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a question about beggars in Brussels

Hi. I had an experience in Brussels when I was there in June that I want to understand as I'm not sure I did the right thing. My daughter and I and a friend were in Brussels just for the afternoon, and after a harrowing time at the train station after getting off the Eurostar (we thought we'd lost a passport!), we were already a little bit frazzled when we got to the Grand Place. We likely looked like insecure tourists! Not three seconds later, a beggar woman approached us, carrying a child, and told us her story about how hungry her baby was, and could we please feed her and her baby. We hadn't gotten euros yet (we'd arrived from London) and I wasn't oriented to the space enough to even know where we could feed her, and following her to a restaurant just

So, I didn't help her, and she finally left us alone.

I'm just wondering if I did the right thing. Likely if i had had some change in my pocket I would've given it to her, so I feel a little guilty for not helping at all. On the other hand, I can't help everyone. Then after she left I started thinking about all of the negative possibilities (pickpocketing mostly).

I'm just wondering if I handled it correctly. It was the only time in Europe we were approached by beggars (but in Paris we WERE pickpocketed, alas) and it made me realize I hadn't read up on it enough, so I want to know for next time the right way to handle beggars.


Posted by
7050 posts

It sounds like you're describing being in a caught-off, vulnerable moment, so you really were not in a state of mind to react they way you would probably want to. I don't want to make gross generalizations, but I am envisioning that the woman was a Roma (gypsy) and she engaged you very strategically at a point of weakness.

I would not worry too much about this incident - it is sad, to be sure, but some of these people cannot be helped in the long-term solely through charitable acts such as these. It's simply not enough to live on sustainably in a place like Brussels. So, even if you had helped her, it would really be a drop in the bucket and would encourage her further to "gain a living" in this manner (not helping her won't discourage her either though, to be honest). I'm from Eastern Europe, have traveled in many places around Europe, and have seen more than a fair share of beggars of all stripes, including Roma (I even got pelted in the head with fruit and cursed out by a Roma child in English, no less, in Bosnia). My advice is to put your mind at ease over this and to give yourself some sense of peace for being compassionate and trying to make sense of this situation. That in itself is an act of kindness because you're truly trying to understand someone else and their motivations. Unfortunately, there are many people who are trying to eke out a living in the way you described and they are totally disengaged from the rest of society. In turn, they are shunned by most locals.

Posted by
4637 posts

I had similar experiences in Brussels. Those are professional beggars. Belgium has a good social net. Nobody needs to beg.

Posted by
23418 posts

Notice she spoke enough English to explain her story. I think you did fine. I would question if the baby was alive. Often they just use a doll. Sometimes if accompanied by small children it is a set up for pickpocketing, grabbing bags, etc. Since nothing bad happen, could be just a actually beggar. Our way of handling beggars is to say no, no and keep moving.

Posted by
14157 posts

Amy, I see your location is Utah. I spent a couple of weeks in SLC this spring doing some family history research so I was around Temple Square a lot. I thought the Don't give to panhandlers signs in the area were really interesting. They request people give to local charities so that money is actually used for support programs rather than being used for drugs or alcohol. I actually did a smidgy of research and found the SLC media had documented that a number of the regular panhandlers sometimes used this for their job but also were using the money to support their habits.

Yes, I do live where there is almost no panhandling so I was interested.

I think the unfortunate situation you ran in to in Brussels was possibly similar and you'd have to admit that the Grand Place is an excellent venue for all sorts of cons. It is very interesting to me that she spoke some English, as did one of the deaf mutes who tried to fleece someone in front of me at Gare du Nord in Paris. When I warned them she screamed B*TCH at me and stomped off.

So sorry you were pickpocketed in Paris!

Posted by
919 posts

I would not worry about it a second longer. On an average day I walk by four homeless people shaking a cup or asking for change. You develop a tough shell after a while. My view is that I give money at my church, and a portion of that money ultimately helps people in need. I think you all were a mark for this woman. What you did was fine.

Posted by
9 posts

Thanks for all your responses, I appreciate them and they did make me feel better!