
Beggars in Scotland
As I waited at the theatre in the misting rain, I looked across the street. There squatted the grey side of the imposing Bank of Scotland. In a stone niche there was an ATM. What was surprising about the scene was the beggar sitting underneath the ATM, so that he could literally look up at the cash dispensed.
That takes balls, serious brass ones.
I watched him for about 20 minutes. No policeman came to wave him away and I haven’t any idea if he was successful. I didn’t see anyone give him any money while I was there.
On a cobblestone street with an archway, a woman with a struggling toddler implored me for cash. She was dressed like something out of Dickens, and she looked at home there, with a tragically placed bit of soot across her face. She was very impatient with the child, whose duty it was to still and serve as a prop.
“Please,” she said in a lilting accent “I need money for diapers.”
I didn’t have any money left, but I considered heading to a store and buying her diapers. Given my later experiences and the way she treated the child when she thought I wasn’t looking, I’m pretty sure it was a scam.
Widows and Orphans
We were in a small Irish city (that will remain unnamed) and our tour group descended upon the pub. About 25 mostly American girls under the age of 30 caused quite a stir with the local boys. Immediately, they began passing around a raggedy bit of paper and asking us for funds for the “Widows and Orphans of Ireland.”
They had a bit of a twinkle in their eyes as they asked us for what probably amounted to their beer money for the night. Some of the girls actually gave them money.
I got one of them alone and he admitted that they always solicit for the Widows and Orphans whenever tourists came into the bar. Whenever they met any widows or orphans, he said, they gave them a few dollars. Technically, he himself was an orphan, so if he bought a few pints to drown his sorrows with the funds, it would contribute to the happiness of an orphan. And he was never content to drink alone, so if the rest helped his friends to drink; it further contributed to his happiness.
Something about that accent lets a man get away with anything.