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A Bird in the Hand...

Here's one I hadn't heard of before my recent trip to Ortigia Island in Sicily. A young woman was walking around with a parakeet on her finger. She would approach someone, often while sitting outside at a cafe. She would put the parakeet on the person's shoulder and then put her hand out for money. I like birds, but this was gross considering we were eating or having drinks. I found that a strong 'vai via' (go away!) as the woman approached my table and looking away kept the bird away from me. Unfortunately, other people would hand over money. It's a shame the cafe/restaurant owners don't feel empowered to chase these people away from their establishments.

Posted by
693 posts

Maybe others have some compassion. I am sure the woman would rather have a good paying job allowing her to fly overseas on holidays, rather than gaving to beg in this way.

Posted by
10237 posts

Yes, exactly. There but for the Grace of God go I.

Posted by
516 posts

"looking away" is the first and crucial step, as I've learned from experience myself. Also, if you are with someone, look as if you are having an involved and animated discussion and maintain distance (i.e., if they veer in your direction a few steps, take a few steps in the other direction). This and avoiding eye contact will help a lot. Because if the scammer/beggar/thief/etc. can't engage you, they can't sell you on their scam. But once they've engaged you, your doomed.

Posted by
2762 posts

Yet another reason we rarely sit outside any more. First it was smokers, then flower sellers, now bird poo.

Posted by
8293 posts

" just look away ...." I imagine the lady with the bird wishes she could just look away from the disapproving faces of the people at the cafe tables, enjoying their wine and pastries. I don't expect it was what she had in mind for her future in Italy, begging from rich tourists with the aid of a little bird.

Posted by
5280 posts

Or possibly it was. Norma and others -- why sit in an office hunched over a computer 8 hours a day when a little time with a bird can provide the same income? Different families encourage different career goals and individuals make choices. Just like each of us can choose how we respond to requests for money.

Posted by
16761 posts

I appreciate that many of you are feeling charitable today, but you also know that many distraction techniques indicate an ulterior motive. I'm choosy about when and where I make a purchase or donation and prefer not to take out my wallet just because a possible scammer asked me to.

Take the free/cheap carnation ladies who almost "got me" in Madrid's Plaza Mayor or the similar free rosemary ladies in Seville. They insist on giving you a flower, which on a tired day in Madrid quite interested me; I like carnations. Then they showed a tiny coin to request payment, but when I took out my wallet, the woman tried to put her hand right in it! I decided against completing that purchase.

If a woman is offering time with her bird in exchange for donations, she should not be forcing that bird upon you. And you should be alert to the possibility that she could be a thief instead of a beggar/entrepreneur.

Posted by
3696 posts

Well I really don't like birds and might have given her money to keep it away!
Each person has to decide how to handle the situation but I rather doubt they are rolling in cash and using their money to travel the world. I would rather someone beg or try to sell me something than to pickpocket or steal. Not everyone has a choice.

Posted by
706 posts

Sadly, you can't always tell the difference between a sincere request for money that will go toward necessities, or a cruel attempt to sidetrack you so someone can steal whatever isn't stapled to your pants. Once in Palermo, we saw a family (father, mother and a 2-3 year old little girl) digging through garbage. We were waiting for someone so we had time to observe. The family, little girl included, rummaged through the trash (which was mostly on the ground in front of the dumpster), minding their own business, even with a sort of dignity if they makes sense, not even attempting to solicit money from anyone going by. So my sister walked over and handed the little girl a 2 euro coin. The girl was oblivious to the fact that it was money (she was happy because it was something shiny), but the look of gratitude and surprise on the parents was so sincere, I doubt it could have been an act. Usually though, everything feels so staged and dramatized that it causes are doubts. In this case Christine, sincere or not, my verdict is the same: please don't put a bird on my shoulder while I am eating (or not eating, or doing anything) without my permission.

Posted by
516 posts

I'd have to agree. Begging or asking for donations is one thing, but physically forcing something on someone is not OK. Even if naive or well intentioned, physical contact like that could be easily misconstrued.

While I'm fortunate to not have experienced this myself, I've heard stories from friends who've been to Italy and have had "merchants" come up to them, quickly slap a bracelet on their wrist and then demand money for it. Unfortunately the bracelet wasn't easy to take off and my friend wound up paying some money for it after fellow merchants ran up and surrounded him, as if he was trying to take the bracelet without paying.

Posted by
6027 posts

Anytime someone shoves something at you or hands you something unsolicited and then asks for money (either in words or by holding their hand out), it's a scam. They may certainly have had an unfortunate life that led them to this 'career' choice but it was still a choice. Nobody is forcing anybody to be a scam artist. I personally wouldn't give money to any of these characters and I don't feel guilty for not doing it either.

Posted by
693 posts

You make laugh Laura B. Not everyone has the choices or opportunities available to the smug middle upper classes. No doubt everyone in the US who is homeless is also in that position because they have made the wrong choices?

Posted by
406 posts

This is a forum about scams and sharing one I experienced was my intention. I wrote this post to inform other travelers about something I observed, nothing more. But a few individuals who responded to my post seem to think otherwise.

True, I know nothing about this young woman or her circumstances. However, those of you who made judgments -- “rich tourists”, “smug upper middle classes” -- know just as little about me and my circumstances. I make no apologies for having worked over thirty years in my chosen profession, saved my money, retired, and taken this trip. Nor should I, or anyone else, have to feel guilty about wanting to enjoy their meal or drink without having an unwanted creature put on their person.

If this young woman is without hope or opportunities, she deserves our compassion. Still, that does not entitle her to force herself on others. I have, and will continue to, offer a meal to someone who is begging and give money to others, but will not willingly give money to anyone who tries to impose something upon me.

Posted by
1999 posts

Well said, Christine; my thoughts exactly. Thank you.

Posted by
30929 posts

"or the similar free rosemary ladies in Seville."

I've watched the "free Rosemary ladies" in Seville. They tend to refuse €1 or €2 coins and insist on a minimum "donation" of a €5 note. They tell people that anything less than that is "bad luck". I imagine they make quite a good living with that approach.

Posted by
10860 posts

I smell another AC thread! Yeaaaaaaa.

Christine, thank you for your observation. Very appropriate and requires no defense.

Posted by
152 posts

Christine,

Thank you for the heads up that it was mean't to be.

Posted by
162 posts

I saw a fellow doing a similar "scam" in Prague this past Christmastime. This guy had two doves he would show to children with their parents. When I passed him, he was putting the birds on the rail of this child's stroller, much to the delight of the child. Her mother was snapping pictures while the father dug out some money for the guy (I didn't see how much). I thought it was cute and took a picture of the kid too. Everyone looked at me and smiled when I did, but the fellow didn't demand any money from me. So I guess its not scam if you have willing participants, and the birds WERE rather cute.