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A Lesson In Panhandling And Communication

I had a friend who pointed out that things happen to and around me that do not happen to other people. Had is a deceptive word. It isn’t as if she died, she just works somewhere else now.

When she’d bring the subject up, I’d deny it. We’d argue. Arguing my position was tough because she had a list of things that made her undeniably correct. Usually I’d just claim victory and leave before she got to the end of the list. Getting away before she completed her list wasn’t hard, the list was pretty long.

My friend is right. I am no longer denying it. I’ll admit it to her if I see her again.

Here is what happened to move me to the other side.

So There I Was, Minding My Own…

Large image of an ATM Photographed inside a Gi...

There was an ATM in there. I wasn’t planning to use it. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A panhandler approached me as I was about to cross the street. “Excuse me” she said. I turned to see who’d said it. I wished I hadn’t, but I couldn’t just ignore an “excuse me”. The woman who was there provided a quick tale of woe, then began her closing with “could you spare…”.

Even though the internet is miraculous, I can’t see you as you read this. But I know that you’re probably saying “that’s not anything special, it happens to me all the time”. No, it doesn’t.

Forty dollars. “Could you spare” was followed with “forty dollars”.

“Forty bucks” I said, “you want me to give you forty bucks?” I am a magnet for weirdness, but this was a shock to my system. I thought maybe I just misunderstood. I hadn’t. She was happy to confirm the amount.

“I live in a boarding house, I pay my rent every day. It’s forty dollars.”

“I don’t have forty to give you.”

“That’s OK, there is an ATM right in there.”

A Teachable Moment

"How Do You Do It, Mabel, on Twenty Dolla...

No, Mabel, I’m not going to give you twenty dollars either. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There was some miscommunication between my panhandler and I. When I said “I don’t have forty to give you” what I meant to get across to her was that I did not intend to give her any cash. She received a different message.

You see, communication is such a dicey game. It seems like it is all about words, but that is only part of that game. Word order, tone, emphasis and so many other factors play into how effectively we communicate.

My mistake was a subtle one. I said “I don’t have forty to give you” when I meant “I don’t have forty to give you“. Having the cash at hand wasn’t the issue. The fact that I had no intention to issue that cash to her was.

Don’t forget to attend to the little things when you speak. Misplacing emphasis or poorly choosing your tone can cause your listener to hear a different message than you intended to communicate to them.

We Return To Our Story

I reconsidered my response and tried again.

“Ma’am, I’m not going to give you money. Good luck though.”

“Are you sure? There’s an ATM right there.”

“I’m sure. Thank you.” She moved on, leaving me to wonder about the encounter.

I wonder why such a specific and large amount. I wonder if anyone ever goes to the bank machine and makes a withdrawal for her.

I wonder why these things happen to me; but I admit that they do.

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36 Comments on “A Lesson In Panhandling And Communication”

  1. You’re not alone in encounters like this, I’ve been there too. Maybe you’ve got “one of those faces” like I do. I’m not sure what “one of those faces” means, and I’m afraid to find out, for fear of not liking what I find.

  2. Snoring Dog Studio says:

    That really is pathetically hilarious of her. “There’s an ATM right there.” Which, of course, you were going to walk over to and pull 40 bucks out of – yeah. She has all this confidence, which is going to waste there on the street. She should be selling cars. Poor thing. Would she have accepted 40 cents?

    • omawarisan says:

      That is one of the things that I just can’t get over. People who choose life on the fringe of society have to work harder and have more nerve than those who hold down jobs.

  3. Lenore Diane says:

    I realize the takeaway is the fact that odd things happen to you, alas I am stuck on the panhandler. How has she managed her rent? What does she do during the day? And perhaps more importantly, how does one get her on a different path?

    • omawarisan says:

      There are so many resources here for homeless/ marginally housed people. If you want help it is available. I think if you’re out begging you’re opting out of help. Probably not interested in that path. It is sad to see.

  4. List of X says:

    Can you try next time “i don’t HAVE 40 dollars to give you, but I could help you find a cheaper housing?”

  5. lbwoodgate says:

    The only experience I had with a pan handler was when I was in Philadelphia in the early 90’s with my two kids who had earned the right to skate in the national in-line skating finals.

    My 7 year old son at the time and I were coming back from a pizzeria with a big ole “pie” as they refer to it in that part of the country. On our way back a female pan handler approached us and asked if I had “some spare change” so you could get her something to eat. In the sense that you first responded to your panhandler I told her I did not and proceeded to walk on. But before I had taken two steps you said, “How about a piece of that pie”?

    For some reason I didn’t have a problem with this because it was a monster pizza with its edges draping out of the box I was carrying it in. I think this was her counter offer, a compromise if you will, that was part of her strategy. I think I chose to pluck out a piece and hand it to her because it would get her to go away and I wanted my son to see that charitable acts have value. Later, however, when we got back to the hotel we were staying at, I explained what pan handlers were and why I chose to give her pizza rather than money. He seemed to understand.

