July 11, 2006

Compassionless
San José, Costa Rica

Perceived as a walking money belt, I'm constantly under attack on the streets.

I'm a nice, friendly guy, but I feel nothing for those looking for a free handout. They come in every imaginable variety: Young, old, dirty, clean, local, tourist, crippled, healthy, crazy, and savvy—everyone wants something for nothing.

I watch as the same guy sits on the same corner, day after day, collecting money from tourists. I hear stories about how parents in India will intentionally cripple or maim their children in order to make them more effective beggars.

I walk down the street and hands from perfectly average people spring out at me, looking for currency—no self respect. What kind of men will all these begging boys grow up to be? I want so badly to give the next person who sticks their open palm out at me a "high five," just to see the look on their face.

I almost laughed at a pair of young teenage boys in Nicaragua who offered to take my picture in front of a cathedral for me (with my camera, of course). Memories of the movie National Lampoon's European Vacation sprang to mind (the part when the whole family gets into the fountain and watches the local runs off with their video camera). Next time they really should have hidden their bike.

The scene is really bad here in San José, probably intensified by the prosperity and large population of English speakers. Sauntering around the city I'm harassed every few blocks, sometimes bouncing from one beggar/hustler to the next (as they follow me down the street).

I was walking around town with a girl from England a day or two ago, when an innocent looking guy (glasses, fare skin, 20-something years old) approached us on a downtown street. The man asked politely (with an obvious French accent) if we spoke English. We paused on the street for a minute while he tugged on our heartstrings about being robbed, and needing a few dollars for a taxi to the French embassy. A plausible story when you hear it in person, and in the moment you do feel sympathy for his situation—too bad for him I've heard it before.

Being the sweet girl that my strolling companion is, she would have probably given him some money, if I hadn't rejected him for the both of us and walked off. I left wondering if I had just turned my back on a traveler in need, or on an unassuming con artist.

I couldn't believe it when today, only a few blocks from my hostel, the same man approached me again. Same line, in his thick French accent—everyone pretend to mock along with me—Pardon, do you by chance speak English?

I took off my sunglasses, looked him square in the eye, and said "You talked to me yesterday you {expletive} crook!" He turned and scurried down another street.

I was furious. I always expect locals to try and hustle me, but nothing yanks my chain more than when another foreigner does it. Travelers have a mutual bond, regardless of where they're from, and it's people like this guy who maliciously take advantage of it for the purpose of doing harm. Such things really bother me. In retrospect, I should have done a lot more.

I returned to the hostel an hour or two later, still worked up, and decided to warn those around me. A pair of Israeli guys had just arrived and were setting up in my dorm room. I cautioned them about the guy and his story, when one of their faces went from intrigued to awestruck. This same man had approached him with the very same tale of woe, and he ended up giving him a few dollars to help him out. I wonder how much money he makes off the kindness of strangers in a day.

Comments:

CraigStrong

July 14th, 2006

Hope you are keeping Glenn's money safe and having a super time of it.

Looking forward to hearing/seeing more.

-Craig

Costa Rica

Craig | travelvice.com

July 15th, 2006

Word at the hostel is that this French dude has been doing this scam in the area for over a year now…

Note: Comments are open to everyone. To reduce spam and reward regular contributors, only submissions from first-time commenters and/or those containing hyperlinks are moderated, and will appear after approval. Hateful or off-topic remarks are subject to pruning. Your e-mail address will never be publicly disclosed or abused.