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Puntos de vista - a personal Spain blog

Musings about Spain and Spanish life by Paul Whitelock, hispanophile of 40 years and now resident of Ronda in Andalucía .

Beggar Off!
12 August 2021 @ 04:40

Since the Covid-19 pandemic began last year, there has been a noted increase in the amount of begging going on around Ronda (Málaga) and , most likely, all over Spain. Do you understand that people down on their luck need to resort to this undignified practice or are you bothered by it? Pablo de Ronda has had it “hasta las narices”. He’s sick to death of the whole thing.  He explains why.

Up to the age of 20 I had never seen a live beggar. Born and raised in a small North Devon town, there just weren’t any. When I moved up north to Salford to go to university, there was the odd busker in nearby Manchester, but at least they were doing something to “earn” their donations.

It wasn’t until I went to Spain in 1970 for my year abroad (as part of my languages degree) that I came across my first “genuine” beggars. Barcelona was “teeming” with them, some of them legless (No, not drunk, literally “legless” – Civil War-wounded, I later found out).

In San Sebastián (Donostia), where we studied for three months, we had to cross the bridge over the river twice a day to go to and from the university and there was always a huddle of gypsy women and their children begging for alms. One evening I saw a large, top-of-the-range Mercedes-Benz pull up and the beggars all piled in with their grubby offspring and their “ill-gotten” gains. Well, I never! Quick way to a million? Why didn’t I think of that?

Move forward 50-odd years to 2021 to Ronda, where I have lived for more than a decade. There was always the odd beggar accosting people on Calle La Bola, but since the pandemic began, the numbers have rocketed. There are several on the above-named street alone, each with their own pitch. At ALDI and Supersol they appear to work a shift system and the large lady outside Mercadona seems to be ever-present. Perhaps she lives there and sleeps in the doorway at night.

It may sound mean, but I am sick of it. Some of them intimidate you by thrusting their paper cup at you and asking you directly for money or by fake-sobbing. I used to always give because I felt a bit guilty that I was fortunate enough not to need to beg, but now I rarely give anything. The polite man outside ALDI gets something normally, as he at least collects your trolley from your car when you’ve finished unloading your shopping, but the ladies who just sit their sniffling get short shrift, I’m afraid.

As Carmen, one of the checkout girls in ALDI wryly remarked to me recently, the beggars earn more per hour than she does!

I notice too that most of the beggars wear better trainers than me. They wear Nikes or Adidas, while I have to make do with LIDL’s best. Some of them sport designer-wear by top brands like North Face or Tommy Hilfiger. Mine are all marcas blancas, like ALDI’s SU or LIDL’s Livergy.

When I asked in ALDI why they didn’t do anything about the begging problem, they said they’d contacted the police who’d responded that their hands were tied, as it’s private land. That has to be nonsense, surely? If LIDL can stop it, so can the other supermarkets. I shall be interested to see what happens when Supersol converts to Carrefour later this year.

It’s become so unpleasant lately that I find myself shopping more and more at LIDL where there is no gauntlet to run.

Well, I’ve said my piece. Sorry if I’ve offended anyone’s charitable or Christian instincts, but that’s the way I feel. At least the beggars in the London Underground and the Paris Metro or on the tube trains sing, dance or play an instrument, so that the punter is getting something for his/her money. I find that much more acceptable.

Update: I wrote this piece on the morning of Saturday 17 April but didn’t submit it for publication straightaway. Eight hours later, on the same day, I had to nip to ALDI. The sniffly woman with the sad eyes (I’m convinced she trained at RADA or somewhere similar) was by the entrance.

I could start to feel my blood boil. As I entered the store she greeted me with “Hola, niño!” I’m 71 for God’s sake! To be courteous I muttered a greeting in return and did my shop.

As I left she started grizzling, could I give her something. I said, “No , not today, sorry”. She got up, lurched towards me in what felt like an aggressive manner, and thrust her plastic cup in my face!

I got in my car, wound the window down and said that I was sick of the intimidation from her and her “colleagues”. “¿Por qué no buscas un trabajo o aprendes tocar un instrument para entretenarnos?” ( Why don’t you find a job or learn to play an instrument so that you can entertain us?)

She seemed quite taken aback by the thought of working for a living and as for playing an instrument …. Well!

Her reply? “¡Ojalá!” (If only!)

I drove off, still fuming.


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