You have saved your money for this vacation for a whole year, didn't go out in the evenings, didn't buy the new pair of skis in winter and even stopped smoking because of the costs. Finally you came to escape from the ugly European weather for three weeks, to reload your power. Three weeks nothing but relax, only listen to the surge, let yourself flow. "13 months sunshine guarantee" promised the brochure, and the pictures showed the silhouette of a jumbo-jet in the sunset, approaching to land in paradise.
But the self-inflicted trap is already waiting at the airport, after ten exhausting hours of flight. While you are trying to find your tourist guide between the competing chauffeurs and taxi drivers, at the same time trying not to lose your luggage, someone is suddenly tugging on a tail of your safari-shirt. It's a young man, who has crawled up to your feet unseen, in an old fruit box on wheels. Hopefully smiling he raises his hands. He has no legs...
What now? Should you search for your money in front of all these people, only to find some Euro-banknotes? Should you ignore the disabled man and walk away cold as a stone?
It couldn't be worse for a tourist to be caught up like this. Anyway, it happens to hundreds of thousands tourists each year – because nobody likes to talk about it. Not the travel agencies, because it ruins business; not the friends and neighbours who already had to make this experience and do not want to share it. Finally it's everybody's own decision how to deal with the situation.
Dr. Stephan Rudas, director of the Psychosocial Institute in Vienna: "Before the journey, it's most important to reflect how you want to react. So you won't act thoughtless in such a situation and won't have to be angry with yourself afterwards." If a tourist suddenly gets confronted with a beggar, the three most common reactions are the following:
- Shock – The tourist feels paralysed and tries to distance himself from the unpleasant experience. This is often followed by a guilty conscience.
- Anger – The tourist is annoyed with the circumstances and the system which makes such a situation possible. Sometimes he even gets aggressive against the involved individuals. Afterwards he feels so sorry about it that his holidays are ruined.
- Compassion – The tourist is influenced by the experience. He feels shocked, is emotionally touched and acts under influence of his feelings.
If you have decided to help before the journey (as already mentioned), you should really concider how. An easy way ist to donate some money to a trustworthy charitable organisation, either before or after the vacation. Even if not every cent directly reaches the people in need, in the long run the major part is well spent on projects like building schools which enable children to find work later on. This is a way to avoid guilty conscience in the holidays. And you won't have the bad feeling to support an "industry of beggars". As in some regions it's bitter truth that people earn more money with beggary than with work.
Tourists who decide to give money to the people locally should follow some advices:
- Define the amount you want to donate before the journey and separate it from the money you want to spend on holiday.
- Change the money soon enough into national currency and keep the small change separated from the banknotes.
- Be informed about the purchasing power of the currency. In many less-developed countries a few cents have the value of a whole loaf of bread.
- Be careful not get caught in dangerous situations because of your presents. If you don't have enough for all the waiting beggars, don't give anything. A surging crowd can suddenly get aggressive.
- If possible, don't give cash:
Sometimes you can't avoid it, but nevertheless it's no good idea to give cash especially to children, just to salve consciences. Quite often parents or gang leaders send children and at the next corner they take away the money.
One of the most common solutions: Buy food at a local market. With a sack full of oranges or mangos you can make a dozen of hungry children happy – and also the fruit merchant. Sweets or chocolate are very favoured everywhere, but they are a risk for the stomach, because in some regions children are not used to such food.
Adults, on the other hand, are pleased with coffee or tea as a present. The fact that you obviously gave some thought to it creates closeness, even if you can't communicate with words.
Lighters, pocket mirrors or ballpoint pens (for pupils) are appropriate small presents, especially in remote areas. But don't be disenchanted by the fact that such presents often are sold again immediately, sometimes directly to the next tourists.
This is the funny experience a tourist had to make on his journey to Northern Thailand: He took his polaroid camera with him in order to give the local "Long Neck women" pictures of themselves. He raised big surprise and enthusiasm as the mirror image appeared on the "magic paper" only some seconds later. As he returned to the village five minutes later, because he had forgotten his water bottle, those pictures were already offered for sale together with other souvenirs...
Another little tip if you dislike donations and presents, but don't want to come empty-handed: Take some Euro-Cents with you. A coin from a far-away exotic country like Austria is a special talisman. And if you take your time for explaining the edelweiss on the verse of the Two-Cents-coin with a short story about "Austria, the land of the mountains" (or where ever you come from) you not only have turned the beggary into a conversation in a diplomatic way, you probably also have made new friends.