  6. Todd says:

    I was running into the grocery about a year ago. I parked next to a truck. There was a woman in the truck. She said, “Excuse me,” and explained that she and her husband were from out of town and didn’t have a credit card and had run out of gas. I usually don’t give money to panhandlers, no matter how pathetic their story, but I was feeling unusually charitable, so I gave her $5 or $10 and said, “There’s a gas station directly across the street.” She goes, “Huh?” She’d already forgotten which lie she’d told me. I felt like a chump. She was still sitting the truck when I came out. She worked awfully hard to avoid making eye contact.

  7. Maybe she was handling Calphalon. Was there a Williams & Sonoma nearby, too?

  8. Better you than me Oma, better you than me. Most of the whack jobs I encounter are relatives. ;-)

  9. sarahnsh says:

    I get pan handlers all the time, and currently I get chased by gold cosmetics (they have too many kiosks at the mall… Seriously) and they try to shove samples in my face from all directions. Sometimes I get tag teamed by two guys coming from different sides to try to stand in my way. Oh, and there was a pan handler who followed me and my family on my wedding day… So, I share in your weirdness! Never had one ask me to go to an ATM though, that’s a classic!

    • omawarisan says:

      Those kiosk people are a pain. I’m big on recognizing when people are doing their jobs, but I can’t cut them any slack.

      Wasn’t there a wedding day exemption you could claim?

  10. I admire her directness, her planing, persistance and more than likely she did some profiling even if it wasn’t accurate. Sad that she can’t use those skills to earn a living. These days I almost always give from my pocket and would more than likely have given the girl half of what she asked for. Because she asked me. I loathe the cons that prey on tourists and pickpockets, who have nailed me more times than I care to admit. I’m also a sucker for the askers and “Street entertainers.” The other day a guy offered to balance a spoon on his nose for a $1.00—How could I refuse. I couldn’t. Of-course, it’s a bad idea to encourage it, he could spend that $1.00 on all the wrong things but with his talent, I bet he ends up retiring some place warm before I do.

  11. Betty says:

    WOW! That’s bold. That sure tops the panhandlers you sometimes see sitting with their little cardboard signs that say something like, “need money for weed.”

  12. spencercourt says:

    I respond to panhandlers (why do they call them that?) with the reply a co-worker gave when he was targeted: “I work too damn hard for my money to give it away.” Exactly….

    • Spectra says:

      - and I always remember a bible verse I learned when I was little, when Jesus said, “what you have have done to the least of these, you have done unto me” so giving a little to homeless I’ve always considered a blessing. Most have mental disorders and/or addictions and I find people who become inflamed with judgemental anger at the sight of them are probably missing some very important messages from life. But $40, no way. Gifts of that size would make me homeless.

  13. Debbie says:

    Should I feel bad that I’m not a magnet for panhandlers?? Maybe I have an unfriendly face, or maybe it’s just that I refuse to meet their gaze (and if they try to say something, I usually shake my head and walk away FAST!). I know, it’s uncharitable, but if they’ve got enough nerve to beg, they should have sense enough to find paying work!

  14. benzeknees says:

    I also attract panhandlers & unfortunately with my bumb knee I can’t walk away fast enough. I had a guy about 6 months ago who gave me a whole sob story about his car getting towed & he was trying to get to the tow lot in another part of the city & could I help him out with a bit of money? He was very respectful & pointed out he would keep his distance from me while making his request so I would feel “safe” while he begged me for money to get a bus. I told him I didn’t have any cash, but offered him a bus ticket instead so he could get on the bus & he refused & walked away. I guess he didn’t want to get on the bus anyway?

  15. You are not alone in your strange encounters. Communication is key, always. Those who beg are often specific in their requests until you offer to fulfill their request.

    Out of town out of gas – follow me to the gas station I will fill your tank.
    Need food, give money – I will buy you a meal.
    Cold need shelter – I will pay a week of shelter.

    Yes, I have encountered all of the above and in each case my offer was rejected. On the other hand, I loved this man who stood at the entrance of the freeway in Atlanta, GA with this sign;

    Why lie, need $5 for Beer

    Every time I saw him I gave him $5. Since I was always in a rental car he didn’t recognize the car but he got to recognize me, he always said “Thank you and Bless you” with a great big smile.

    • omawarisan says:

      The beer money sign has to be successful because it takes the tension and doubt out of the transaction. If there’s something that will make me give on the street, that’s it.

  16. I am absolutely sure that people sometimes go to that ATM and give her money. I don’t know if this woman was for real or not but, in general, con artists profit off of people’s inability to react without a pre-planned excuse (and their guilt/desire to seem like a good person).

    I know this because…
    [I started to list examples of times that I have been scammed but it got so long that it turned into a post. Please stop by my new (finally on wordpress!) blog tomorrow to read it.]

  17. planetross says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen a panhandler who actually had a pan to collect money: if I was a panhandler I’d have a pan hopefully … just to show people I was old school.

    Actually, I’ve never seen a panhandler, wok-handler, or anyone else hanging around with their hand sticking out asking for money in Japan … unless it was for charity.

  18. […] I read this awesome post on Oma’s Blurt Blog, titled “A Lesson In Panhandling And Communication“. Go read it now; I’ll […]


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